We’ve all been there- you’re excited to start your session with a brand new student, you connect, and as you start welcoming the student you see a look of sheer panic on their face- uh oh. This student doesn’t seem nearly as excited as you are, but that’s okay, you’re a professional so you can handle it. Though we don’t experience it very often on Fluentify, every once in a while we have a new student who is at a very low beginner level, which can be hard to manage on a video conferencing platform or maybe for tutors who aren’t used to working with low level students.
In this article we wanted to give you guys some tips especially on how to manage that first session with a beginner student and where to go from there.
1. Don’t panic and slow down
If you panic, the student is going to super panic. Once you realize that your student is having a really hard time understanding you, take a step back, start from the beginning, and say everything you said but extremely slowly, almost exaggerated. While it may sound strange to you in the moment, speaking very veryyy slowly can help your student understand what you’re saying.
2. Start with the basics
While in other articles we talk about doing your introduction first to help a new student warm up, we believe it takes a somewhat different approach with total beginners. Going on a five-minute story about yourself and your background will probably overwhelm the beginner student more than help him/her. So what kind of stuff can you guys talk about?- Usually, the student has done some basic course or played enough with a language learning app to have some standard vocabulary, so you can start there. Some examples might be:
– What’s your name?
– How old are you?
– Where are you from?
– Do you work? / Do you study?
– What do you do for your job? / What do you study?
– Do you have brothers or sisters? / Do you have children?
– What are your hobbies/ interests?
Make sure to be taking notes on this stuff so that you can use this information going forward.
3. Be accommodating
Have another tab open with a language translation dictionary (such as wordreference.com) so that you can help the student when he/she is stuck on a certain word or phrase. While we know that speaking in English ‘full immersion style’ will help the student, we’ve also gotten consistent feedback from our students that tutors who are able to understand or make an effort to understand their mother tongue, especially during a first session, put the student at ease and make for an overall more enjoyable English-learning experience.
4. Give the student a break
Now you can introduce yourself. Remember to keep it as basic as possible using simple language so that the student can understand you. When you notice a look of confusion, try to rephrase what you’ve said or use gestures to help your student understand. Remember- smiling is key. The more positive you are, the more relaxed the student will be.
5. Talk about goals
It’s clear that your student has a long way to go to gain some level of fluency, but it’s still important to understand why he/she wants to improve his/her English. Because this might be difficult for your student to express, try to guide him/her by asking some yes or no questions.
– Do you need to improve your English for school?
– Do you need to improve your English for work?/ looking for a job?
– Do you want to improve English for traveling?
– Do you need to pass an English test?
And you can try some open questions as well…
– Why do you want to improve your English?
– What is so important about improving your English?
– What is the most difficult thing about learning English for you?
– How did you study English in the past?
6. Explain your plan
Now that you know you’re working with a beginner level student, you know it’s going to be a particular type of path that includes a little more grammar/ vocab focused lessons. Tell that student what you recommend for sessions (2-3-4 times a week) as well as other tips for studying outside of your sessions together (downloading an app, subscribing to The Zine and Fluentify’s Instant channel, listening to a podcast, following a certain grammar website). This type of student will probably need more guidance than your standard students, so make sure to add that extra level of support.
7. Next steps
Tell the student that you will put all of your notes from the session in his/her feedback form as well as information on the type of plan you propose that will help him/her see improvements. If you can express to your student that your are dedicated to helping him/her improve, then he/she will be motivated to keep working with you.
Beginner students can be challenging, and sometimes that means that another tutor might be better able to meet this student’s needs. While working with a beginner student can be a great, rewarding experience, it can also be completely stressful if you haven’t had training in this area (we can’t all be experts in everything!). If at the end of a session you feel that your student would be better off working with a different tutor, tell them! You can recommend some of your colleagues that have years of experience working in beginner ESL classrooms and that know how to manage working with new students. This will only further convince the student that Fluentify is the perfect place because as tutors we are truly looking out for their needs and we genuinely want them to achieve their goals.
What about you? Do you have any specific strategies to handle a session with a beginner student? Make a comment and let us know!