Updated: Apr 5, 2020
Let’s just imagine a situation when you’ve been teaching a one-to-one student for a couple of months, then all of a sudden, they call off the coming classes and they don’t give an explanation. Why did this happen? There can be several reasons, such as sudden tragedies in their personal or professional life, money problems or personality clashes between you and them, but it might as well be because they just didn’t get what they had come for and they left unsatisfied. What can you do to prevent such a situation? This is where Needs Analysis comes into play!
Needs Analysis is the process of assessing the needs of your student; what they already know, what they want to know, and finally, what interests them. (https://www.icaltefl.com/needs-analysis-for-tefl-teachers)
This is a very important step when you meet new students. This can be done in groups as well as with one-to-one students; however, it’s much easier in the case of the latter. Why is it so important? Because if you jump straight into the middle without actually knowing what your student wants and needs you can end up wasting their money and time, which they will eventually realise and leave you for someone better.
Knowing what your student wants and needs is crucial to design a successful course for them.
You don’t have to think that this is a difficult task – all you have to do is ask the right questions to find out what they really need.
So what do we want to learn from this student?
their needs (to know what we’re planning for and what goals we need to reach)
their current knowledge (to know how far we are from those goals)
their interests (to make the lessons interesting and motivating for them)
Here are a couple of questions, select the ones that would be relevant for a needs analysis:
What do you want me to teach you?
What do you use English for?
How long have you been studying English?
What’s your favourite English speaking country?
Which books have you used before?
How much homework can you do?
How often do you use English (outside class)?
Do you need to take an exam? Which one?
Could you tell me a bit about yourself?
What would you like to focus on?
Tell me about a time when you were successful in using your English.
Okay, now let’s look at them one by one:
NO What do you want me to teach you? – It’s not the student’s task to decide this and you definitely don’t come off as a good professional if you ask this question. Also, it’s not going to help you at all.
YES What do you use English for? – Very good because it gives you a general idea of how this student uses English. Maybe they use it every day for certain things; maybe they never use it at all; maybe they just read books but never speak. This question can already show you what their strengths and weaknesses might be.
NO How long have you been studying English? – This is a very common question asked by teachers and language schools but if you think about it – does it really matter? Two students might have been studying for decades or just for months and they could be on exactly the same level or worlds apart. The time they spent studying English doesn’t necessarily determine their level of knowledge.
NO What’s your favourite English speaking country? – Could be good if you’re interested in their interests but otherwise not very helpful.
MAYBE Which books have you used before? – This is also commonly asked but not very helpful. Asking them, however, why they liked or didn’t like a certain book can tell you more about their learning preferences and learning styles. So just change the question a little bit to make them reflect on their learning.
YES How much homework can you do? – This is essential because you need to know how much you can ask from them and how much they’re willing to out in.
YES How often do you use English (outside class)? – This one also gives you an idea of how they use English in their everyday life and can tell you whether you need to give them more or less work.
YES Do you need to take an exam? Which one? – This one’s essential if your student is preparing for an exam and you need to set the goals.
MAYBE Could you tell me a bit about yourself? – This is pretty vague but asking them about themselves is a good idea to find out what topics they’re interested in. If you teach one-to-ones, it’s important to motivate them with topics they like; don’t just rely on a generic course book.
NO What would you like to focus on? – Again, it’s not something they can decide, but even if they think they know, they might have the wrong idea. A student might be convinced all they need is grammar and some more grammar, while they actually need vocabulary or writing practice. Remember, that it’s your task as a qualified teacher to decide what your student needs based on what you see from their performance
MAYBE Tell me about a time when you were successful in using your English. – This could be a good question to ask because it’s positive, it lets them reflect on their knowledge, and it shows you an insight into their skills, but it’s not an essential question.
Also, to find out more about their current knowledge, you can give them a level test that you can find many of online (https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/online-english-level-test, https://www.cambridgeenglish.org/test-your-english/), and you can also ask them general conversation questions. It’s important to do both because a student might be able to ace a test but they’re unable to put a sentence together in speech.
After you’ve done the NA, you either pick a course book at the right level and for the right purpose and aim, or you design the whole course yourself (this one’s obviously more difficult and requires more experience). You can use many resource websites and books either for just supplementing your materials or as complete lessons. Some examples:
ESL Brains (on facebook)
Print resource books (“… in use” books by Cambridge University Press)
Keep in mind that the course should not only be useful but also interesting for them! Find out more about their interests and try to choose materials that will keep them motivated.
Use the coaching approach to design the course together:
Ask the right questions to find out what your student really wants
Make them be specific about their answers
Set the target together
Decide how you’re going to get there, set up a plan
Negotiate the rules
All in all, things to consider when starting a one-to-one course:
Which skills will you focus on more and less?
How much homework do you think is necessary, and manageable for the student?
What kind of teaching approach will work the best with the student? (grammar translation, communicative, much tech or no tech, dogme, lexical, topic based, CLIL…)
How much nudge is needed from your side?
How much extra work do you need to put in?
Will this be a difficult or an easy student? Why?