How To Be A Successful Tutor

One of the most important parts of learning to speak and understand a language is by practicing speaking and listening. However, this can be stressful and frustrating for students, especially at the beginning of their learning process. Speaking a new language is difficult and students may feel embarrassed when making mistakes, especially in front of a tutor they have never met before.

Each Live Lesson is broken up into a number of small exercises at the student’s level, tied to what they’ve been learning in their self-study time. Exercises are designed to be short and manageable, with the help of the tutor’s guidance, to reduce stress and promote conversation.

Your Role

You are a student’s guide through the lesson, and we would like you to take the lead. Our experience has shown that students value when the tutor takes initiative, asks questions related to each exercise, and provides different scenarios or examples for variation. Lower level students and students with less confidence will expect you to lead them through the exercises, tell them what to do and when to move to the next exercise.

For example, when you move to a new exercise, ask the student to read out their instructions. If they look confused, explain what the exercise is about and who should start the exercise. If you’ve been working on a single exercise for a while, or if the student doesn’t seem engaged with the current exercise, suggest moving on to the next exercise.

Preview the Lessons

Lesson Previews are generally available from your dashboard 24 hours before a scheduled lesson. They allow you to review each exercise and familiarize yourself with the layout and the instructions ahead of time.

Previewing lessons will help you to lead a lesson, especially in the beginning. Leading a lesson starts with understanding how the exercises work and how the general conversation will flow. During the preview, we provide example questions for most exercises to get you started, but we encourage you to improvise additional related questions and scenarios to practice with the student. This helps make exercises feel fresh and new every time, even if the student has done that exercise before. It also helps to individualize the exercise to make the learning material more relevant to each student. For example, if a planned exercise focuses on conflict in the workplace, but you know your student is retired, you could adapt the questions and ask them about their work in their local community garden committee instead.

Types of Exercises to Expect

We have three main exercise categories in our curriculum: Warm-ups, Drills, and Situations. Each Live Lesson is made up of a series of about 10 exercises—around 3 from each category—that build on each other.

  • Warm-ups are short exercises that are designed to get the student warmed up and ready to speak. They often go over previously learned material and don’t require too much improvisation. Examples include short readings, listen and repeat, or dialog exercises.
  • Drills are guided practice. These exercises are designed to teach specific concepts and rules (such as conjugating verbs or using the past tense), and to practice common scenarios (such as asking for directions or ordering in a restaurant).
  • Situations are intended to get the student speaking freely and improvising conversations. These may include open-ended topics, questions, and games.

Make sure you read the instructions well and give the student enough time to read theirs out loud.

Be Friendly and Encouraging

It’s important that you are friendly and encouraging at all times. Even if your students are getting things wrong, help them feel good about their effort and remind them that they’re improving. When they get things right, be sure to say so clearly.

Your goal is to teach students how to communicate. So you don’t need to focus too much on error correction, but on their fluency and confidence in speaking and listening. Remember, each student is different and therefore may require a different approach to error correction. Some students love corrections and will be happy to see lots of notes in the chatbox. Other students may feel discouraged if they are hearing lots of corrections, and may get the impression that nothing they say is correct! Use your intuition and adjust your style accordingly.

Observe Student Reactions

Our exercises sometimes have a high number of repetitions/variations. That doesn’t mean you need to complete all repetitions before moving to the next exercise. They are not all necessary and if you feel the student is bored or no longer challenged, suggest moving on to the next lesson. Don’t worry; our students may repeat our exercises 2 or 3 times, so they’ll get the chance to perform the other repetitions in subsequent Live Lessons.

If the student looks like they are frustrated or are struggling, slow down and try to describe things in a different, simpler way or just move on. Don’t just let them continue to struggle.

Promote Conversation

Speaking in a foreign language can be very intimidating and some students can be very shy. Asking the right questions will help you promote conversation. Don’t be afraid of asking too many questions as long as they are not too personal. Avoid yes/no questions and instead, ask “how” and “why” questions.

Also, remember the student is here to learn how to speak, so please try to give them enough time to express themselves and avoid long stories about yourself. Be patient, sometimes they’ll need a little longer to formulate sentences.

Be Tactful and Supportive

Throughout a lesson, the student will be attempting to pull vocabulary from memory and use new grammatical constructions. This can be very hard so try not to interrupt mid-sentence to correct them. Instead, take some notes while they are speaking and give them a little feedback when they finish speaking or at the end of the exercise.

Remember to always be very encouraging when pointing out errors. Students may feel very unmotivated and overwhelmed if you correct too many things and just focus on errors. Try to balance corrections with positive feedback. Be enthusiastic and encouraging when they do something right. Make them feel good about how much they are learning.

Speak slowly, and (as much as possible) in the Target Language

The purpose of the Live Lessons is to help the student practice listening to and producing the language you’re teaching. It can sometimes be easier to switch to a student’s native language to explain something, but whenever possible, try to stay in the target language. Try explaining in simpler language, use gestures, or write a few words (in the target language) in the chatbox. Providing a translation or explaining something complicated is fine, just make sure you don’t drift away and have a conversation in the student’s native language.

Don’t forget to speak slowly. When you say a sentence, there are dozens of things the student may be trying to recall in order to comprehend the sentence and it can take a bit of time. When a student looks lost or confused, try saying the same thing slower. If that happens, try speaking at that slower rate for the rest of the lesson. It’s a good rule to start out speaking more slowly than you think is necessary, even for more advanced students.

Write Things Down

If the student can’t understand something or asks you to repeat it, write it in the chat window. This allows them to read it, which is often helpful, and it also serves as notes that the student can review later. Anything you think should be reviewed after the lesson, write it in the chat window. The chat window also allows the student to translate the word/phrase on their side, so you don’t have to break into the student’s native language.

Not sure how to explain something?

If your student asks you a tricky question that you’re not sure how to answer, don’t worry! We don’t expect you to be grammar experts. You can let the student know that you will find out the answer and leave a comment for them on the Community Forum after the lesson. You can do this by commenting below your tutor introduction post or letting them know that you will write a new post in one of the following categories:

It’s possible that there’s a post on the Forum that answers your student’s questions already! In this case, you can leave and reply tag their @username and they will get a notification about your comment.

Have Fun!

Don’t forget to smile and have fun. Show the student true interest in what they are telling you. And finally, we don’t expect our tutors to be perfect! So relax! The more you teach, the better you will get.


Questions? Problems?

  • You can always contact the Tutor Community Team via the yellow chat symbol on your dashboard.
  • If you have questions or feedback about a specific Live Lesson exercise, please let us know via the “take a note” feature. More information here:What if something is wrong with an exercise?