How To Get Private English Students (and keep them!)
This article about teaching private English students covers:
- How to advertise your private lessons.
- How to handle the first meeting.
- How to manage expectations.
- How to plan the first lesson.
- Where to find great lesson ideas.
One of the best ways to make money as an English teacher is by giving private lessons, and there is a huge demand for this in Istanbul.
How To Get Private English Students (And Keep Them!)
Many potential students of English have busy family and work lives which prevent them from attending an English course at the weekend or in the evenings. However, they are keen to learn English and they may actually need to learn English for career development. This need can be addressed through private lessons and many students will pay a serious premium to be taught 1-1 in their own home.
A great deal of money can be made this way, but starting from scratch isn’t easy.
That said, if you know a few secrets and learn a few tricks of the trade you can make an excellent living, while at the same time staying in control of your working hours.
The challenge is that many teachers find that they get the odd private student here and there but they don't stay on that long, and its hard to make a full time living. There is a solution to this problem and there is a way to create a full time income that you are in control of.
Everything is explained below.
If you’ve had some experience in the TEFL world you must have thought, at least once, about ditching the institutions and going solo. How do those teachers with 10-15 private students do it? The good news is that it isn’t rocket science. There are several ways to build your roster of students, but word of mouth is still probably the best. Let friends and family know that you are available and make up some business cards so that you are ready to take every opportunity that comes along. If you are living in Turkey you will already have noticed how many taxi drivers and waiters ask if you give private lessons!
Advertising Your Private English Lessons If you really want to make a good income from private lessons, at some point you’ll probably need to take out an ad or make a post on a website like Craigslist. You should also try www.sahibinden.com which has proven to be a great source of students for us in the past. Creating ads can be tough because you have to sell yourself. Here are several keys that have worked well for me:
- Be honest about your experience, credentials and expertise. Highlight what you do best. This paves the way for honest students.
- Include some kind of expectation in your ad. I always say something like “Serious students only. Beginners are expected to practice 15 minutes a day.” All of my students have told me that this is the thing that made them contact me over anyone else. There’s no short cut to learning English, and students that understand this show the most improvement and stick with lessons the longest.
- Offer a free trial lesson. This will allow you to judge their level and personality before making a commitment. Its not easy sitting 1-1 for up to a few hours a week so make sure you are both comfortable. Take a notepad and listen carefully. If you decide to go ahead the notes you make now can form the content of your first lesson.
- Pricing. I don’t include pricing in my ads. Where the student lives, whether or not they’re willing to come to my place for the lessons, and when they’d like to have the lessons all factor into my quote. Everything starts at a basic price of 120TL/hour and works down, so I’m simply less likely to negotiate with somebody that lives further away and needs to do their lessons at 9am on Saturday, while my neighbor could probably get a great deal on lessons at 11am on Mondays.
- Be professional. Stay organized with everyone you’re emailing with and respond in a timely manner. Use punctuation and grammar, even if they don’t. These are small details that can make a big difference in making a positive impression on potential students.
And remember, your time and expertise is valuable. Don’t sell yourself short. When possible, I ask for advance payment of 4 lessons, and make this handshake agreement with my student:
“As your teacher, I promise to be prepared to give your lesson at our agreed scheduled time each week, and barring emergencies will give you at least 24 hours notice if I need to reschedule. My failure to otherwise show up for a lesson earns you a free lesson. As my student, you promise to be prepared and on time for your lesson at our agreed scheduled time each week, and barring emergencies will give me at least 24 hours notice if you need to reschedule. Failure to give me fair notice will forfeit your payment for that lesson. All pre-paid lessons are refundable at any time.”
Like any handshake agreement, this is flexible, but it creates some formality so we both take the lessons more seriously. It sets the tone for productive lessons that are fun for the student and engaging for you as a teacher. I know dozens of teachers that would never dream of saying something like this and they don't have any problems with students cancelling at the last minute. How smoothly your association with a students goes and for how long, depends on your attitude, style and numerous factors to do with students own life. If you do find you face problems with reliability or cancellation then you might find a verbal agreement helps.
The Free Trial Lesson (aka Evaluation!)
This is usually best done on neutral ground such as a coffee shop so it is relaxed and informal. Take a notepad and listen very carefully. Dont take any materials and put your new student under unnecessary pressure. Ask about their school, job or family, if they need English at work and what their motivations are. Ask whether they have had private lessons before and why they didnt work out. This will help you avoid the same mistakes. Make notes of their mistakes and any vocabulary issues while they are speaking but dont correct any mistakes at this point. Prompt them if they are searching for a word and check to see that they naturally repeat the word you gave them. This is a sign of a potentially good private student. Also pay attention to any questions they ask you as this is another good sign that your lessons will go smoothly. It isnt easy to sit for an hour or more several times a week with someone 1-1 if they never ask any questions of their own! Tell them about yourself and watch carefully for signs that they are understanding or not. After half and hour give them some positive feedback and tell them, based on your notes, the areas where you think you can improve their English immediately.
The First Lesson
During my first lesson with a new private EFL student, I always begin the lesson with a real conversation. No matter what level your student, as long as they're above basic beginner, they should be able to hold a simple conversation, and answer basic questions. Of course, don't expect them to ask questions of you. That's a skill often reserved for high-advanced students and, even then, not always possible. When you arrive for your first lesson, start by explaining to your student you'll do two to three activities today and the first one will be a general conversation. I always start every lesson by telling them what I want to get done within the time. I find this prevents the lessons slipping into free conversation classes. This might be fine if thats what you want but I prefer to keep more structure in place, so I can plan the next lessons more easily, keep track of what we have done, and get better results for the student. Then begin to ask simple questions, "Where do you live?" "How many people in your family?", "What's your favorite food?" "Do you like music?" etc. Once the conversation begins, you'll often find it naturally moves from topic to topic if your student is responding. If however you're only getting one or two word answers, your student is either shy or their English skills are low. Press on until you can assess which.
With the conversation, you'll be able to assess three things quite easily. A) How good are your new EFL student's listening skills? If they're giving you appropriate responses at least 75% of the time, their listening skills are good. If they're misunderstanding, their listening skills are poor. B) You'll be able to assess how large of an English language vocabulary they have, and C) After only a few minutes, you'll begin to hear mistakes that are typical to that student, ie: they're making the same or similar grammatical mistakes over and over again. Now move onto activity number two.
Dictate a Short Written Passage - Few EFL teachers nowadays seem to think about giving a dictation. Not only is it the perfect way to assess your EFL student's English skills, many students enjoy it. I always choose a short passage from a children's or teen book, or recent newspaper article depending on skill level. Choose a short paragraph and dictate the paragraph to your student, asking them to write down what they hear. Spell out words or names they are unfamiliar with, otherwise let them just write it down and then review it. Upon review, you'll see three things. A) How good is their spelling? B) How good are their listening skills? (If the passage makes no sense, they're not hearing the words correctly, and C) How good is their grammar and punctutation? (They should be able to write something down and figure out if the grammar in the sentences they're writing is correct). I've even done this with advanced-beginner eight-year-olds, so don't go in there thinking an advanced-beginner can't do this. They can.
Two Important Work Sheets - For the last assessment activity, I have my new EFL student complete two work sheets I create myself. I don't, however, sit there and let the student do the work. I do the worksheets with them, making it more fun and causing them to feel less nervous. The first worksheet I create is of 15 questions of typical English grammar errors. Things like 'have versus has', sentences with grammatical errors where the student has to decide what is incorrect (you may be surprised how difficult EFL students find this) and questions with three versions of the same word, where the student has to decide the correct spelling.
This is where your notes from the free trial lesson (evaluation) will come in handy. You can design some questions around mistakes you have heard this student make already. The second worksheet is a short comprehension exercise, with five easy questions based on the information in a short passage you have chosen from a book, newspaper or magazine. At the end of the third assessment activity, you should have a good idea of:
A) The level your student is at, B) Common mistakes she/he is making, C) Listening, speaking, spelling and grammar skills and D) The confidence level of your new student.
With all this in mind, it is easy to leave the first private lesson with a good grasp of things your EFL student should begin working on, in order to begin to see an improvement. If you have done all the steps described above you will have demonstrated to your students that you know what you are doing. They will see that you are professional, organised and capable of getting them to their goals. You will have greatly increased the chances of this student staying with you long term, and the likelihood that they will recommend you to other people.
Teaching private English lessons is no free lunch. It takes hard work, preparation and a small amount of risk. Having said that the reward of working for yourself and not having to answer to a boss, is liberating. Before you set out and take those first steps towards teaching English privately, there are a few final things to consider. If you’re teaching in a language institution – in any capacity – you must check with your Director of Studies to see if your contract permits you. Taking private lessons (and advertising publically) may seriously affect your steady paying job if it goes against the regulations. Preparing all those hand-outs? Do yourself a favour and invest in a printer with a scanner. Keep everything you create in properly organised files. You wont be able to use everything you create with every student but after a while you will have built up an invaluable resource of materials that you know work. Keep a file for each student and insert the worksheet and notes from each lesson into the file in chronological order. Each lesson should begin with a review from the previous lesson, so the file makes planning easier and makes the lessons flow more logically and constructively.
Finally, the trick to teaching privately is to be flexible. Without being able to chop and change classes, travel out of your suburb or prepare lessons on borrowed time you’ll likely to find the whole thing fairly stressful.
I believe these are probably the two best resources for anyone giving private English lessons. Whenever you need an idea for a lesson these two sites will deliver everytime.
Lessonstream is a selection of lesson plans – or rather, recipes – which serve to demonstrate how teachers can make use of the explosion of good materials we all now have access to via the internet. Beautifully organised with great attention to detail, there is something to interest everyone here.
- The lessons are free.
- Each lesson has 26 pages of printable activities / handouts.
- There is a new lesson every two days.
- The lessons alternate between pre-intermediate and intermediate (plus).
- All lessons are based on stories currently in the news - as the world's news breaks, teach it.
- All lessons are also downloadable PDF format.
- There are 30+ online quizzes for each lesson.
- Listening files can be downloaded in mp3 format or subscribed to via a podcast.
- Classroom handouts are readily reproducible.
- There are graded listenings with each lesson.
- Thousands of teachers and students say they love using the news lessons.
I have started a collection of the best books for teaching English here and I will keep adding new ones gradually, so please check back.
Checkout our online shop for some of our own favourite private lesson materials.
What more do you want?!
Can you recommend any other good sites?
What have you found works well with private students?
Use the comments box below to share your ideas.