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The Pros and Cons of Teaching English One-on-One (Plus Lesson Ideas!)

tools for teaching English online

Want to break away from teaching English to groups or work in a different class setting? If you’re raising your hand, giving one-to-one lessons may be great for you. But while teaching individual students sounds like a simple setup, it can require a change of game plan. Let’s look at the pros and cons of teaching English one-on-one, where to find job opportunities, and how to effectively deliver this type of lesson.

If you’re new to teaching, you’ll want to get initial training and qualification with a TEFL certificate. You can explore our online TEFL courses to get started!

Is it common to teach students English one-on-one?

As more and more English students find the need to study outside of a typical school environment, one-on-one teaching has become more popular and has, therefore, created more job options for TEFL/TESOL teachers. As a teacher to individual students, you may get one or a mix of these most common one-to-one student types:

  • Kids who need extra lessons to strengthen their English skills or catch up with their classmates’ English level.
  • Adults who can only take lessons after work hours.
  • Professionals who need to learn English specific to their field.
  • People preparing to take English proficiency tests like the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System).
  • Students who feel shy speaking in English in a group.

Whether you want to make it your full-time job or teach English as a side gig, teaching one-to-one lessons gives you a variety of workplaces from which to choose.

What types of online English teaching jobs are there? Find out!

online ESL teacher

Where can I teach English one-on-one?

Teaching English online

One of the most common options for teaching individual students is through virtual classes, which not only gives you the freedom to be location independent but a chance to teach many learners during the day.

Work with a company

First, to teach English online, you can opt to work with a company as a contractor. If you’re keen on giving classes to kids, there are many online ESL companies that provide one-to-one classes to young learners. Meanwhile, online English schools that cater to adults also offer one-to-one lessons (aside from group classes) to students.

Check out companies where you can teach English online to adults.

Teach as a freelancer

Alternatively, teaching one-to-one online is possible by working as an online English tutor to private individual students. You can offer one-to-one classes through online ESL marketplaces, find learners through traditional advertising or by using social media, or get referrals through networking.

See how to find online ESL students.

Tutoring private students in person

If you prefer to teach onsite, you have the option of becoming an after-school English tutor to children or teens in the comfort of their homes (or yours) or at language institutes or teaching adults at their companies or houses. Although this may require you to commute from one site to another, it’s a good way to vary your work environment or explore a new city you’ve moved to!

Sophia, English teacher in Greece

Sophia, English teacher in Greece

Sophia, from South Africa, is a seasoned private EFL tutor who has significantly grown her business on a small island in Greece. “The lessons are done at home, in the comfort of students’ rooms, and obviously in the afternoon. My students range from seven-year-olds right up to adults, but most of them are students who are in school,” she shared.

What are the benefits of teaching English one-on-one?

Now that you know where you can potentially teach one-on-one English classes, let’s explore the advantages of teaching students individually.

More participation and engagement

As the student only has you to interact with, he or she has all the stage to speak and take part in class activities — sans the worry of giving other learners a chance to participate. This way, your student can boost their confidence and advance in their English studies more quickly.

Take an in-depth look at teaching one-on-one vs. group online English classes.

Personalized lessons

Rather than looking for something fitting for an entire group of students, you can tailor your lesson plan, materials, and assignments to just one student based on his or her needs and interests, especially after getting to know him or her better.

By customizing lessons, you can also build rapport with your student. For instance, you can engage him or her by showing videos related to her love of animals or play games that you think he or she would enjoy.

In addition, it’s easier to adapt your teaching methods and techniques based on your student’s learning style or what you think will help him progress better.

  • Pro Tip: Even if you don’t yet know your student’s interests, you can still tailor-make your lesson plan based on the results of the needs assessment or initial interview. Essentially, you can create personalized lessons from day one!

Get more ideas to build rapport when teaching English online.

freelance ESL teacher to adults

Chris, a freelance teacher, with his ESL student

Minimal classroom management

Forget about students cutting off each other’s sentences or a group of kids making background noises at the same time. In a class with just one student, you can create a productive learning environment, give instructions, and address classroom issues more easily.

Check out classroom management strategies for teaching online.

Schedule flexibility

With an individual student, it’s usually not complicated to agree on a schedule that works best for both of you. This also applies to rescheduling a lesson if either one of you has problems making it to class.

Get tips for creating your ideal online English teaching schedule.

What are the challenges?

Although teaching one-on-one English lessons comes with perks, you may encounter these challenges along the way as well.

Lack of interaction with other students

Especially with youngsters, there are certain class activities or games that may be more fun when more people are involved. But because there’s just you and the student in the room, you have to be his or her speaking partner, Snakes and Ladders competitor, and opponent in debates all of the time.

A large part of counteracting the lack of interaction with other students is to make your classes dynamic. Go beyond just asking and answering each other’s questions and completing grammar worksheets. Teaching one-on-one lessons can be enjoyable in plenty of ways!

  • Pro Tip: To make your classes more fun, incorporate games, songs, and contests. In online classes, engage young learners by using cool applications like ManyCam. Just be sure to choose interactive activities or games that don’t require more than two people.

Not sure if teaching English one-on-one is a good fit for you? Read about teaching English online to groups.

Melissa Teaching English Online

English teacher Melissa teaches with PalFish, an online ESL company.

Particularly shy or quiet students

Though the chances for greater participation are certainly higher in a one-on-one English class, you may end up with a student who is shy or quieter in class. Without the ability to rely on other students to help get the momentum of the class going and to energize the lesson, you will have to find your own ways to motivate your student. This is also true if the student is having a particularly rough day or feeling unmotivated or tired for whatever reason.

  • Pro Tip: Remember to show empathy if a student isn’t feeling comfortable or motivated to speak up and to cut them some slack. Simply being energetic yourself, praising the student, and incorporating a game or two into the lesson can do wonders for energizing your student or getting them to come out of their shell!

Read about types of challenging online students and how to handle them.

Class cancellations

A one-on-one student who frequently cancels a class or doesn’t show up in class unexpectedly will not only affect your earnings but also mess up your teaching schedule.

  • Pro Tip: Make sure to create a good, clear class cancellation policy if you’re a freelance teacher in charge of setting your own policies.

Find out more about setting cancellation policies, managing students, and tackling other operational challenges as a freelance teacher.

Tips for successfully teaching one-to-one ESL lessons

Here are some tips on how you can lead your one-on-one English classes to success:

  • Building rapport is key to make your student comfortable speaking in class and open up to you.
  • In conversations or speaking tasks, ask powerful and open-ended questions.
  • Increase your youngsters’ class participation through a rewards system.
  • Especially with students with intermediate or advanced English levels, activities could end sooner than you think. Remember to have a backup activity in case you have some time left.

Try these easy ESL icebreakers to get your students talking.

What are some good activities for teaching English one-on-one?

Who says that ESL one-on-one lesson plans are only about conversations and answering grammar exercises? You can always perk your classes up through the following activities!

online English teacher plays a game with student

Teacher Juicy Mae plays a game with her ESL student online.

Young learners

1. Memory game

Memory games are great for practicing vocabulary. You can use them as a warm-up activity to review the words that your student learned in the previous class or as an introduction to a new topic to test your learner’s vocabulary knowledge in the subject.

For this game, you’ll need pairs of words and their meanings (or pictures) written on separate cards. Place the cards face down on the table. Your student tries to find the correct pairs by picking two cards from the set. If the cards do not contain the corresponding pair, the student has to put them down again and choose another two cards.

For online English classes, you can get a variety of fun virtual memory games like these from ESL Games.

2. Dominoes

Another engaging way to practice vocabulary is dominoes.

You’ll need strips of paper similar to domino tiles. One end of a tile contains a word, and the end of another tile can contain its definition or picture. The student has to match the tiles until all of them are used up.

Need ideas for the virtual classroom? Check out these 11 low-prep ESL games for teaching online.

3. Spot the difference

As a warm-up, you can play this ESL game in one-on-one classes not only to practice vocabulary but also to reinforce grammar or sentence construction.

You’ll need two photos that contain small differences between them. The learner needs to find as many differences as he or she can and describe them, e.g., “In the first picture… In the second picture…”

This game is another easy one to play in the virtual classroom, as you can simply hold the pictures up to your webcam or share them digitally.

4. Pictionary

You can play this as a fun icebreaker to practice vocabulary words. You don’t need artistic skills for this, but who knows if either you or your student has a hidden talent for drawing?

For this activity, you can come up with a list of words, which could be random or related to a certain topic, and make sure not to show it to your student. Then, on a piece of paper or on a virtual whiteboard, make a drawing that represents one of the words in your list. The student has to guess the word in less than 30 seconds. Take turns guessing each other’s sketches.

Get more ESL games and activities for kids and teens.

A student during an online class 1

English teacher Krzl (top) with her student during their first online class


1. Guessing game

Get your student to engage or speak more by adding an exciting guessing game to your ESL private tutoring lesson plans.

You can play this game in two ways. First, you can play charades, where you have to act out a person, place, or thing. The student has to guess the word and gets a point if they guess correctly. As an alternative, you can choose to describe the word verbally rather than act it out.

Check out 10 fun and easy games for teaching business English to adults.

2. Interview activities

Spice up role plays or practice new expressions by pretending to be a talk show host, a news reporter, or a celebrity! You and your student can take turns playing the interviewer.

Use these TEFL speaking activities to get your students talking!

3. Picture description

Besides brushing up on his or her speaking skills, your student can practice giving opinions in English by describing a photo or an artwork. You can choose pictures taken by famous or award-winning photographers, for instance, or a copy of an interesting painting or drawing.

4. Gap-fill listening activities

In this activity, you’ll put your student’s listening skills to the test.

Choose a song, a movie or series excerpt, or a podcast. Remove some of the words or phrases from the transcript or lyrics. While playing the audio in class, the student can complete the gaps with the words that he or she hears.

Learn how you can get a job teaching adults English.

Whether you choose to teach online or in person, there are numerous opportunities that you can find for teaching one-to-one English classes. Although this type of lesson may require you to design materials and activities fit for an individual learner, there’s no doubt that your hard work will pay off once you see your student’s engagement in class and improved language skills.

Need more inspiration? Read about Sheyla, a U.S.-based freelancer who teaches private online classes to adults.

Back in her hometown in the Philippines, Krzl worked as a writer at a TV station before moving to Chile. After she completed her TESOL certification, she worked for language institutes and then decided to become an independent English teacher to business professionals. When she’s not giving classes, she’s either surfing along Chile’s long stretch of coastline, traveling, or practicing photography by the beach.