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Competing against one-to-one students

Competition in one-to-one classes

Alex CaseTEFL Contributor
Photo by cottonbro studio

Perhaps the greatest disadvantage of students studying in one-to-one English classes is that they don’t have other students to compete with as they show off their homework, compare how much they understood of the latest lesson or, more commonly, push their level of English in order to win classroom games or activities. Although it’s not as easy and natural as in a group, you can use techniques to make up for this by private students competing against:

  • Himself/ herself
  • People outside class
  • The teacher

Students competing against themselves

This is like a coach timing someone’s sprints and letting them know when they have improved. I usually do this with comments like “Well done, your fluency was much better this time”, but you can also do more systematic versions such as:

  • Timing them when they talk on extended speaking topics like “My first school”, taking off time for thinking in silence, then telling them “One minute thirty five seconds, five seconds longer than last time.”
  • Counting how many follow-up questions they ask after telling them something about yourself (including questions using the target language).
  • Scoring how interested they sounded during a roleplay.
  • Counting how many questions they asked without asking something taboo or making a language mistake.
  • Deciding on a word, expression, or phrase which students should try to avoid, e.g. Spanglish.  It’s too simple and they know a better version, they repeat it over and over but know synonyms. Time how long they can go without using it.
  • Using technology that claims to be able to judge their speaking or writing such as a video game that gives scores for matching the rhythm of the song (contradicting the tech when it misses improvements or they need more encouragement).

You can also set goals for how much students can improve on things outside class, such as what level they should be able to get to on a language learning app by next week or how many times they should speak in their next English-language meeting at work. Collaborate with students to identify and set realistic and attainable goals.

One-to-one students competing against people outside the class

This consists of two techniques:

  • Preparing students to compete on something they do between classes.
  • Using evidence of what others do to judge their performance in class.

The most obvious example of the former is giving them language or communication techniques that they will need to do well on a language-learning app such as a vocabulary test or an app that monitors peoples’ pronunciation. The competition with others then comes from reporting back on how much they have moved up the app’s leader board, from the teacher comparing to what they know about students in other classes, or the teacher reporting on their own progress in another language on the same app.

When it comes to using evidence of other people’s skills, the easiest source is videos of other people speaking English. For example, if you can find several videos of IELTS Speaking Part Two monologues, you can watch each vid after your student does the same tasks, eliciting how they are doing with approaching or outstripping those performances with each attempt. Such speaking practice is also useful for non-exam students.

Moving away from focusing just on the language, similar things can be done with students competing with online examples of answers to job interview questions, answers to university interview questions, performances on TV quiz shows, etc, with separate feedback on the language coming later.

Competing against the teacher
One-to-one student vs teacher activities can be so useful that it is dealt with in the article Competing against one-to-one students on this site.

Alex CaseTEFL Contributor
Alex has 25 years' experience as a teacher, teacher trainer, manager, writer and editor in Turkey, Thailand, Spain, Greece, Italy, Korea, the UK and now Japan. He is the author of the "Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities" series of e-books on business and exam skills.

Disclaimer  We aim to provide useful ESL and EFL teaching resources and educational ideas. Our articles are written by educators with extension TEFL experience. They contain only general information about teaching English as a foreign language and are meant purely for informational purposes.

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