As a tutor, creating an environment where students succeed is essential.
Whether it's a one-on-one lesson or group class, you need to meet learners where they are. Every pupil is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to teaching. But that doesn’t mean you have to walk into sessions unprepared. Read on to learn how to structure a tutoring session built for success yet flexible enough to accommodate every student’s needs.
What does a tutoring session look like?
Tutoring is more complex than simply sitting with a pupil while they complete their homework. Your job is to supplement their education with lessons designed to fill in knowledge gaps.
Tutors sometimes work with young children but most often teach high school or college-level students. Teenagers have an average attention span of 28–48 minutes, so creating lessons that keep them engaged without overwhelming them is important.
Here’s what a typical tutoring session looks like:
Warm up with a familiar topic
Boosting your student’s confidence before diving into the meat of a lesson is a great way to kick off a session. The learner feels a sense of preparedness and accomplishment when they answer questions independently, so consider starting lessons with familiar and straightforward topics to warm them up.
For example, try a few math problems learned in a previous class or assign a simple reading comprehension task to get the juices flowing. Keep it simple and limit the warm-up to 10 minutes.
Transition to core content
Once you’ve built up the student’s confidence, move on to the session’s core lesson. Support your pupil and facilitate a session structure that allows them to enter a flow state — a headspace where they’re fully absorbed in the subject matter and enjoying their time with you.
Flow states generally last 90 minutes to two hours, but the session doesn’t have to be that long, especially if you work with teenagers. Around 25–30 minutes is a good starting point, and you can always adjust the time based on the student’s ability to focus.
End with an activity
After you’ve worked through the material together, give your student positive feedback and constructive criticism. Recap the lesson, identify where they struggled, and offer guidance on overcoming those issues in the next lesson.
Then, let your student choose how to spend the session's last five minutes. It could be playing a fun activity or watching an inspirational video. This is a great way to improve the tutor-student rapport and end the lesson on a positive note, no matter how well it went.
How to structure an effective tutoring plan
Typically, people purchase tutoring services for a specific time frame, such as until the date of an important exam. Preparing for a long and productive tutoring relationship starts with the first session and continues until the anticipated end date. After all, you don’t want your teaching structure to fall apart part along the way.
Begin teaching each new pupil with a plan. Create a consistent pattern for each new concept — your students will appreciate the sense of routine. Check out our template for a well-organized tutoring structure:
1. Build a relationship
During the first few sessions, dedicate time to cultivating a solid tutor-student relationship. When pupils feel comfortable, they're more open to learning and less hesitant to ask questions.
Start by breaking the ice with a friendly conversation about their day, hobbies, or interests. You can chat while you and your learner set up and settle in. As the sessions progress, make this casual banter a part of your teaching routine.
2. Follow up
Ask your student what they remember from the previous session. Are there gaps in their learning or concepts you need to review again? Did they learn something new in class that changed their perspective on the content already covered? Hear them out, then incorporate this information into the beginning of your lesson.
If this is the first lesson, evaluate their proficiency in a particular subject with a few questions. It’s best to learn what your student already understands to avoid retreading concepts when you could be forging ahead.
3. Set goals
Identify the learning goals of the session. What will you be teaching today?
Ideally, you should link the content to the previous and subsequent lessons. A logical pattern helps students retain information and activates prior knowledge, allowing them to make connections between concepts.
4. Achieve those goals
Once you’ve set out the lesson plan, dive into the content and hit those learning goals. Each session is unique, but it’s important to maintain a consistent teaching model that aligns with your student’s learning style.
Does the student benefit from discussions, or do they enjoy learning off of cue cards? Some might even prefer group sessions or online tutoring. Tweak your techniques to suit your student’s needs so they’re happy and motivated to learn.
5. Encourage self-learning
Once your student is familiar with the session’s subject matter, give them opportunities to work through the concepts themself. Create scenarios where they solve problems without help so they feel equipped to succeed outside the session (and you can gauge their understanding). If they face hurdles, ask guiding questions instead of giving them straightforward answers.
6. Assess progress
Finally, review the student’s progress to see when they achieve a new learning goal. If they succeed, reward them with a fun activity at the end of the session. If not, ask them where they struggled and use that knowledge to plan for the next class.
Patience is necessary for both tutors and students. Tutors can’t rush through content, and pupils shouldn’t grow frustrated when they don’t see instantaneous results. Handle each progress check-in with positivity and encouragement so everyone involved feels motivated and excited to continue learning.
Make learning fun with these tutoring tips
Once you think you know how to tutor a successful session, the work isn’t finished. You can always discover new strategies to make lessons even more enjoyable for you and your pupils — after all, learning is a lifelong journey.
Check out these strategies to keep sessions flowing smoothly:
- Incentivize students: Encourage healthy competition with games, no-stakes pop quizzes, and small prizes. This is particularly effective for small groups, but you can use them for private tutoring sessions — the student can strive to beat their personal best.
- Leverage technology for online sessions: If you’re conducting lessons through Zoom calls, use backgrounds, blackboards, and presentations to your advantage. You can also share your screen and use audiovisual cues to improve the learning experience.
- Foster a relaxed learning atmosphere: You don’t have to sit silently while students jot away in their notebooks. Studies show that playing calm music during lessons can improve test scores. However, this may only work for some people, so check in with each learner before hitting play on Mozart.
- Take breaks: Incorporate breaks into lessons. Ask your student if they would like to drink a glass of water, take a short walk outside, or simply sit and collect their thoughts. Short breaks help recharge the mind, increase body energy, and boost concentration. Social media, however, is a no-go. It’s a recipe for a distracted pupil.
- Promote honest and open communication: Maintain an approachable demeanor during lessons. Students should be comfortable telling you the lesson is moving too fast or if they need you to simplify the topic further. This openness fosters a stronger tutor-student connection and allows you to adjust to the student’s learning style.
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