How do I plan a first TEFL lesson / assessment session with a one to one student?

flyeogh, 18 March, 2017

The situation: Mature student who has studied very informally over 15 years. She understands simple one to one conversations. But I doubt knows anything detailed about grammar elements/structure. And certainly makes many simple errors – i.e. she has accumulated a lot but perfected little I would say sums it up.

However now she is looking to progress further.

I have put together a one hour lesson plan which I hope will allow me to do an initial assessment of her read/write/listen/conversation abilities while at the same time her getting a learning and/or revision benefit.

The learning part of the hour (after intros/facilities/plan/her expectations/relax) consists of:

Revise (hopefully) the verb ‘to be’.
Look at grammar in terms of ‘When and Action’ structure/rules relating to Present simple, Present progressive, Past simple, Past progressive, Future simple, Future progressive.
Various quiz/activity progressing through read/write/listen/conversation (I have three levels of each quiz/activity so I can adjust in-flight as it were to meet the level I find.

Ends with lesson review and what the student would like to do next.

Any thoughts on that approach and/or how others handle the assessment stage would be very much appreciated. My 120 hour TEFL doesn’t offer much on assessment sadly. Quite a bit on punch ups in the classroom but not sure that will prove useful in this case!!!!


Keith, Moderator, 10 May, 2017

Establish a rapport, do a needs analysis and obtain language samples
This might be too late for this particular student, but may help for the future…

Here’s how I normally approach a first session with a one-to-one student at pre-intermediate level or above. This is assuming I have no or little prior information about her needs and expectations.

The first hour should achieve three things:

1. Establish a good rapport and put the student at ease
2. Needs analysis
3. Obtain samples of language based on her needs

Establishing a rapport
Establishing a rapport is not something that is easily taught, but can be helped by showing that you are listening to and understanding her needs, issues and expectations, boosting her confidence by not bombarding her with a whole load of grammar or activities that are way beyond her level, talking to her as an equal, and so on.

Needs analysis
Needs analysis is all about finding out why she is learning English, what she needs it for and what she expects from the lessons. You can normally achieve this by just having a chat. Start with a natural conversation about herself, her job, her family, etc, (and share some information about yourself too if she seems interested).

This conversation can then naturally lead on to questions about why, when and how she uses English. At this point you can start to get quite specific with your questions, depending on what she says. If she uses it for work, how exactly? Does she need to write in English or just speak? What does she write and in which contexts does she have to speak? Are her conversations usually with one other person or with a group? Formal chats or coffee machine conversations?

What you’re doing is building up a picture of the specific situations in which she uses English and, importantly, the problems that these situations present her. Perhaps she needs to write emails but these are easy for her, and the real problem is answering the telephone call to American clients. The more information you can get here, the easier it will be for you to plan her course.

What sometimes happens is that the student will just say “I just want to improve generally”. But you can still get her to be a little more specific here – what does she want to be able to do with the language? Watch TV shows? Travel?

All the time that you’re having this conversation about her needs, it’s also a chance for you to get an idea of her strengths and weaknesses, any particular language or skills areas you can identify that need some work.

Obtain language samples
You can then, depending on the needs and expectations you’ve just established, get some samples of her language. As I just said, you’ve already been getting a good speaking sample from your conversation, but it can sometimes be useful to get a recording of her speaking (if she’s comfortable with this) for more detailed analysis by you later. If she needs to write in English, get a sample of her writing – have her write something that is motivating for her and preferably related to her writing needs. if she doesn’t need to write in English and has no interest in doing so (which you will have established during your conversation), there’s no need to get a writing sample.

In doing all this, she’s been telling you what she needs and expects from the course. So it’s time for you now to summarise this for her and give her an idea of what you plan to do in the coming lessons. Reinforce what she’s been telling you. If she’s stressed several times that she gets all mixed up with tenses, or that she can’t understand during a telephone conversation, tell her that you’ll be focusing on these things in the coming lessons and, if you can, give her a very brief idea of how you’ll be doing this. This will ensure she leaves feeling reassured that she’s going to get what she needs and that you have listened to her and aren’t just going to press on with your own agenda!

That, for me, would often be it for the first hour and will be fine for the student. But if you sense as the hour goes on that they need something concrete to take away with them, by all means have a few generic listening / reading / grammar activities to work on.

I would also give them a “language record” – this is a piece of paper that you will hopefully have been creating as you go through the lesson (and should be done in every one-to-one lesson), where you’ve made a note of new vocabulary, examples of good use of language that you heard, and some errors. Examples of good language use are vital so that when you go through this with her in the last 5 or 10 minutes of the lesson, it’s not all about the errors. So, go through it with her – if there are major grammatical errors, you can say that you’ll be dealing with them in future lessons if that’s appropriate to her needs (and make sure you do!). Minor errors can be dealt with on the spot. Give her the piece of paper to take away (and keep a copy for yourself if you can).

Hope that helps.


flyeogh, 10 May, 2017

As always lots of good ideas. I like the idea of something written to take away but somewhat lacking in experience I’ll have to give that a go and see what I end up with.

I’ve now put a placement quiz on my Moodle site and my potential students (all Spaniards) seem to really enjoy doing a test. It is all multi-choice but still gives an idea of which grammar areas are most understood.

I can see from what you are saying that I must have a realistic expectation from the first hour.

Your words will be put to good use. Many thanks

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