Planning English Lessons for Private Students (Adults)

Planning English Lessons for Private Students (Adults)

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So you’ve managed to get some private students lined up, congratulations! But now what do you do? How can you plan effective lessons to keep them coming back for more?

Teaching private students is a rewarding gig, especially for world travelers. Since English is generally considered the global language, demand for learning English has soared in the past few decades.

If you’re fluent in English and especially if you’re a native speaker, you can make money in almost any non-native English-speaking country in the world.

If you decide to lead private lessons, enjoy being your own boss and getting to keep all the profits! However, there are some inevitable pitfalls. Private students generally pay on a lesson-to-lesson basis. If your student becomes unsatisfied and cancels, there goes your money and also possibly your reputation. It’s important to provide effective lessons and retain your ‘privates’. Here’s how:

First Lesson

During your first lesson with a new private, present a comfortable atmosphere, be comfortably dressed, and especially have a pleasant, positive and confident demeanor. Your student should leave the lesson satisfied and with the impression you know what you’re doing. You should leave with a clear idea of your student’s expectations and goals.

I like to use the first lesson as a meet-and-greet and learn not only about my student(s), but what they expect from the course. I strongly suggest making a questionnaire with useful questions to ask the student, and taking notes on their responses so you don’t forget.

What should you ask?

First, learn what they expect from your lessons. Why are they learning English? Work or pleasure? Maybe they’ll be taking a holiday soon and want to brush up on their skills. Perhaps it’s simply a hobby. It could hold a greater importance, however.

Other useful questions you can ask include:

  • What is your English level?
  • What are your favorite and least favorite activities to study (reading, writing, speaking, listening)?
  • How have you used English in the past? How often? Do you have English-speaking friends or colleagues with whom you regularly communicate?
  • Have you visited an English-speaking country before?  How did you find it?  Did you have difficulties?
  • Do you watch movies or TV shows, read books, listen to the radio in English? With subtitles?
  • What are your personal hobbies and interests? What are some of your favorite things to do?
  • Have you taken structured English courses in the past? If so, elaborate.
  • Listen closely and assess your students as they answer your questions. Make notes on their common mistakes (perhaps they frequently misuse verb tenses or omit articles, for example). The more information you discover about your new students, the more prepared you’ll be to plan their future lessons.

Planning Materials

It’s essential to have a computer (preferably a laptop), a USB drive or external hard drive and internet access. It’s also useful to be in a place where you can download torrents or file sharing.

I’ve been really lucky because in my past full-time teaching jobs, I had access to computer files in which I could download complete English textbooks. I copied and saved the files for future use, and made sure I had textbooks for all levels of English learners, from beginner up to advanced.

I’ve found the most useful material for adult students would be:

  • New English File (both old and new editions)
  • Face 2 Face
  • Any study materials for popular tests, such as TOEFL and IELTS.

If you don’t have copies of these books, look around online and try to find some. Google is your friend.

And of course you need a printer! When I was teaching privates in Spain, there was a cheap copy shop right around the corner from my flat. In Moscow, I simply used my school’s spacious teacher planning room to make copies, at no extra cost.

But Wait!

These English textbooks are designed for structured classes with larger groups of students. Chances are if you’re teaching a private, you’re most likely doing a 1-to-1. And also, perhaps your student doesn’t want a structured lesson. If he/she did, they’d probably have just signed up for a regular English course, right?

You can still use these books! They include valuable sections in the back with “Communicative Activities” which can be adjusted to be used in 1-on-1 settings. Each individual lesson also has speaking sections that a private student can find quite fun and engaging. The teacher’s books offer other suggestions for supplementary and speaking activities.  Using the information you learned about your student from the meet-and-greet lesson, select certain parts from the textbooks to use with your private student.

I don’t recommend doing the entire lesson as it’s structured in your textbook. Your private student has likely signed up for lessons with you because they want more speaking time and more personal exchanges. I’d be heavy on the speaking and communicative exercises in your textbooks, while also including reading or listening from time to time. Lengthy writing exercises aren’t really appropriate during private lessons (it takes way too long and a teacher’s presence isn’t really necessary). If you or your student want to do them, it’s best they do it as homework and you can review their writing in future lessons.

Other Materials

In your first lesson, did you find out your student’s interests and hobbies? Good! Bring material that interests them and keep them engaged! I had one student who was a professional model and enjoyed traveling around Europe. Another elderly lady was an opera director and was interested in politics and foreign affairs. I designed my lessons accordingly, and also tried to keep my target language (the specific things you’re trying to teach them) adjusted to fit their desires.

Students enjoy real-world things in their lessons! That way, it seems the English they’re learning is actually going to be useful when they leave the classroom. You can bring in short news articles on topics your students enjoy. I liked to cut them into pieces and have my students try to piece them together in the correct order, like a puzzle. You can also present the first part of the article and have your student predict the ending or make up an alternate ending.  These activities are ‘fun’ and spur on the student’s creativity.

Visual aids also work well. You can play music videos or short youtube clips on mute, watch together, then ask the student what they think the people are talking/singing about. Play it again, this time with sound, then ask your student if their predictions were correct. Trust me, even adult students love activities like these! They are fun, engaging, and not so difficult to plan for.

Pictures can have the same magical effects. Show your student two similar pictures and have them talk about the differences or similarities. Show a picture of the past and tell the student to describe what was going on, using the past tense. And so on. The possibilities are endless.


So there you have it. If you didn’t have time to read the entire article, here is a very brief summary:

  • Figure out what the student wants during their first lesson.
  • Acquire some digital files of English textbooks, which match your student’s level, to help plan your lessons.
  • Don’t just repeat the lesson in the coursebook in order! Modify it to suit your student’s needs.
  • Use supplementary material, including but not limited to news articles, movie or music clips, and photos. Try to use everyday, real-life stuff that may interest the student.
  • Unless the student suggests otherwise, chances are they’re going to want a lot of speaking and communication activities, more so than students in structured classrooms will have.  Most privates will have more speaking and less writing/reading activities than your normal contract lessons.

Thanks for reading! Do you agree/disagree? Anything else to add? Good luck with your private students, now get out there and plan a great lesson!