How do I approach the first lesson with a student? 📚

Even when you’ve been teaching for a while, the first lesson with a new student can be challenging at times and it’s likely that your approach will vary depending on the student and their needs.

How do you approach the first lesson with a new student? What do you like to know beforehand? Are there any key things you are sure to do in every first lesson that you teach?

Share your experience and thoughts by clicking the reply button below :owl:

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I do a Needs Analysis - I have a form that I fill throughout the course of the first lesson, and I have some questions that I sprinkle throughout the lesson, i.e. long-term goals, self-assessment of strengths and weaknesses. Depending on their age I usually do a variety of activities that give me an overall picture of their strengths and weaknesses and how they best learn.

I like to know the parent’s perspective so I have an outline of what to expect and something to compare against. :smile: :books:

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That sounds great @HannahD - thanks for sharing your approach! :smiley:

I love the idea of using various activities to get an understanding of their learning style and what will work for them going forward. I feel it’s really important to teach in a way that works for the individual student and helps them to get the most out of each lesson. :apple:

It’ll be interesting to see how approaches can vary between subjects and age groups as more people respond :sparkles:

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I do a similar analysis to @HannahD . I have a Google Form that I ask my students to fill out before our first lesson in which they estimate their confidence in a range of topics, and then as we cover those topics over the course of our lessons I ask them to go back and see if their confidence has changed. The students seem to enjoy seeing an improvement and some have even started doing confidence analyses in subjects I don’t teach them!

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Hannah and Heidi’s approach looks very professional and very impressive, I think on top of that the human dimension. My approach is always to get the student (for every lesson really) to identify a specifically as possible the topic or that they want to cover. Nearly always sends a handout before the lesson, why? its a lot about reassuring the student (and the parent) they are normally a bit nervous so one key aim is to get them reasonably relaxed and less tense. So I am probably less formal what I absolutely agree on is that the first lesson is so important in establishing a good rapport with the student. lastly I usually contact the parent afterwards and Tutorful’s recent feedback set-up is very welcome in that regard. Paul the History Teacher

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My approach is slightly different and works for me really well. It’s important as a tutor that you make sure you are teaching the things the students NEED to learn and not always necessarily WANT to learn. To clarify on this last point, some students may opt for learning content they either already know for comfort reasons when they don’t want to stretch themselves through extra-curricular lessons.

Particularly for GCSE and A Level, the way I run is I have an excel spreadsheet that contains all the specification ( for maths and computer science) and I run the student 1 by 1 through each point asking whether they feel confident or not. I then use a colour coding system. If the student has said they are not confident, then I leave a cell red. If the student says they are fine with this particular area of the subject, I colour this Orange. This is to indicate that the student has stated they are fine with this area and is something that I have not covered to use back in reports. Green indicates it’s a lesson I have gone through, taught and assessed with good results indicating to move on.

It’s important to go through this with the student because at that point, there and then, if you notice the students voice hesitate and then say “yes I can do that”, you can challenge them nicely with a question to doubley check understanding.

As a tutor, this gives you a better idea of focus from the get go. Once all red boxes are now green, you can then go and patch orange areas.

This also gives the students a good indication at the start of every lesson to also track their own progress and see how far away they are from finishing.

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Past Papers are super helpful, even if it’s slightly older ones, just helps to see how they approach questions, what techniques they know.

I tend to ask a few questions before the first lesson, obviously start with what age they are, that gives me an idea of what they ‘should’ know, and gives me an idea of what paper to bring to lesson…then first lesson I chat for a bit get an idea of what they think their strengths/ weaknesses are before going through the paper together. Then I pick a place to start and go from there.

This approach may be slightly easier with maths than other subjects as it’s comprised of quite distinct topics though.

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I have a standard lesson plan I use for a first time student, depending on their age, and what exam they’re preparing for.
For example, usually something like algebraic fractions for GCSE students, as I think it’s a good gauge of all round ability and understanding of mathematical concepts in general. It’s also easy to adjust up or down depending on the student.
IMO, individual topics are easy to learn, but I think in mathematics it’s important that the student understands the way of thinking, which is a more complicated process than just covering the syllabus.

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@HannahD and @HeidiM, I love the Google Form idea! I’ll definitely try this next time I get a new student.

Whenever possible, I try to speak with both the parent and the child to include their needs and wishes when planning future lessons. Sometimes their expectations may be different so it’s good to find some sort of compromise.

Also, I think a lot depends on the age and confidence level of the student. If the purpose of the lessons is to strictly help the student revise for exams, then it makes sense to throw them in the deep water and start with an Exam Paper to cover as many different types of questions as possible. This helps me to quickly identify areas of focus for the first couple of lessons. So I totally agree with you on that, @TomJ.

But if the student is really struggling with the subject or has anxiety, then I would start with something really easy to first build their confidence and then work our way up from there. I mostly teach Maths and Science and I have found that so often low marks are because students don’t even attempt some questions because they assume they’re bad at it so why bother trying.

Now with the lessons being online only, I also like to try out different forms of online assessment (e.g. Quizizz, Quizlet, Google Forms, BookWidgets, BBC Bitesize Tests etc) during our first lesson to see if there is an assessment tool they prefer or are already familar with at school.

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I teach a wide variety of students, some as young as 8 and others adult learners, so I don’t have one single way of approaching the first lesson. Generally, I like to get some background info from the parents/ adult learner before starting. The new video call feature seems like a great way of doing this, but some parents prefer to just write an email.

I then prepare a first lesson according to what they have specified. I usually over-prepare, just in case the student is actually more advanced than they said. If they are beginners or preparing for an exam, I often use a book and the parents are usually happy to buy this if required. For me, using a textbook gives the lessons a more structured nature and ensures that all topics get covered. (I am often the students’ primary teacher, e.g. if they do heritage language, so I need to cover everything, not just difficult topics).

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Hi all,
some great ideas in here, I may try to implement some of these myself.

My first lesson usually involves me introducing myself and giving some background, and then a relaxed chat about where the student is and what their goals are. I try to keep it as relaxed as possible, I feel it’s extremely important that every student feels they can just be themselves with me. I don’t have a form or tick-list, because when I’ve tried it in the past I usually end up missing out chunks that aren’t relevant to that particular student or finding something I need that isn’t on the list!

The one thing that I do make sure to try to get a good handle on in the first session is the student’s learning style. If you get that wrong then you can very easily put the student off and create problems for further down the line.

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The first time I meet a student I, like a lot of others here, conduct a needs analysis and explain to my students that I want to see what they already know.

As a maths tutor, most students come to me hating the subject so I always repeat something that was told to me when I started teaching, “if you don’t understand what I’m trying to teach you, that’s on me - not you”, and I find a topic that they’re not so good at (usually multiplication or division are the usual suspects!) and I show them different ways of doing it.

I feel that the most important thing is that students feel safe to make mistakes (maths is a lot about confidence) and you engage them so that they want to learn!

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I teach a lot of adults as well as GCSE and A level students., so a big part of my first lesson is talking and finding out why they are learning, how they have learnt up to now (usually Duolingo) and why they feel they need a tutor. I have taught ski instructors to pass an exam in security procedures in German so they didn’t need restaurant food type topics. I think the most important thing is to treat each student as an individual and find out what sort of leaner they are, visual audio etc… and then find out what they need to know and what they don’t know. Lessons can then be adjusted. Building confidence is a large part of language learning, so I try to make sure that they learn something within the first few minutes and I always ask them what they have learnt as a plenary, so they leave with something positive from the lesson.

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“if you don’t understand what I’m trying to teach you, that’s on me - not you”

I love this quote! :slight_smile:

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I would love a copy of your Needs form, so I can have a look. I’m a new tutor and any resources would really be beneficial for me.

Thanks,
Gregory

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I would very strongly agree with you, doing as many past papers as possible helped me improve massively in GCSE and A-level maths. I’m now tutoring in Maths as I highly enjoy the subject. Unfortunately, I have not yet had one single student message me. Do you believe this could be due to the Covid crisis? I am hoping that one day though I will get the chance to inspire others and unlock their true potential.

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Hi Sean, welcome on board - I also tutor Maths :raised_hand_with_fingers_splayed:

In order to get more lesson requests, I would recommend lowering your hourly rate and then increasing it bit by bit as you get more students. I started with the rate £15-17 when I first joined Tutorful and now I charge £30 but I may actually increase it again when I go back online. It might be difficult to find your first few customers so you gotta do what you can to encourage them to pick you over more experiened tutors with higher hourly rates.

Another thing worth considering would be how you present yourself in your bio. I started getting more messages after I restructured my bio and divided it into small categories with headings e.g.:

  • My experience and qualifications (any teaching qualifications or other degrees)
  • My background (where I come from, what I’ve done)
  • My teaching style and resources (to help them get an idea of what I use throughout my lessons)
  • Special requirements (learning difficulties I can help with etc)

This way customers who click on your profile will get a better idea of who you are and what you can offer that maybe others haven’t mentioned on their profiles :woman_shrugging:

Feel free to send me a message if you have any questions. I would love to help :slight_smile:

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Hey there Anna,
Couldn’t help seeing the reply to Sean you did, but may I ask how successful you’ve been on here since the 1st lockdown had begun until now? My hourly rate is £20 per hour, is that too much or is that just fine.

What Science topics had your students struggled with, as this will give me a little bit more info regarding any help potential students may need of me?

Thanks,
Gregory

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Hi Gregory,

Your hourly rate should ideally reflect your experience and qualifications so I’m afraid I can’t say if it’s too much or not. But one thing is sure - the lower it is, the wider the customer pool so you are more likely to get lesson requests. Now with schools being closed I have found that many more families have considered tutoring to make up for the chaos. Having a tutor used to be a middle class thing but now it’s students from all backgrounds really!

So you could try lowering it to £15 for a couple of days until you secure your first students. Then after a few lessons ask them for a review and increase your rate back to £20 for any students who message you in the future. If they are happy with you, I’m sure they will recommend you to their friends or neighbours and you’ll start to grow your network. Right now about half of my regular students are family or friends of those who I tutored before.

Hope this helps! :slight_smile:

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Hi @Sean_Hodgson, as someone who also struggled to get students I know how you feel. How long have you been on the site so far?

I think it should be easier to get started once physical tuition picks up again. You won’t have as much competition, and that’s how I got my first few bookings. I was travelling quite long distances for the minimum fee but this helped my ranking, and it eventually snowballed so that now I’m entirely online and essentially fully booked.

My main tip would be to primarily work on building up those first few clients. Once you have some reviews then that may be the time to raise your fee, restrict your hours, etc.

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