Review ~ Learning One-to-One

A great combination of methodology and practical activities
Reviewed for Teflnet by Alison Susans

When I heard that Cambridge was bringing out a new book in their Handbooks for Language Teachers series entitled Learning One-to-One I was keen to get my hands on a copy. The series is a favourite of mine and over the past few years I’ve found an increasing number of one-to-one lessons on my timetable. I prefer teaching groups as I find one-to-one teaching less dynamic and more tiring, so I was hoping that Ingrid Wisniewska’s book would give me some new ideas and stop one-to-one lessons being such a chore.

After the brief introduction stating the advantages and disadvantages of one-to-one lessons for both student and teacher, the book is divided into two sections. The first is entitled Basic Principles, and the second is Activities. Each section is then split into five chapters. Basic Principles concentrates on methodology, whereas the second part provides activities to use in the classroom. Part One really goes back to basics, beginning with the importance of the classroom set up and how something as simple as the seating arrangement can make lessons more dynamic and help create a particular atmosphere . I found this a little elementary at first but the chapter goes on to give good pointers on establishing ground rules, particularly helpful if you’re working independently and/or are new to the culture of the students you are teaching. I also liked the reminder that different types of technology can be an extremely good resource for one-to-one lessons to make things interesting and to take the focus off the teacher. After getting beyond the first few pages of the book I therefore soon got over my initial disappointment.

The following chapter explores different teacher roles. I think that as teachers we jump between the five roles described in this section depending on the relationship we have with the students, their level and the particular activity. However, I know I have a tendency to use one style more than the others, so this chapter encouraged me to self-reflect more and ensure I added a variety of styles to my lessons. The author states the reasons for and against using each style and explains which is best when wanting to achieve a particular result. This chapter is also the base for the activity section of the book. Each of the five chapters provides activities related to one of the five teacher roles mentioned by Wisniewska.

The next two chapters deal with the selection and adaptation of materials for the purpose of one-to-one lessons, the most useful chapter in this section. The author includes multiple examples of questionnaires that can be handed out to students to help with the material selection process, and also to enable them to take a more active role in the learning process. The tips on lesson planning and especially the extra activities for outside of the classroom to encourage the language learning process are very insightful. I liked the way the author includes learner-generated and authentic materials in the lessons ideas, and I found the tips for adapting course books to individual students extremely beneficial. For the majority of my one-to-one lessons I get given a set course book by the school, which they want me to follow page by page so I don’t have much room for innovation. However, I now know how to adapt exercises to better suit a one-to-one environment without moving away too much from the book.

The last chapter in this section looks at feedback. I normally evaluate the way a lesson has gone at the end and make notes of what worked well and what did not but I rarely ask the student directly for feedback, so this section gave me food for thought. The author explores the different approaches to collecting feedback and also looks at lesson reflection. Example questionnaires are included if you prefer written feedback.

The Activities section is divided up into five sections, each one corresponding to one of the five teacher roles the author describes in the first section of the book. All the worksheets required are available to download and photocopy from the CD-ROM which is included with the book. Each activity begins with a focus box outlining the purpose of the activity, the focus, the level, the time and any preparation/material required, making it easy for lesson planning. The instructions are then given for each activity, along with variations and notes when applicable.

As always with the Cambridge Handbooks series, the book ends with an extensive list of books and websites for further reading.

The book is a great resource for all language teachers, not just English teachers. The combination of methodology and practical activities is definitely a winner for me. Apart from including some great, fun activities, the book also gives you better understanding and also provides solutions to the complex problems of one-to-one teaching.

Reviewed by Alison Susans for TEFL.net April 2011

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