Summer Blog Break!

Now that the spring semester is over, I am going to take a summer break from this blog.

There are fifty posts in the archives – feel free to take a look! I hope you find something that’s useful to you.

While I’m not writing this blog, I will be playing with my kids, working in my garden, tutoring, seeing friends and family, and maybe even going on a few short trips with my family.

Have a wonderful summer!


7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Tutoring

Have you ever thought about working with an English tutor?  Are you wondering if it’s really worth the money?

It definitely can be worth the money, but it’s not magic. You can’t just sit at the same table as an English speaker and wait for your English to improve. You need to find the right tutor for you, and you need to participate.

Here are tips for getting the most value out of your private tutoring sessions:

1. Attend Regularly!

Canceling once a month is way too much canceling!

Let’s imagine you have a tutor four times a month for six months. If you cancel once a month, you’ll miss 25% of your sessions. That is a lot of missed opportunities!

2. Arrive On Time

16198597361_3d775d86ddIn the USA, it’s fairly important to usually be on time. 5:00 doesn’t mean “sometime before 5:30.”

Make it a priority to be at your tutoring appointment on time. This way you don’t miss out on any of your tutoring time and you show respect for the tutor and his/her schedule.

My advice for how to be on time: plan to be early. Then if you really do arrive early, you can play a game on your phone in your car while you wait for your appointment time.

3. Take Notes

3503394977_e6a711d1f0Use a three-ring binder with loose leaf paper. This way if your tutor gives you any hand-outs, you can place them in your notebook.

Date every single page, including the year. Keep them in chronological order in your binder.

Take notes as logically as you can. Group together similar ideas on the page. Star or highlight difficult things you want to review later (see the next step).

Paper is cheap, and tutoring is not. Use that paper to help you learn and remember, even if some space is wasted. Better to waste a few inches of paper than a half hour of tutoring.

4. Review Between Sessions

Set a regular calendar reminder for 3-4 days after your regular session. Take out your notebook, glance over what you did, and remember the session. Then go back and really read your notes.

Can you still do what you did during the session? If so, practice it for a few minutes. If not, write down exactly where you’re stumbling.

That’s it! Simple, but very powerful. It helps retention and helps you communicate with your tutor.

5A. Ask for Homework

If you have the time and motivation to do more than just a mid-week review, ask for some homework!

I suggest that you and your tutor both consider homework time in two ways:

Time between sessions. If you can only commit to ten minutes once a week, communicate that. A ten-minute assignment is still valuable practice.

Time during sessions. How much time do you want to spend going over your homework? If you only want to spend five minutes on it, don’t request three essays!

A few ideas for types of homework:

  • practice pronouncing specific difficult words/sounds in the mirror (5 min)
  • record yourself pronouncing five difficult words (15 min)
  • write five thesis statements on different topics (30 min)
  • write five spelling words five times each (10 min)
  • read or watch TV (any amount of time)
  • re-read something specific, circle specific grammar/vocab (30 min)

5B. Do the Homework

2837855969_63e4c584f9_nDon’t wait until it’s convenient! You need a more specific plan to get your homework done each week.

I recommend making a “tutoring homework” appointment on your calendar. Don’t schedule over it. Make it regular if possible so that it can become a habit. Set your phone to beep reminders at you.

6. Ask Questions

You will get the most out of your tutoring sessions if you bring questions and topics of interest to your sessions.

You and your tutor should still keep an eye on your larger goals. If you notice many of your questions are not related to your goals, you should decide together how to find a good balance. One easy way to start is to allot 10 minutes to weekly questions and 50 minutes to pursuing your bigger goals.

7. Ask About Study Skills


8504153041_dd0ae0fcce_nI hope that if you ever have to cut down a tree, you have the sharpest axe possible. And I hope that if you are learning English, you also have the best tools possible!

Making even just one small improvement in your usual study habits can save you time, improve your understanding, and help you get better grades for years. It’s worth looking into!

Your tutor is a great resource for learning how to study more effectively. It’s a part of most teacher training.

I suggest you ask about a specific type of studying. “How would you recommend I practice listening?” or “How do you think I should study this grammar point?”



If you ever decide to work with a private English tutor, I hope you will follow some of these tips to make the best use of your time.

If you have additional advice, please tell us in the comments!

Listen to Emily read this. (A new window will open.)

Photo Credit 1: frankieleon on Flickr
Photo Credit 2: Jinx! on Flickr
Photo Credit 3: Adreanna Moya Photography on Flickr
Photo Credit 4: Ted Murphy on Flickr



Is English Tutoring Right for You?

5063530520_ca4c569efbPeople learn languages in many different ways. Some prefer to study alone with books or software like Duolingo. Some take classes. Others learn informally just by listening.

Tutoring is another option. Tutoring is working with a teacher, just the two of you.

Reasons to Work With A Tutor

  • pronunciation work
  • student is shy
  • to help with homework
  • student knows what s/he wants to learn, doesn’t want a curriculum
  • schedule flexibility

Misunderstandings About Tutoring

Tutoring means working one on one with a teacher. It’s like a class with only one student and no grades.

FALSE: My tutor will fix my writing for me!

TRUE: When I tutor, my goal is building your skills. When you bring in a written report or email draft and ask for help with it, I will read it and note what your three biggest types of errors are. We will review those skills together. Then you will fix those in your paper, with guidance from me as needed.

FALSE: I’m getting a tutor! Showing up for one hour every week will make me fluent in English!

TRUE: Tutoring is not magical. Sitting at the same table as your tutor is not going to make you fluent. This will take time and continued effort. A tutor can help you make the most of your time and effort.


Tutoring is not perfect. Here are the main problems I see with tutoring:

  1. it’s very personal… so the student and tutor must like each other
  2. it’s very intensive… you can’t hide in the back of the classroom if you’re tired!
  3. it’s possibly disorganized… sessions are based on student needs and questions, not a methodical curriculum.
  4. it’s expensive

I try to minimize these drawbacks when I tutor:

  1. (personal) With me, the first lesson is always free. You do not have to hire me! If you don’t like my teaching or personality, I will not be a good tutor for you. Find someone else! 
  2. (intensive) During lessons, we work toward your goals with different activities. For example, in pronunciation work, we don’t just repeat sounds for an hour. I use several methods so that you don’t get bored.
  3. (disorganized) I take notes every session. I record what we’re working on, what’s giving you trouble, what’s going well, and what we might do next time. You and I also refer back to your goals frequently so we stay focused as the months go by.
  4. (expensive) If you can get what you need for free from the county, an app, your college, or your friends, you should do that! An experienced private tutor costs money. Is it worth it? You get to decide!

Good luck achieving your goals!

Listen to Emily read this article here. (A new window will open.)

Photo Credit: San Jose Library on Flickr


img_9849_opt-1Hi, I’m Emily!

I have been teaching English (ESL) since 2008.

I am writing this blog for people learning English, including my  own students. I plan to share activities, learning tips, English tips, learner stories, and great resources. I will write, and sometimes also have audio and video.

In case you’re interested, I also have a teaching blog.

(Click here to listen. You will hear me read this post. You will also hear my children laughing with my husband nearby.)


My blog header is by Liza on Flickr! I cropped it to fit the space. Thank you for sharing the great picture!