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Home Tutoring Tips

It can take a week or so to get into a rhythm with the tutoring. It may not feel like it’s productive in the first couple of days, but spending time talking and getting to know the children (and parents) is the important thing at this point.

Remember that Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) refers to places where your students probably don’t have many daily opportunities to practice (because the language is foreign/not native in that place). For this reason, building confidence in speaking/listening is probably the most important thing you can do for them.

When you first connect with your host family, ask them about their learning goals and how they envision the tutoring sessions. Some families may request “informal tutoring” just through spending time with their kids and doing activities, while others may request that you devise structured activities/lessons. This might include going through an English workbook the parents have for their kids.

Informal Tutoring

Families like to see that you’re reinforcing things that they have been learning throughout the day. For example, if you know that one of them struggles with verb tense and keeps saying things like ‘I am being hungry,’ make a point to bring up these kinds of phrases throughout the day (e.g., when you’re in the kitchen and they’re around use the correct phrase and briefly discuss it; or intentionally use the wrong phrase and ask them to point out what you did wrong).

You could also challenge them by saying that at some point during the next few weeks you are going to make intentional grammatical mistakes and it’s their job to correct you. Make it a game. Make it obvious when you’re making these “mistakes” so that it doesn’t confuse them. You don’t want to bombard them with English ‘studying’ all day but reinforcing grammatical points by giving them the chance to practice here and there (meals, etc.) is already a great informal contribution as a tutor.

One of the most important things about being there is being engaged with family life as much as you can. If they’re doing something in the kitchen offer to help out. Meet them on their terms and be a positive presence in the home. This will afford you more opportunities to speak and expose the kids to English.

Another informal teaching strategy, once you know what kinds of activities they enjoy, is joining them in these activities and exploring the words and phrases needed to communicate about the specific activity (video games, sports, gardening, etc.). Activities require actions (obviously) so they are really great ways to work on verb phrases. It doesn’t have to feel like work if you’re having the children teach you how to do these activities!

Formal Tutoring

Speaking practice

The best language teachers give plenty of chances to speak. You need to be able to hear where they are struggling and they need to actively practice since they probably don’t get much practice in their day-to-day lives. Look to build consistency in tutoring sessions. You might start every session by asking them to take 5 minutes to tell you about their day. Right off the bat it’s solid practice for them, and then you can notice where they may be struggling, which will inform what you focus on. You can then take some time to practice how one part of grammar works, write it down, use other similar examples, etc. Repeat parts of their day back to them emphasizing grammar as necessary.

Listening practice

Your students shouldn’t be expected to understand everything you say to them, but they should still have chances to hear a native speaker talking in a way that seems natural (even if perhaps you slow down a bit to accommodate them sometimes). Tell them about your day for five minutes. Sometimes you might start out with an introduction like, “Something funny happened today.” That way they remain alert to what the funny thing is. Maybe then have them ask three questions about your day based on what they have heard. And you can have them describe your day back to you.

Reading and pronunciation

Find a very short story (even half a page) and ask them to read it to you, then discuss what happened for further speaking/listening practice.


Avoid having them write too much during your sessions. They do this in school already and it will just take up time. If it serves a specific purpose, fine, but it’s probably not something you want to focus on as much as speaking/listening. They also might have English at school, with homework involving writing. If so, this is perhaps something to look at together for a part of your session (perhaps towards the end).

Be Consistent

Build consistency in the tutoring sessions, to establish a rhythm. If they know at least part of what to expect (e.g., describing their day/hearing about your day) then it won’t seem so overwhelming and this helps you organize lessons as well. You might want to start and finish each session the same way every time—maybe with some kind of repeated phrase or mantra (“Our lesson is finished and now it’s time to ______”). Consistency is important.

If you have two hours with one student, make sure you take a short break at some point.

Relate English to Their Lives

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the kids may not have any interest in learning English and/or don’t realize the value. Their parents may be enthusiastic about them learning but the kids might need some extra motivation. Talking to the kids about how they might use English and relating it to their lives are good ways to help them recognize the value of language learning.

Examples of real-world language application:

  • Travel The kids may be interested in traveling in the future and showing them cool places to visit in English-language countries and how they might use English when traveling is one way to show them how they can apply what they learn from your tutoring sessions. You might show pictures of Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and ask students if they’d like to visit these places.

  • Careers English is a global language and it can open many doors to different careers. Ask students what they’d like to do once they are finished with school. Introduce them to different careers in which English-language skills are an asset.

  • Making New Friends The ability to communicate in another language opens the doors to connecting with people from other cultures.

Incorporate Their Interests into Activities

If you know one of your host kids loves soccer, incorporate soccer into an activity. For example, you can teach game terminology in English while kicking around the ball. If one of the kids loves dolls, that’s a great way to introduce body parts in English. If there is a particular TV show they like, try to find an English version and/or ask them questions about the show in English. The possibilities are endless!

Utilize Existing ESL Resources

There is a ton of free ESL content available online—full lesson plans, activity ideas, and more. If you need help planning a lesson around a specific topic, check out InterExchange’s Online ESL Resources Guide to pinpoint which site might be most helpful. Many sites organize content by topic and level. If you’re just looking for a few ideas to get you going in your first week, check out our First Tutoring Session Guide.


Think about what worked well and what didn’t. That way you can improve for the next session. A lot of teaching and tutoring is trial and error, as different kids will respond differently to your methods. Remember, this is meant to be a learning experience for you, too, and each day your confidence will increase!

Check-In with the Host Parents

It’s a good idea to schedule a sit-down with the parents to check in on how things are going and to plan. Even 15 minutes, just to let them know “This is how I’m thinking we’ll proceed with the sessions; this is what has gone well so far and here’s where we struggled a bit.”

Asking them what has worked or not worked with previous tutors should definitely not be a signal that you’re unprepared - it should demonstrate that you are actively looking for ways to make this work well for everybody. These are your tutoring sessions, so take ownership of them, but let the parents in on how things are going from time to time. They might even be able to help reinforce the things you’re working on.

First Session Guide

Your first day is all about getting to know your host family and sharing information about yourself so they get comfortable with you. Below are some suggested activities and games for your first tutoring session.

Home Tour

Ask your host children to give you a tour of their home. Ask them questions in English along the way to get to know them better and gauge their English-language level.

Neighborhood Tour

If feasible, ask for a tour of the neighborhood. Ask questions in English along the way to get to know them better and gauge their English-language level.

Go Fish!

Playing cards are easy to pack and you can practice phrases and numbers through a game. Explain how to play Go Fish. Introduce the key phrases (“Do you have any…? / No, go fish!). Play a practice round to ensure your students understand the game.

Share Photos/Information About Yourself

Show your host family pictures of your family, friends, and hometown. You can make this interactive by having your host children guess the identity of the people in the photos. For example, if you show a picture of your brother, you can ask: “Who is this?”

This is a way for your host children to learn more about you and to practice their speaking skills. You can also assess their language level by the responses they provide.

Two Truths and One Lie

Write down three sentences about yourself. Two are true and one is a lie. For example:

  1. I hate roller coasters.
  2. I have three cats.
  3. My favorite singer is Adele.

Step 1: Ensure students understand the vocabulary. Show pictures of a roller coaster, cats, and Adele (whatever your terms are) and ask students to tell you the terms in English. Go over the terms “truth” and “lie” by making statements about yourself that are obviously true and obviously lies. For example, if you have brown hair, state: “I have blonde hair” (to demonstrate a lie). If you are tall, state: “I am tall” (to demonstrate a truth).

Step 2: Explain that the objective is for them to guess which of the statements is a lie and which statements are true by asking you questions.

Step 3: Have kids write three statements about themselves, one a lie and the other two truths and you guess which is a lie and which are true.

Four Corners

Label each corner of a room with “love,” “hate,” like,” and “dislike.”

Step 1: Ensure kids understand the terms “love,” “hate,” “like,” and “dislike.” You might show pictures of items such as, ice cream, homework, etc. Ask kids their feelings about each item.

Step 2: Explain the objective of the game: you will say a noun and the kids must go to the corner of the room that reflects how they feel about the person, place, or thing. Demonstrate how to play the game by saying a noun and walking to the corner that reflects your opinion.

Step 3: After you ensure kids understand what is expected of them, start to play. Ask them follow-up questions to get them talking. For example, if they’re in the “hate” corner, ask why they hate the particular noun.

This is a great way to get kids energized (since they’re moving), to learn what excites them, and to assess their English-language level. When they smile and hurry to a corner, that’s a good indication they’re engaged. If they’re slow to move after you’ve said a term, it may be because they don’t understand.

Tell Me All About You

Prepare a questionnaire, which asks about likes and dislikes and other information, such as “Who is your favorite singer?” for the kids to complete.

Step 1: Ensure kids understand the vocabulary on the worksheet. Before passing out the worksheet, show pictures of the items on the questionaire (for example, if you have “ice cream” listed, show a picture of ice cream) and ask kids to name the item in English. Show or write the correct term in English next to the picture after you’ve elicited answers.

Step 2: Pass out the worksheet and explain that the objective is for the kids to tell you about themselves by answering the questions. Go over the first question together.

Step 3: Give them 10 minutes to complete the form.

Step 4: Ask each question on the sheet and have students give you their answer orally.

This activity is a great way to learn more about the host kids and to get them practicing their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills.

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