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What Should I do in the First Class with New One-to-one Students?

Jill Paquette

I always use first meetings with new private clients to do thorough introductions and conduct initial evaluations. This gives the teacher and student a chance to get to know each other and establish rapport. It also gives me a mountain of valuable feedback on students’ interests and goals, as well as the “opportunity areas” (or the repeated mistakes that students are making that we can immediately zero in on in that or future classes to provide immediate value.) In the first class, I correct little, I nod and smile a lot, I listen very, very carefully, and I take good notes.

I include the following elements in this order in all initial evaluations:
(Except maybe for Professional Experience if I was, say, teaching a 5 year old.)


Personal Introduction: I start by asking students to “tell me about” themselves. I find this less threatening, because they can choose what they want to share and the words that they know to say it. (It’s also a good opportunity to listen for correct use of the present tense).
Target Language Experiences: I then find out what kind of experience they have studying and learning the target language, including lengths of time, type of learning environment, international language exam preparation, certifications obtained, etc.

Professional Experience/Work History: I ask them to tell me about their current jobs, past jobs, and career goals. These details inform later lesson plans and materials selection and give me the chance to listen for their use of a variety of tenses including past, future, and conditional tenses.

Target Language Skills Self-Assessment: I then ask students to “tell me how (comfortable) they feel with each of the following skill areas: Reading (Comprehension), Writing, Listening (Comprehension), Speaking, Grammar Knowledge and Usage, Vocabulary, and Pronunciation. Answers can vary from terrible/really uncomfortable/or “1” to excellent/extremely comfortable/ or “10”. I also ask and note in what ways they are currently practicing or using these skills in the target language (For example, They might tell me they regularly watch “Breaking Bad” with subtitles but understand almost all of it, they read technical manuals in target language almost daily, or participate in on-line forums in the target language).

I always use first meetings with new private clients to do thorough introductions and conduct initial evaluations. This gives the teacher and student a chance to get to know each other and establish rapport.

Interests: I find out about their interests and hobbies. It’s helpful to know if they are football fanatics, just starting to learn how to sail, constructing a mini-hubble-style telescope in their mother’s basement, or are the all-time highest scorer in MineCraft. I’m a firm believer in making learning relevant to each student by working on target language skills through engaging texts in students’ interest areas. While I will not always stick to what they like (as you’ll invariably miss a lot of important vocabulary development in other areas), I try to start with what they are already interested in and know about.

Music/Media/Entertainment: I ask what kinds of artists, movies, shows, books, magazines, media and entertainment they regularly engage with (again, more ammunition for you in later lesson planning).
Target Language Goals: I find out what goals they have for themselves and the language. Try to get them to be concrete–It’s much easier to meet goals when you 1.) have them, and 2.) both know what they are!

Learning Style: I find out how they learn best. While they may not know or know how to answer the question, press them for an answer. You can ask them: Are they traditional learners that prefer the teacher standing at a board and accompanying textbook exercises from page 1 to 456? Or does that environment make them nervous and sweaty? Do they have an engineer’s mind and training and learn best through diagrams? Or do they have a “photographic memory” for songs? I personally NEED to see everything written or write EVERYTHING down myself in order to learn something. If I don’t write it, it never registers. This information will help you to adjust your teaching style and operate more in the mode that they learn best.

A teacher instructs a schoolgirl in a high school class

Ideal Class: I ask them what would be an ideal class for them.
Questions: I ask them if they have any questions for me.
Contact Info and Logistics: I make sure we exchange contact information (full names, email addresses, phone numbers and set or confirm class days, times, and locations.)

While this process is a little lengthy (maybe a 1/2 hour or more), it is time well spent. First of all, who doesn’t like talking about themselves? Devoting all that time to the whole person, not just how much grammar they (don’t) know will hook them in. They’ll walk away thinking, “Wow, what a great teacher!”, when really, they just talked about themselves for 30 minutes straight with very little actual “teaching” involved! Equally important to setting them at ease from the start, you’ve acquired gold nuggets in the form of clear, direct, personalized paths for each individual student which facilitates future planning and almost guarantees quick progress.

I highly recommend that you read: “How Can I Accurately Assess My Student’s Progress in One-to-one Classes?” for detailed information on how to perform more “objective” initial and follow up progress assessments.

–But first, please let us know if there is anything that you do in your first meeting with new students which you feel I have missed here.

And then, of course, if you do try any of my techniques and they work for you please let me know by commenting here.

Jill Paquette

About the author

Jill is a teacher who currently resides in the US and enjoys blogging and freelance writing in her spare time.