My one-to-one student just wants to chat

So, after planning a lesson tailored to the needs of the individual student, all they seem to want to do is have a chat. You start to wonder if it is worth planning the lesson at all.   Then there’s an occasional pang of guilt when you think about how much the student is paying just for ‘a chat’.

This is, I’m sure, a familiar situation for many an EFL teacher. A one-to-one lesson naturally lends itself to a less structured approach. The teaching situation, in fact conforms very much to the three tenets of Dogme teaching (Lessons are Conversation Driven, Materials Light, and focus on Emerging Language). But what about that nagging thought? What would the student say they learned in that lesson? Are they making progress? Are they aware of the progress they are making?

One thing that can really make a difference is ensuring that there is a good amount of feedback and error correction. One approach is for the teacher to take notes throughout the lesson on new language and areas of difficulty. A template such as the one below could be used to keep a record of any student mistakes in language and pronunciation, and any new emerging language: 1:1 feedback

Dealing with feedback

The teacher could devote the final 10 minutes or so of the lesson to language feedback/upgrading.   This time can be used for the following:

  • The student can be encouraged to self-correct their slips and the teacher can work with the student to upgrade their language.
  • The emerging language can be revisited and recycled, perhaps with the teacher ‘testing’ the student.  E.g. ‘What was the word for that small, round, green vegetable you don’t like?’
  • The teacher can elicit the correct pronunciation of any words, utterances, highlighting difficult sounds or stress patterns; this can be followed by some targeted drilling to improve the student’s pronunciation.
  • As in the picture above, a different coloured pen can be useful for this stage.

Of course, at the end of the lesson, the student can take the language review home to look at in more depth if they want to. It can be useful for the teacher to take a photocopy too in order to inform future planning and encourage further recycling of language.

 Advantages of this approach:

  • This encourges a high level of overt feedback on production.
  • The students have a record of emerging vocabulary.
  • The students are encouraged to self-correct their slips and errors.
  • The student becomes aware of their most common mistakes and fossilised errors.
  • Progress is easier to track and importantly, it is made overt to the student.
  • The other side of the form can be used as a mini whiteboard for any language presentations/clarifications.
  • The student leaves the lesson with a record of what they covered in the lesson and opportunities to review it in their own time.

I personally use this form with all my one-to-one classes and find that students really appreciate it. Some of my long-term students have kept all of their feedback forms in a folder and would refer back to them during following lessons, trying to remember words from previous classes and remembering their previous mistakes. If you’ve never used this approach, then give it a go.  Here is a blank template which you are more than welcome to use: One-to-one Error Correction

Feedback and suggestions are very welcome in the comments below:


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30 Responses to My one-to-one student just wants to chat

  1. Dan says:

    As I begin a new week of teaching, my one-to-one classes have been the ones on my mind the most and for the very reasons you state! I’m going to give the feedback form a go, especially as I want to implement more of a dogme approach which in my view, helps develop rapport with learners.


  2. Kim says:

    Really like this idea although many of my conversation classes take place in venues with no photocopying facilities……


  3. Frances says:

    I have to admit that some of my lessons with particular students tend to deviate from my loose lesson plan into a chat. Error correction is dealt with, of course, but this form is a simple way to record feedback in a clear way. I’ll give it a go soon. Thank you!


  4. Maja says:

    I have indeed tried something similar to this…. however, this becomes really problematic when you cover a lot of vocabulary, especially if you have adult students who are busy and don’t review regularly…. at some point, everyone loses track of what we have covered. New vocabulary emerges while old bits haven’t been acquired. My student explicitly told me she wanted some structure to keep track of the progress she was making. So in the end, I opted not to use dogme at all, but a textbook and some extensive reading.(BY FAR the best thing I’ve introduced in my one to one lessons.)


  5. Susan Brodar says:

    Great idea!
    I always note vocabulary, expressions and grammar mistakes on a blank sheet of paper consecutively but only a few diligent students take these sheets home and copy them up into their exercise books. They mostly end up in the bin at the end of the lesson.
    This is a more structured approach I might try implementing with the busier students but, as Maja says, my vocabulary lists tend to be quite long with some students – luckily those are the ones who copy them up.

    Thanks – I’ll definitely give it a go!


  6. Em says:

    I’vebeen doing this since day one, any further strategies to keep one:one “just chat” lessons interesting?


  7. Maja says:

    My students do copy,(and make flashcards) but unless I force them to review(in class mostly), by returning to the vocabulary every now and then, nobody actually learns what we cover. This is why I gave up on this kind of approach


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  9. timjulian says:

    Hi Jonny, really nice idea and template, which I’m going to nick! I also find it useful (on occasions) to record my private students on my phone using an app like Recordium (I’m sure there are many others). I often do this to practise presentation skills. The student thinks for a sec what he/she wants to say before beginning. I normally limit the recording to a couple of minutes, then we playback, analyse errors, and, most importantly the student has another go, trying to improve accuracy and fluency. I’ll often say after the first attempt, especially if there were a lots of ums and ers, “OK, that was 2′ 36” – now try to say the same thing in less than two minutes. They find it really helpful in my experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Galina says:

    I used this with two of my classes today (my intermediate fluency class, which has 2 students, and my elementary class which had one student today)

    Both classes loved it and asked if we can use it more often 😀 I loved that it help to organise and structure my delayed error correction, and gave it a little more focus than “here are your mistakes, let’s correct them” as well as making it far more student centered. It also helped being able to highlight the difference between accuracy and fluency, as my intermediate students have a fantastic level of fluency, but worry about their mistakes a lot – it’s really helped to boost their confidence in speaking, and making mistakes. Thank you so much – this is by far one of the most useful resources I’ve found yet!


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  12. annforeman says:

    Hi Jonny,

    Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be putting up a post about it on today’s TeachingEnglish Facebook page, if you’d like to check there for likes and comments.



  13. Bettina says:

    Sound really interesting, I might even try it with my class of 6 students. They never write notes and I think this might help them . The only problem is I sometimes find it difficult to write notes but to still listen to the student so I often record and we listen together. How do other teachers cope with this?


  14. Cecília Carla Pacheco Lopes Valentim says:

    I would just like to congratulate you!


  15. Bringing a little structure into note taking seems like a fair suggestion. Thanks for the form!

    I prefer to give feedback once or several times during the class but not at the very end. Keeping the end of the lesson focused on fluency brings Dogme lessons to a more task-teach-task structure. The benefit of it is that if the student uses even 1 item from the “teach” bit correctly during the final free speaking stretch and you give them a thumbs-up or something to indicate this, it feels like a very tangible positive result to both of you.


  16. Aga Maj says:

    You certainly keep your feedback sheet well organized. I like the 3-column structure. If you include your school’s logo on top it’s a nice form of marketing.


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  18. Hi Jonny,
    after finding this post via the British Council page I’ve started using the form. It’s been very popular among my students and serves its purpose very well. I copy most of the forms, keep them in students’ folders and use for tests and reviews. After several months it’s time for some feedback for you 🙂

    I modified the form slightly, adding a text field for ‘subject’ at the top, sometimes it’s pretty helpful for the student to see what we’ve covered so far.
    When taking notes, I try to note down some good things as well – adding a little smiley face next to them (let’s say one or two per each column). It provides additional motivation and reinforces use of already correctly or almost correctly used phrases.
    Also, I work a little with translation. When the student forgets the word and needs me to remind him or her, I put it in Polish at the bottom of the column. When doing delayed feedback, they translate the word again, remembering it most of the time.
    I’ve noticed that some of my students translate the words after lessons. So I suggested that they write the translations down as well, if there is enough place. However, not next to relevant lg items, but underneath. So we would have 5 English and 5 Polish expressions in the column. Then they can test themselves translating back and forth.

    Last but not least, due to nice and easy repetition, all my students always know how to answer the question about the day and date ;).
    Keep up with the good work and thanks for the form!


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  20. Maja Slijepcevic says:

    How often do you change the sheet? Do you give them a new one every lesson or when it fills up?


    • jonnyingham says:

      Hi Maja, and thanks for the question.

      I would would usually expect to fill the sheet in one lesson, and then start the next lesson with a new one. I usually spend the final 10 mins or so at the end to go through it, and then the student can take it with them and go home with a record to study from.

      Happy teaching!


  21. Maja Slijepcevic says:

    I see your point, but I have another issue/question. What do you do if you have a wide and varied range of structures that appear. In most of my lessons it ranges from there is/are, present perfect all the way to should have/was supposed to. (Intermediate and upper-intermediate students). For example, I recently covered present perfect and past perfect from a textbook, but I dedicate at least 20 minutes of my lessons to students speaking(with their arms and feet if necessary, as I always tell them, but they have to speak). And then, before I’m done consolidating one structure 5 new ones crop up. Any suggestions on how to deal with this?


  22. Pingback: How can I give effective feedback to my one-to-one student? « Cecilia Nobre ELT Blog

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