Whether you are an experienced tutor or about to undertake your very first lesson, you want to make a positive first impression, get the student underway on their learning journey, and lets face it – schedule follow-on lessons.
The purpose of this blog post is to give you pointers and things to think about to get the most out of the first lesson.
1. Preparation, preparation, preparation
Find out as much as you can about the student and their problem before the first lesson. Confirm the subject and topics they need help with, the level, exam board and syllabus. Remember to ask them to bring all relevant course materials such as textbooks to the first tutoring lesson so that you can work out together exactly how much course content you need to cover.
Remember to agree a firm date, time and location. It doesn’t hurt to call them the day before and confirm that the lesson is still going ahead.
2. Create the right environment
Arrange for a quiet place for your lesson, somewhere with no distractions like television. You need to be able to sit alongside the student. Remember to bring all of the teaching materials you need – also bring extra stationery, just in case the student forgets to bring some of their own.
3. Put the student at ease
Start off by introducing yourself. Tell them about your background and explain why you love your subject. Be professional and friendly, and remember to remind them that you are there to help them and that literally no question they may ask is stupid or silly.
Get them to tell you something about themselves, maybe their families or things that they like and enjoy outside of school. If they are interested in football for example, you may be able to weave this into maths lessons, so keep your ears open.
4. Establish what’s the problem
Is your student excellent at humanities but daunted by mathematics or the sciences? Are they quick at solving mathematical problems but not so great at expressing themselves? Let them tell you what their problems are. Listen carefully, remembering to ask ‘why’ as this will help you get to the root cause of their problem.
Remember that there are educational tools and methods out there that may be able to help you. For example, if the student has difficulty with memorising large chunks of information then why not introduce them to mind maps. These are great as they are a visual tool which can used to synthesise large bodies of information. They rely on the use of keywords, drawings and even photographs to improve your student’s ability to recall key concepts.
If concentration is an issue, then do not plough on with the lesson, as they are likely to lose interest. Why not consider using teaching styles such as Spaced Learning, which involves interspersing 10-minute learning sessions (in which the tutor presents students with new information) with 10-minute physical activities such as a short run or playing a game. I know that it may sound off the wall, but Spaced Learning is getting extremely positive reviews from teachers, parents and students alike.
5. Getting through to the student
Students process information in different ways. Some learners are reflective; they need time to mentally digest new information; others are active – they like to learn by doing things. For instance, they might prefer to drive by actually getting in a car and starting the motor, rather than spend time leafing through instruction manuals first; reflective learners will prefer the complete opposite.
Understanding how your student learns can be a really useful way to find the best way to tutor them. You can work with them to workout their learning style. Why not ask the student to complete the Sunburst questionnaire, as it doesn’t take long and will allow you to understand quickly what will work best for the student.
6. Prepare a Study Plan
Once you have established the problem areas, you can draft a detailed plan of what you want to cover, and how much time you need to cover each topic / sub-topic. Provide a copy to the student so they, too, know the pace at which they need to learn key concepts. This helps manage expectations and remind them that Rome isn’t built in a day.
7. Make it interesting and fun
Nobody wants tutoring to be dull and boring.
If you are teaching a humanities-based subject like history, why not enlighten them with interesting information that they may never have known about historical figures. Sharing facts and interesting anecdotes may help make key historical figures and events real.
8. Give them homework
It never is too early to encourage students to prepare for the next session!
From the very first class, assign your student work that covers both previously learned material and introduces them to the next topic. Whenever you can, try to make the homework as practical and engaging as you can. Try not to rely completely on text book-and-pen exercises why not try interviews, film reviews and internet searches?
9. Schedule the next lesson
If the lesson went well, and the student is happy then you should be looking to book follow on lessons. These will be easier to remember if you keep the day, time and location the same.
It’s not uncommon to bill the student in advance of lessons, so finally remember to let them know how much the lessons will cost and provide them with your bank details, so they can pay you direct.
I hope that you have found this blog post useful. If so, please feel free to add your comments and tips on how to make the first lesson with a student go like clockwork via the comments box below.
Other blog posts in our series ‘For Tutors’ can be found at: