As a tutor, your first lesson with each student is crucial in laying the foundations for an ongoing relationship and setting the agenda for future sessions.
Most teachers will know that your first lesson with a new class is vital in setting your behavioural expectations and enthusing your class. One-to-one tuition demands a different kind of approach, where your enthusiasm is important, but the main aims are to build a bond with your student and to gain their trust. Why not offer a free 15 minute video chat to help you better perepare for your lesson!
Here are our top ten tips on how to deliver the perfect first tuition lesson:
1) Ask the right questions before the lesson
This is absolutely vital - which is why we’ve put it at number one! Whether you can deliver a great first lesson is often about whether you have all the information you need beforehand. Make sure you have asked:
- The subject
- The age/level
- The exam board - it is vital that you work towards the specific exam board a student is working on if they are seeking tuition for a specific course.
- Current working level (grades achieved) - this will allow you to prepare material based roughly at the right level of your student.
- Areas where the student feels they are struggling (if they're able to identify this)
- Expectations of tuition - you need to know whether your student is looking for long-term tuition or a one-off lesson.
2) Dress to impress (but not to intimidate) and arrive on time
Tutors should match their student’s aspirations, therefore your attire is important in demonstrating your own standards. Tutors should wear smart-casual clothing and be well presented. If you are teaching a primary-aged child, you would not wear the same as for lessons for business accounting. As in everyday life, like it or not, your students and their parents will make an immediate judgement of your suitability based on your attire, so dress well.
Being late for your first lesson makes a terrible impression. If in doubt, set off early or book the lesson in for slightly later than you feel would be best. Always make sure that you have got your student’s exact address well in advance and planned your journey so you arrive with time to spare. Saying your bus was late will just not cut it in your first lesson.
If you are teaching online, make sure you are in a suitable working environment with limited or no distractions. We would recommend that you run a browser test before the lesson is scheduled to begin to allow you to check that your connection, camera and microphone are all working and avoid any disruptions at the beginning of the lesson.
Everyone understands that there are times when unavoidable delays happen, so make sure that you have the student’s phone number on hand so you can call ahead if you really need to.
3) Introduce yourself and find out what your student’s aims are
Students are obviously looking to make great progress, however, they are also looking to enjoy learning and working with someone they like, so get to know them! Introduce yourself and ask them about themselves. The approach you take will vary based on each student but the aim is to make them feel comfortable and to get them talking. You may want to ask them where they go to school/college, what their favourite subjects are or what else they are studying, what their hobbies are, etc.
Again, this will depend on the age of your student. If they are old enough, ask them what their aims are and what they would like specific help with. Ask about time frames and their current levels - the best tutors can quickly make their student’s hopes into shared targets. They may also be able to tell you how they learn best so that you can support their particular style of learning.
If the student is younger, talk to them about why they are having tuition. Remember, even young children often know when they find a subject difficult and will be pretty switched on about why they are having tuition - your aim is to make sure that they feel like it is a positive opportunity for them to get additional help.
4) Explain how sessions will work
Many students will never have had a tutor before, so it is up to you to set the agenda. Let them know how lessons will work best and how sessions are different from school or college. Explain that:
- It will be more like a conversation.
- To stop you when they don’t understand anything.
- To ask questions whenever they need to.
- That you will work on the areas they struggle on, as that will help them the most.
- …and answer any questions they might have about how it will work.
The first impression starts before the first session has even begun. Ensure that you have a good on-boarding system in place so that by the time your students first see you live, they already know and trust you.
This could include a pre-first session survey asking to give you a basic understanding of their current abilities, make sure you have both added each other on the platform you'll be using and that they understand what to expect from lessons with you and how any tech you'll be using works."
Lindsay Williams, Founder, LindsayDoesLanguages
It is important that you set clear expectations with a student. Tutoring sessions will be different to how they are taught in school and whilst you should build a good relationship, there should still be a clear line as to what is and isn’t expected from the child.
5) Bring resources and assess their current level of study.
Get your student to complete some pre-prepared questions or activities, to find out the level they are working at and how they work. This serves a variety of purposes:
- Bringing resources demonstrates that you have prepared for the lesson and will work hard to help them achieve their goals.
- It lets you check the level your student is currently working at. Often parents and students are unsure about their child’s or their own ability. When they are more informed, it may be that you disagree with the assessment their school has given. This will be vital in letting you plan for future sessions.
- It lets you see how they work and their attitude to studying. Often students really need help with their study skills, i.e. how neat they are, how they read questions, how they plan answers, the speed the take to form responses, etc.
- It lets you build shared objectives. Make sure that you are positive about their correct answers and their wrong answers. When they make a mistake, a great response would be, ‘Okay, that’s great. You’ve got that one wrong, so that’s something we can definitely help you get better at.’
6) Make the student feel confident
It is a good idea to begin tuition at an easier level than the student suggested in your earlier communications. You can test whether to move ahead more quickly by challenging them early in the process. This will let them settle into private tuition but swiftly discover out their real ability level. It will also allow you to ensure that they make progress during their first sessions.
If you find that a student struggles with a lot of the content of a first lesson, they could quickly become disheartened and feel tutoring isn’t for them. Be sure to have a couple of ‘easy wins’ for a student so that you are able to allow them to impress you with their knowledge. You can revert to these short tasks at times where you feel the student has had to show resilience for a, particularly long time during the session.
7) Teach them something new
Whilst the first lesson is primarily about finding out about the student’s level, you also need to demonstrate your ability as a tutor! Remember that you do have to sell yourself - students and parents have a large choice of tutors, so you do have to prove yourself.
Pick one of the areas your student made a mistake in and teach them this skill. Be enthusiastic. Use diagrams or notes that you can leave with them, or even consider multimedia resources. Kids love innovative sites, apps and videos. This might be harder if you don’t know what you are going to cover, but as you tutor more and more, you will build a great bank of resources and references you can draw on.
In your first lesson, it is better to be over-prepared than under-prepared! Always have a backup plan and a variety of tasks you can use should you need them. As you don’t know exactly where the child is at in terms of their learning, having a number of tasks pitched at different levels will allow you to use what you find to be appropriate within the lesson. You could also use one of the harder tasks to teach your student something new.
8) Leave some home learning
To make great progress, your students are going to have to practise the skills you teach them whilst you’re not there. Which means that you’ll need to leave them some homework.
The word homework might spark some groans but you should always leave something for your student to practise at the end of your first lesson together. This will send a great message to students that you are thinking carefully about how to support them reach their goals.
Leave an activity which is relevant and interesting, so that your pupil doesn’t feel that learning with you is like additional schoolwork. By this stage, if all has gone well, the student will have bought into how much your tuition is going to help them.
9) Build a rapport with the student’s parents
In the first session, it is vital to not only build a great rapport with the student but also with their parent(s). This will begin when you first arrive - shakes hands, be polite, etc. but mainly when you leave. Give the parents at least 10 minutes at the end of the first session to discuss their child’s needs. This time should be in addition to the amount of time scheduled for the lesson itself.
Being a tutor is about helping your students make great progress and to build their confidence. One hour a week can make a difference, but it will make a real impact when you build a relationship with parents to help them support their child and formulate a great plan to help the student as a team. It’s also great to ask for feedback from the child’s teacher as this will really help you triangulate your approach. Agree on a plan for tuition and the areas to cover in future lessons and…
10) Book in your next lesson
Ultimately, you must remember that, as a professional tutor, your income is based on securing long-term students. Be confident and ask parents when they would like their next session and how often they would like lessons to take place.
Scott Woodley, Co-founder of Tutorful
Scott is a fully qualified primary school teacher who left teaching to set up Tutorful, a site which helps parents and learners find the right tutor for them.
If you are looking to become a tutor, you can easily create a profile with Tutorful. You can set your own price, offer online or face-to-face tuition and begin building your rewarding career in no time.