Experiences of an English Language Teacher

How to Teach First Lessons as an Online Private English Tutor

Teaching trial or demonstration lessons are part and parcel of teaching privately to students, in which teachers and students should meet to ensure both parties are happy to continue lessons with each achieving that much needed rapport in the initial of online. As such, online private English tutors need to make a good impression in that first hour. If not, the tutor will have a challenge to convert the learner into a paying student – this is the crux of the matter.

So what should private tutors do to make a valuable first impression and how best to achieve this? In this post, we will review this and I will share my tips and tricks for establishing a good relationship with potential students.

1. Prior Preparation

The first tip seems to be obvious but is often overlooked: preparation is vital for delivering a good first demonstration lesson. What do I mean by this? Essentially, you need to learn as much about the student before you initially meet remotely with such tools including Zoom, Skype or through another third party application. Request the student to complete an initial questionnaire before they attend the lesson, so that you are able to anticipate potential areas where the learner is expecting to improve or seek language services via a professional tutor.

There are many free surveys which can be created and delivered to you automatically once completed: Microsoft Forms, Google Forms or Survey Monkey. You can create questions which give you an immediate idea of the potential student: key aims, areas of weakness, how long they have been studying English, possible future examinations, etc. Students will hold this initial task in high regard, thinking that their potential tutor is professional and wishes the best for them.

Once you have this student information, now is the time to prepare demonstration lesson material which fits with regards to what the student is expecting their tutor cover, and I usually create a PowerPoint establishes a structure for both parties.

2. Structure of the First Lesson

It is vital to have a suitable structure for the first lesson and, as previously mentioned, a PowerPoint will help organise the structure of this. I have a template PowerPoint (please see below) which I use for each lesson, with over 90% of students responding positively during first lessons. The structure, for a 60 minute first online lesson, which I tend to follow focuses on the following:

  1. Introduction: welcoming the student and thanking them for booking an initial lesson (5 minutes)
  2. Get To Know You: questions posed to the potential student to gain greater understanding of their background, followed by receiving and answering questions from the student (15 minutes)
  3. Tools Used for Teaching: an explanation of all tools that I use during live online lessons such as the software used to conduct lessons (i.e. Skype, Zoom, etc.), whiteboard tools, etc. (5 minutes)
  4. Course Expectations: what the student is expecting to achieve with private language lessons and how they expect lessons to be delivered (10 minutes)
  5. Demo Lesson: delivering a short lesson task with the student which matches the students expectation or area of study, using the student questionnaire to aid me in developing a suitable task (15 minutes)
  6. Lesson Reflection: a brief review of how the student found the lesson and the prepared material, providing feedback to the teacher (5 minutes)
  7. Self Study Provision and Answering Questions: deciding on suitable self-study material for the student to complete prior to the next scheduled lesson, with the final few minutes answering any final questions

Each element of this structure helps answer the usual questions that they may have about your experience of teaching and also appears professional. I have included a template PowerPoint that you could use and adapt for your first online lesson with private students, which also follows the aforementioned structure.

3. Provide Spoken Feedback

The third recommendation that I have for any private online English teacher is to offer some form of speaking feedback after any speaking activity, especially when you are teaching individual students. Almost all students are approaching you for feedback on their speaking: wishing to learn more natural expressions or phrases to help them communicate or receiving advice on their pronunciation to reduce L1 intrusion. If you demonstrate limited spoken feedback, that potential student will move to another tutor who is keen to help guide them. I have spoken to many students asking why they wish to book me as their individual tutor, and one reason that I have consistently received is that their previous teacher showed limited interest in providing feedback. Thus, spend some part of the initial first lesson showing that you incorporate feedback into your teaching.

When students are talking, I use a pen and notebook making a note of what the learner is saying (I hope to learn shorthand one day to speed up this process). I use these notes and start to type it out (while sharing the screen) to Google Docs, offering feedback as I do. Google Drive is accessible and you can share an individual folder to one student, adding a folder within this for each lesson. Word documents can be accessed, saved and printed by students, with all this feedback being available for review at a later date.

4. Closing The Sale

The final part of the first online lesson with a potential private student is to suggest a ‘call of action’, or asking students to complete tasks for the first official lesson post-trial. This is essentially agreeing potential self-study tasks for students to complete and then explaining your availability in the coming days or weeks, so that the student is ready to complete tasks and book their next lesson with you. This stage obviously is towards the end of the trial lesson, whereby you essentially ‘close the lesson’ and offer a proposition to generate a sale as a private tutor.

Personally, I find pushing students to book lessons uncomfortable and something that I try to avoid by focusing on encouraging potential learners the benefits of studying with me. However, it is one of the most challenging stages but is required to end the first lesson. You need to know whether potential students are to return and you should not hold back in asking. If you have delivered a suitable and professional first lesson then this will be an easy choice for your potential student.

I personally explain at the end as a side note how lessons can be booked, the cost of lessons, how invoices are raised and settled. This will alleviate any questions if this stage is covered.

I hope this post helped guide those that are attempting to take on private teaching with some structure and support. If you wish to better understand the structure of a first lesson, I have created some videos which could help. However, be careful as they are unedited and last a long time.

An unedited lesson with an intermediate learner of English
An unedited lesson with an advanced learner of English

If you found this post useful or have any questions, please let me know in the comments. Take care and best of luck with your private teaching!


  1. Anna

    Hi Martin,
    Thank you for this. This is very useful. I would like to know how you help your students feel they have learnt something useful. I have an issue with this as the curriculum is often given to me by the school. It is not necessarily what the students feel they want to learnt. While I try and vary my delivery methods, provide feedback and do recap at the end of the lesson, as well as often customise my lessons to meet the students’ needs, it sometimes so happens they are still not happy. Or is it a case of “you can’t please everyone”? Thanks in advance

    • Martin Sketchley

      Hi Anna. Thanks for your comment. Juggling between learner needs and institutional expectations require negotiating. Have you thought of attempting to adapt the curriculum to suit your learners? It is easier said than done, but if you are given the opportunity to adapt material, then you may have a chance to prepare something which is better suited for your learners.

      Also, speaking to your line manager may yield better results. If your school is supportive, then you could offer to review their curriculum. Seven years ago, I was asked to create a curriculum for young learners and after some negotiation they made my position full-time.

      If management appear hostile regarding adaptation of set material, then they will find their customers (students) unhappy and will complain about lessons being dry and devoid of life. Sometimes doing nothing is also the best course of action, which prompts change at a later date.

  2. Nickeshia

    I am interested in being a private online English tutor. Do you have any links?

    • Martin Sketchley

      Thank you for your comment. With regards to becoming a semi-private online tutor, you could gain experience from platforms such as Preply, iTalki or Cambly. A quick Google search will help you with links.

      When it comes to finding students to tutor outside of these platforms, it is usually word-of-mouth which appears to be most suitable. I was approached by one student on Instagram (of all applications) to help her prepare for an upcoming university entrance exam – she passed. She then recommended me to another potential student and I have been teaching her now for over eight months.

      In essence, try to promote yourself on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and I guess Tik Tok now. Join Facebook groups where English learning is the main focus point and share daily English tips (common mistakes, other ways to say ‘like’, etc) and keep posting regularly. Use the same posts with Instagram and other social media platforms. This will encourage potential students to contact you. I hope this helps.

  3. Des

    Thankyou Martin
    Please can you advise me on how I can start teaching online please

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