10 Useful Tutoring Tips

I realize that I’ve been consistently tutoring ESL students for almost 3 years now – both through writing centers at SFSU and with students on my own terms. I’m currently taking a class that is helping me consolidate and think about my tutoring, specifically with grammar, but also more broadly in terms of my approach as a tutor. Here are ten tips that I’ve found useful from my experience so far:

1. Establish expectations: Whether these are the expectations of the tutoring center or your own personal expectations, if both the student and teacher are on the same page in terms of what is expected out of each role, then the tutoring session will go more smoothly. For example, one expectation that the tutor might remind the student is that the tutor is not an editor.

2. Learn a little about the student: Ask the student about his/her major, classes, extracurricular, hometown… anything that will break the ice and also contextualize the writer and where he/she is coming from.

3. Don’t automatically reject dealing with grammar issues: What I’ve found is that even though we shouldn’t be editing the essays for students, grammar is a necessary issue to discuss with the student. While it is a lower order concern, I think a tutor can productively and successfully help a student with grammar by teaching the student to be his/her own proofreader. Essentially, teach./model some proofreading skills during the tutoring session.

4. Let the student do the work!: Don’t do the work for the student. Don’t write, come up with ideas, or make sentences for the student. Instead, you should help the student brainstorm and come up with ideas him/herself.

5. Tutors don’t have to know everything: Tutors have more experience and have meta-cognitive knowledge about how composition works. However, they may not know everything there is to know about grammar or discipline-specific genres. With that being said, tutors should treat the students as a source of knowledge for certain things, for example, the content of the reading for the essay.

6. Encourage the student to come back: Students won’t always come back for more tutoring sessions voluntarily but coming back is always helpful and the tutor can play a role in encouraging that.

7. Ask questions:  You not only want students to ask you questions but tutors can also ask questions as a way of leading students to an idea or answer. This is an inductive approach to learning.

8. Set goals: Set goals with the student on what to do once the student gets home or until the next tutoring sessions.

9. Review key learning points:  Nearing the end of the tutoring sessions, review some major key points of what you’ve gone over today with the student. This will help give the student a feeling of tutoring being helpful and help the student review.

10. Learning style: Understand that every student learns at a different pace. What might be easy for one student may be difficult for another. Be patient and flexible to different learning styles.


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