Upon starting your work as a language assistant, you will undoubtably be bombarded with job offers from parents who would like their children to have extra English practice. This happened to myself and the rest of my English/American coworkers during our first week at our placement school. So prospective auxiliares, be ready!
Tutoring students from your school can be a hit or miss situation. Some of my language assistant friends have had less than ideal tutoring positions because:
- They don’t know the student before accepting the job.
- They get pressured into tutoring for less money than they deserve.
- They have a far commute to the student’s house.
- They have to wait 1+ hours after school is out before they can give their lesson.
Last year, I tutored one of my students and worked at a language academy close to my placement school. This year, I’m tutoring more students without the academy, but the tricks I use to have successful classes pertains to both. I’m very fortunate to have great students to tutor, one being the same child I tutored last year.
After much trial and error from private tutoring, leading a high school conversation class, and teaching second graders at the language academy, here are some of my tips and tricks for succeeding in your own after school classes:
I work primarily with younger students in first, second, and third grade, so being patient is key when it comes to their attention spans and writing speed. All of the students at my placement school write in cursive and their little hands haven’t had enough practice to write quickly. Patience is a good skill to have anyway when working with kids.
Have a Structure
Having a structure for an hour class has been a lifesaver. It’s better to have some sort of an outline of how you will help your student than just winging it. This is more or less how my private tutoring session will go:
- I ask about their day
- I help them complete homework
- I review vocabulary/songs/phrases or other materials from class
- I play a word game using their new vocabulary (or other games such as Simon Says)
- Finally, I’ll end the class with a few English story books. There is hardly any time for good old fashioned storytelling at school, so my students love it and sometimes help me read the book aloud. This is also a great way for them to be exposed to new vocabulary, see the vocabulary they’ve learned in a story and hear a book read by a native English speaker.
Incorporate their Surroundings
If you are giving English classes at a student’s home, sooner or later they will get distracted by their toys, the couch or God forbid, fútbol playing cards. At first I tried in vain to completely ignore the surrounding toys, but now I see them as great tools.
For example, last year we learned about clothing: “I’m wearing a green shirt, brown pants and white socks” or, “She’s wearing…” When my student began to flip through his massive book of Real Madrid cards, I asked him what the players were wearing to keep him engaged in the review. This worked wonders! “He’s wearing a white shirt, white and red shorts, black socks and white shoes.”
Another trick is to use toys. A couple weeks ago we were learning about continents, countries and capitals. During our review session, every time my student got an answer correct he got to put a Playmobil on a region of his Spanish map. Seeing the map fill up with toys made him feel more accomplished.
My last example happened only this week. El Día de los Reyes Magos (when children in Spain receive their holiday gifts) was on January 6th and the kids are still excited over their various new treasures. One of my students is OBSESSED with her new diary with a passcode lock on the front. She spent so much time showing me her gift that we ditched my planned review and wrote diary entries in English.
My students are required to speak in English during class and if they don’t know how to say something, they need to ask, “How do you say ___ in English?” Even though children can pick up a second language quickly, it’s still a long day of school when you’re learning a new language.
Sometimes during private tutoring it’s fun to turn the tables and ask them, “How do you say ___ in Spanish?” It not only makes them realize you are also learning another language, but it makes them feel empowered that they can teach you something too.
Especially when learning about various science topics, I like to emphasize our review sessions with Youtube videos (since we don’t have time for them in class). The other day we learned about the differences between vertebrates and invertebrates and my student was having trouble figuring out what a leech was. I quickly searched for a video of leeches on my phone and the visual helped him remember that they are invertebrates and more specifically, a type of worm.
If you know a bit of Spanish, this will come in handy when helping students after school. One-on-one time is very beneficial because you can help a student resolve any confusion that wasn’t explained in class. Sometimes a set of instructions in the book doesn’t read clearly or they need an explanation presented in a different format.
If English doesn’t work, sometimes the lightbulb will go off by simply restating one word in Spanish. Some teachers refuse to speak any Spanish whatsoever in English classes, but once in a while, it really does help to present a word or two in their native language.
Have a Reward System
Younger students LOVE rewards. Depending on your student, you can choose what reward system to use whether it be stickers, candy, small toys, etc. I personally use extra story time, copies of my drawings to color, or playing more games with my student’s toys (in English). One time I even told my student I’d buy him a pack of Pokemón cards if he got a good grade on his upcoming test. That absolutely motivated him to study hard.
After a long day at school, sometimes private classes are the last thing in the world a student wants to do. It’s important to stay positive, encourage your students and be energetic. If you are bored and unengaged, they will be as well.
Inform the Parent
Finally, include the parents! After each of my private tutoring sessions, I give a brief outline of what we covered during the hour and how their child responded. Not all parents may expect this, but the ones I work with not only appreciate the feedback, but they have more confidence and trust in me as a tutor. They will know that the student and I are being productive in class and that I’m not just doing it for the money.
These are tips that have worked for me as an auxiliar de conversación and I hope they work for you as well. If you have any other tricks up your sleeve, I’d love to read them in the comments below!
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