9 Essential ESL/EFL One-to One Assessment Tips

Updated on November 11, 2016
chef-de-jour profile image

Andrew is a TEFL graduate and has recently taught classes in the UK. A keen traveller and article writer he has also tutored 1:1 abroad.



When you're teaching English one-to-one, you need to be prepared for a more personal encounter with your student whilst maintaining a professional approach at all times. This delicate balance can be struck by devising fun, yet challenging, lesson plans, tailored to the individual needs of the student.

The first lesson is all too important, an opportunity for you to get to know your student and for them to get to know you! Are you prepared?

For a successful first lesson, you should follow these nine essential tips which will help you and your student begin a great learning experience together. The emphasis should be on assessment—finding out what level your student is at.

Included is a helpful video which will guide you through your first meeting.

ESL Assessment Basics

  • Lesson Plan - with clear objectives and activities.
  • White card - A4 size is good, use as a whiteboard for demonstration purposes.
  • Alphabet - have an A-Z handy, use as a guide to spelling words.
  • Notebook - keep it at your side and jot down observations/suggestions for reference.

1. Be Professional

You want to set the right tone for the first lesson so you need to be professional yet informal. Make your student feel at home by offering a comfortable chair at your already organised desk or table. If it's ok to shake hands - in most countries it is but check first - then do that and introduce yourself.

  • Write your first name on a large white card and have it on show so the student can see and won't forget.
  • Take notes if you need to. Be discreet. These will be your reminders so you don't forget things as you go along.
  • You may also want to have an alphabet to hand should your student be an absolute beginner. If at any time they become stuck you can always point them to the alphabet. Twenty six ways out of a potential problem!

2. Relax, Listen And Make Eye Contact

As a teacher you should have very good listening skills already but in this first lesson you should be at a heightened state of alert! Why is that? Well, if you're meeting a student for the first time you need to be in 'assessment mode', that is, you need to be aware of :

  • what they say.
  • how they use words.
  • any mistakes they make.
  • their general level of competence.

It's important to make eye contact with them and to engage them, but better not to be too strict with correction at this early stage or you could see a drop in confidence and neither of you want that. Politely point out minor errors and make a mental note of things that may need some extra work in the future.

3. Have A 5 Minute Chat

You can relax your student further by having a few minutes chat which will allow you more time to assess their standard and give you an insight into their personality.

  • Perhaps a few simple questions would be worth while, along the lines of:

How did you get here today? Was your journey a pleasant one? Have you far to come?

Give your student plenty of time to answer and ask follow-up questions to keep the conversation flowing. This is a purely 'get to know you' relaxation exercise so there's no need for any written material to be used.

4. Fill In A Form Together

After your initial chat, you can gradually get down to business! A good way to ease your student into the learning environment is to fill in a form together. It could be a registry form if they are being entered for an exam or a personal details form with full name, address, age, occupation, education, family, hobbies and so on, which you'll need to keep in any case.

  • For future reference make a note of their specialisms and interests. They may love to work with high tech; they may prefer print and books. Perhaps the arts is of interest to them, or politics or social issues. Get to know and incorporate the information in future lessons.


5. Your Student's Needs

Your student's needs are top priority so find out what they need to get out of the course you are offering. Make sure they know what it is they want! Double check. I've had students turn up for a first lesson thinking they're on the 3 month twice a week beginner's course and not the full time 6 week advanced! So be clear and ask.

  • Give them a copy of the timetable you've made and any other basic information they might need. If the course is short and exam led you may want to provide details of the exams so your student knows from the outset the learning requirements.

6. Don't Mention The Voiceless Labiodental Fricative

Ouch! Exactly. You don't want to get too technical too quickly. The English language is a beautiful creation but you don't want to lose or frighten your student off just yet! By judging where they are on the ladder - beginner, intermediate or advanced - you can gauge what sort of language to use but don't aim too high in this first lesson. Keep it simple. You can venture into the delights of grammar, phonetics and palatal approximants in later lessons!

  • Encourage your student to make notes as you go along - you could provide them with a small notebook especially for your lessons - and advise them to keep it up to date in readiness for feedback time.

7 Reading Cards

For a quick but accurate assessment of your student's reading skills have them read out some cards you've prepared. These cards will have a variety of sentences written on them, at different levels. So it's best to start with the beginner's level and work up from there until you've established just where your student is comfortable and where they are challenged.

  • It's best to have a broad range of topics to choose from. General conversation, sport, hobbies, music, books and so on. You can either invent your own or buy them commercially.

Plan in sequence!
Plan in sequence! | Source

8. Future Planning

A step by step approach will give your student confidence and help you to plan ahead. It's wise to have a few lesson plan titles available that will take you into the next month's learning. Not only does it allow your student to prepare material in advance, it gives them a clear indication of where they are going and how they will get there.

  • As teacher you can adjust the details as you go along if you need to, but generally it's wise to stick to a set syllabus. Following this initial assessment you'll have a pretty decent picture of your student's strengths and weaknesses, and be able to prioritise their needs.

9. Feedback and Homework

At the end of each session comes feedback. Creating time to look back at what you've covered together should be a feature of every lesson you take.It allows you to:

  • ask basic questions. Has your student enjoyed the lesson? Understood everything?
  • focus on specific needs and
  • gives your student a perspective on issues that you may want to raise.
  • use constructive criticism and praise where it is merited.

You may want to give homework. Now's the time to do it. Be clear about what you want from the student.

  • Before they leave make sure they know the time, place and topic of their next lesson! Have an information leaflet handy with email addresses, contacts and other important information on it.

Planning Ahead

When you have fully assessed your student you'll be in a good position to plan ahead for further EFL/ESL lessons.

Concentrate on those areas that you feel are weak, make them a priority, and judge progress through informal and formal assessments such as in-depth conversation and written tests.

© 2012 Andrew Spacey


Submit a Comment
  • chef-de-jour profile imageAUTHOR

    Andrew Spacey 

    7 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Yes, thanks for your visit and comments. Teaching English one to one offers up so many opportunities - the chance to completely shape the lessons for the student so that, as you suggest, they can learn some practical things, perhaps about a new country and culture.

    My hub concentrates on the first lesson - getting to know a little bit about the student and assessing their needs and abilities. Both are essential.

    Your input is very much appreciated.

  • profile image


    7 years ago from Somewhere in North America

    Interesting. I'm first generation so English is my first language but I grew up in an immigrant family where another language was spoken as well. I was a student assistant in an ESL program when I was an undergraduate. Your advice is all good but I think some other key components include social events, group conversation classes, and teaching students survival skills appropriate to their age range such as how to get a driver's license, library card, and basics of government services and laws.


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