BTR-TESOL Unit 1C - Tutoring Guidelines
by Beth Anne Firnges



objectives of this unit

the least you should know

needs and situation assessment and goals

material selection, timing, and financial consideration

location and setting

planning and flexibility

professional manner

record keeping

feedback and assessment

comprehensive questions

video examples

reflection and responses

where to go to learn more

connections to other units in this program

online and other electronic resources

print and paper based resources

additional references



Many people who teach English to speakers of other languages end up working as tutors. That is, instead of working with whole classes of English language learners, they work with individuals (or very small groups). Tutoring situations may seem less intimidating to some people, but they have their own set of challenges. This unit will provide some guidelines for working successfully as a tutor.

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Scenario: A university student on an internship in Japan is asked to tutor English

Mary, an American university student, went to Japan on an internship to teach English in junior high schools. As she travelled, she met people who asked her to tutor them and their children in English during her free time. Tutoring kept her very busy and she didn’t know what she was doing at first.

She had to find out what the students’ goals were or help them come up with some if they didn’t have any. She also had to decide whether to work for free or to have her students pay her, and if so, how much. She had to find materials to help her students understand concepts she couldn’t explain very well. She learned that she had to tailor her lessons to fit individual students’ needs. It was very difficult. However, the students really appreciated her help so it was satisfying work. She learned a lot from the experience.

    • Have you ever worked in a tutoring situation, or do you think you will soon? What did you do or what will you do in that situation?
    • How might you create a healthy, professional learning environment for the people you tutor?
    • What is the best way to give feedback to students in a tutorial setting?
    • What important concerns should you think about before you start tutoring?

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Objectives of this unit

After working through this unit, you will be able to do the following:

  • Plan what you will do when you find yourself in particular tutoring situations.
  • Follow the seven guidelines listed below in "the least you should know" section to improve your tutoring sessions.
  • Understand and use tutoring resources to guide your tutees' learning.

Note: Tutees and students are the same in this unit. Also, tutoring and teaching are used for the same idea in this unit.

If you learn well, and apply what you have learned, you will know how to better approach tutoring situations. Your sessions will be enjoyable for those involved and effective in helping them improve their English skills.

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The least you should know

tutor pictureA tutor should have one main objective in mind while tutoring; to help students learn what they want and need to know as quickly and as efficiently as possible by helping them accomplish their goals. Tutoring involves much more than simply having a conversation. Some guidelines to remember in your tutoring sessions include the following:

1. Needs and Situation Assessment and Goals: Learn about your tutees’ learning styles and needs

2. Material selection, Timing, and Financial Considerations: Decide what to use in tutoring, when, and how long to tutor, and how much to charge.

3. Location/Setting: Choose a good place to tutor.

4. Planning and Flexibility: Be prepared with lessons and materials that match tutees’ needs.

5. Professional Manner: Create and maintain a healthy and professional learning environment.

6. Record Keeping: Keep track of tutees’ progress.

7. Feedback/Assessment: Provide tutees with helpful and immediate feedback.

The remainder of this unit will provide details about the seven topics listed above. The following table lists several different types of tutoring. (click here)

1. Needs and Situation Assessment and Goals: Learn about your tutees' learning styles and needs.

Learning about your tutees is a crucial part of tutoring. In order to tutor your tutees effectively, you will need to know as much as you can about them. Efficient tutoring depends on how well this is accomplished.

Do a needs analysis

(See units 2B – "Designing an Overall Plan for a Course", 2C – "Lesson Planning", and 5C – "Learning Styles and Cultural Differences" and also the “What Are Your Student’s Language Needs?" section of The E.S.L. Tutor’s Handbook in the "Where to Go to Learn More" section of this unit for more information.)

Find out what your students know and need to know by asking written or spoken questions. Mind maps (pictured below) can be used instead of questions to find out students' needs. Students can either draw pictures or write about places they go and what they do. You can use this information to guide your lessons. Here are some examples of questions you might ask:

    • Where are you from? What is your first language?

    • What do you want to study? What are some other things you are interested in?

    • When did you start learning English?

    • What are your goals for the future? (Attend a university, help your children with homework, get a job, etc.)

    • How do you plan to reach your goals?

Word Mind Map

Picture Mind Map

Decide what to teach

Your choice of what to teach will depend mainly on what you find out from the needs analysis. What are the most important things your tutees need and want to learn? This information should be your focus during tutoring sessions. If you can see other things that your tutees could benefit from, besides what they say they want to learn, you should also offer to teach those things. Some ideas are listed in the following table. (click here)

Think about potential concerns

Things such as gender, age, and learner’s background can make a big difference as to what, where and how you teach. Be safe and keep your students safe by learning as much as you can about your students and respecting their privacy. Meet in a place where there are plenty of people around. Meet where your student can learn comfortably, and you can both be safe and comfortable.

Be sure to maintain a professional distance

This principle is very important to remember. Let students know you are there for them and want to help them learn, but do not take too much time with casual conversation. Let them know you have a time schedule. If and/or when you become friends, be sure to keep casual conversations brief at the beginning of lessons. Take time to talk outside of the lesson time if you want to have longer conversations and catch up, but keep lessons well structured. Even if you are just helping them with what they want to learn, you should always have a plan.


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2. Material Selection, Timing, and Financial Considerations: Decide what to use in tutoring, when and how long to tutor, and how much to charge.

Before agreeing to tutor someone there are things you should consider and questions you should ask. Some important considerations are listed below:

What: select materials to use in tutoring

Think about which books, videos, activities, websites and so forth you will use in your tutoring sessions. Some options are provided in the Where to go to learn more section of this unit and in other units in this program. You can also do your own search on the Internet when you know the needs of your students in order to find things that will be helpful for individual needs. Think about and ask what is available where you will be tutoring (computer, white board and markers or chalk board and chalk, student materials—paper, and pencils, books or other materials—pictures etc.) (See Unit 2B “Designing an Overall Plan for a Course” for more ideas on materials). If you are going abroad, be sure to take materials with you if you are not sure you will be able to get them at your destination. The availability of materials in other countries is often limited. If you are tutoring online, you will need to use materials that can be shown through the camera, by screen share, or on websites. It is important to be prepared in any situation, if you are staying in your home country, tutoring online, or going to a foreign country. Make sure you have the materials you will need. If you have electronic media, make sure the hardware resources where you are tutoring will be compatible and able to play the media.

When and how long: decide how long lessons will be and how many days per week you will meet

It is important to talk with your students about timing so that you can agree on how many lessons you will have. Discussing this at the beginning will help you avoid misunderstandings and differences of expectations later on. Set up a plan for giving extra lessons if any get missed.  It is especially important to be organized for the more professional tutoring situations. You should always be on time for appointments. Keep in contact by phone or e-mail, especially if something comes up and you have to reschedule a tutoring session.

How much: decide how much to charge

If your students are going to be paying you, decide in advance how much you will charge but be flexible. People will ask how much you charge, so it is a good idea to have an amount in mind ahead of time. (Many ESL students are used to paying about $10—$20/hour depending on the tutor’s experience, number of contact hours, and level of preparation. However, some are not able to pay as much, others pay more.)


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3. Location/Setting - Choose a good place to tutor.

Finding a safe and comfortable place to tutor is important.

Decide where you will meet

Public places like libraries, offices, or schools are the best, especially if the person you are tutoring is of the opposite sex. A home can also be used but is not usually recommended. Another option is to tutor online. Online tutoring is becoming popular and can be done from anywhere. (Safety is not as much of an issue online.) Meet in a place where there are plenty of people around. Meet where your tutee can learn comfortably and you can both be safe and comfortable.


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4. Planning and Flexibility: Be prepared with lessons and materials that match tutees’ needs.

Prepare lesson plans but be flexible and adjust them to meet the needs of your students (See unit 2C – "Planning Effective and Efficient Lessons").

Be prepared

When students see that you are prepared for each session they will pay attention better. Sometimes you will only get through the first part of your plan because you find the student needs lots of help with that particular topic. You might skip parts and do the last of your lesson first, but that is okay. However, you will always feel better and more able to meet your students’ needs if you are prepared with an advance plan. If you don’t finish, you can always save the rest of your plan for the next session. You can also throw out your lesson plan completely if you find that your tutee really needs something different. Whatever you do, don’t let yourself fall into the trap of just having a conversation. You always need to have some goals and some type of checklist so you can show the tutees what they learned during each session.


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5. Professional Manner: Create and maintain a healthy and professional learning environment.

Showing your students that you are professional is important. Earn their respect by doing what you say you will do.

Be Polite

Be fair and polite with your tutees. When tutees see that you treat them politely, they will want to continue having lessons with you. Treating all tutees like the intelligent human beings they are can help build trust.

Create a comfortable environment

Helping your students feel comfortable and able to ask questions without being looked down on is very important for a healthy environment. Remember that even though learners’ language skills may be limited, they can be very intelligent. Remember not to treat adults like children or like they are stupid. Treat others how you would like to be treated when learning a new language. Correcting students’ mistakes in a non-intimidating way helps them learn more (see units 3C “Managing Classes of English Language Learners,” 3D “Correcting Errors”, and 8A “Conducting Conversation Classes”).Think about heating, air-conditioning, noise, and other distractions. Make sure that you and your students are comfortable so that tutoring sessions will be as effective as possible.

Think about potential concerns

Things such as gender, age, and learner’s background can make a big difference as to what, where, and how you teach. Be safe, and keep your tutees safe by learning as much as you can about them and respecting their privacy.

Maintain a professional distance

This principle is very important to remember. Let students know you are there for them and want to help them learn, but do not take too much time with casual conversation. Let them know you have a time schedule. If and/or when you become friends, be sure to keep casual conversations brief at the beginning of lessons. Keep lessons well structured. Even if you are just helping them with what they want to learn, you should always have a plan. Maintaining a professional distance also includes not dating or getting too close to your tutees.


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6. Record Keeping: Keep track of tutees' progress.

Keeping track of lessons and things your tutees learn is important because if you have good records you will be able to show your tutees, and yourself, that they are progressing. For example, if you are teaching a listening and speaking class, you should record your tutees at the beginning, middle, and end of a course, or every month, if not more often. One free resource available that can do this is Google Voice. If you get an account, you can have your tutees call the phone number and it will record for up to three minutes. Or you can use a handheld recording device. Make sure to keep track of each concept and new idea your student learns. Whichever skill tutees are learning, remember to record their progress. Writing in a spreadsheet like Excel is a good way to keep things organized.

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7. Feedback/Assessment: Provide students with helpful and immediate feedback.

Feedback can be anything from giving praise where and when it is deserved to giving your students a formal written assessment of their progress. Giving feedback is very important because if students do not get any feedback, they may not realize how they are learning and progressing. It is a good idea to continually help students set goals (see unit 2B “Designing an Overall Plan for a Course”). Each month or at an appointed time you can look at the goals together to evaluate how well they were accomplished. You can see if your tutees have met the deadlines you set together. If the goals were not met, set a new time frame and possibly smaller goals that can actually be reached. The most important thing is that tutees see that they are learning. In order to see this, you need to keep track of their progress in some way and show it to them.

Click here for a review of the guidelines for tutoring success

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Comprehension (and reflection) questions

  1. Without looking back, which of the guidelines explained above can you recall?
  2. How can you apply these guidelines to your present or future teaching situations?
  3. Think about your current or future tutees. What are their needs? How will you help tutees set goals? What are some questions you can ask to find out more about them?

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Video examples

Click here to watch this video clip of a one-on-one tutoring session. This video shows a tutor working with an English learner on her pronunciation difficulties.

After you view this video clip of an ESL tutoring situation, think about and respond to each of the following questions in the “Reflection and Responses” section below.

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Reflection and Responses

1. What are the key factors of tutoring you noticed as you watched the video clip of a tutor at work?

2. What was especially good about this session?  What was done well by the teacher and student?

3. What tutoring principles discussed earlier in this unit did you notice in this clip?

4. Was there any feedback? If so, what kind? Student to teacher? Teacher to student? What was it?

5. What adaptations could you make for the situations you are/will be tutoring in?

6.What might you do differently to make your lessons better?

That’s it. That’s “the least you should know” about English language tutoring. Of course, there is much more that you will learn later as you tutor your own students.

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Where to go to learn more

Connections to other units in this program

Here are some other units in this program that relate to topics we have addressed in this unit.

  • Unit 2B, Planning a curriculum that fits your students and meets their needs.
  • Unit 2C, Designing effective lessons for language learning and teaching.
  • Unit 2D, Assessing your students’ language proficiency
  • Unit 3C, Managing classes of English language learners.
  • Unit 3D, Correcting errors, and developing self-monitoring skills.
  • Unit 5E, Teaching your students to use language-learning strategies commonly employed by successful language learners.
  • Unit 8A, Conducting effective and enjoyable conversation classes.
  • Unit 8B, Using songs and chants to increase participation, recall, and enjoyment.
  • Unit 8C, Using games, and other fun yet effective activities for English language teaching.

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Online and other electronic resources

Here are some helpful online resources for tutors.

ABC's for tutors homepage ABC’s for Tutors: 26 Teaching Tips is an article online from the Spring Institute in Denver, Colorado with 26 very helpful tutoring tips, one for each letter of the English alphabet.

Dave's ESL Cafe homepage Dave's ESL Café is an Internet site where many ESL and EFL teachers go for great ideas and resources to use while tutoring.

Randall's ESL Cyber Listening LabRandall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab is a great resource for tutoring listening. There are short audio clips for students to listen to with pre-, during, and post-listening activities.

Tutor Training ManualProject Read’s Tutor Training Manual on their website is designed to assist tutors in tutoring first language learners in reading literacy. However, these ideas can be useful in many different tutoring situations. There are many tips for tutoring included here.

ESL Tutor's HandbookThe E.S.L. Tutor's Handbook by Shawn Conway is a great resource on the Frontier College website It has basic tutoring steps to follow for all the skill areas.


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Print and paper-based resources

Here are some published books that have proven to be helpful resources for tutoring.

Goal-Driven Lesson Planning coverReed, Marnie and Michaud, Christina. (2010). Goal-Driven Lesson Planning for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press. ISBN: 978-0-472-03418-5. This book helps tutors know how to set goals by finding out what students really need. There are some examples that can be copied for use in the classroom. This book is available for purchase online at:

Tutor coverColvin, Ruth J. (2009). Tutor. Syracuse, NY: New Readers Press. ISBN ISBN 978-1-56420-895-8. This book provides detailed information on teaching the four different skill areas, listening, speaking, reading, and writing. It also has detailed sections on setting goals, assessment, lesson planning, and specific difficulties that learners have and tutors should be aware of. This book is available for purchase online at:

Dalle, Teresa S. and Young, Laurel J. (2003). PACE yourself: A handbook for ESL tutors. Alexandria, Virginia: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. ISBN ISBN 193118506-9 “This is a very easy to follow tutoring guide, it gives step by step instructions on what to do, from gathering information, to preparing an organized schedule, to knowing what to teach and assessing students' learning, and your own teaching skills.” This book is available online at:

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Additional references

Speak Method is a part of I.E. Tutoring. This is a free online English language program for pronunciation, communication, stories, and grammar. It can be found at

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