Best Practices in Remote Tutoring of Adult English Language Learners

The pandemic has created unique challenges for adult English Language Learners. Suddenly having little choice but to continue their educations remotely, many had limited or no experience with remote learning prior to March 2020, exacerbating the difficulties the pandemic threw in their paths. While many students are happy to be back in the classroom now, more adult English learners than ever are continuing with remote learning, whether it be in an academic setting or for personal or professional language improvement. With English being the dominant language used on social media and in global business and politics, the opportunities to tutor English learners remotely is endless.

Let's get ELATED about Tutoring Adult ELLs!

Preparing for your Remote Tutoring Session

  • Choose a meeting platform. Zoom, Microsoft TEAMS, and Google Meet are all good options with different functions.

  • Once you choose your meeting platform, be come familiar with the tools available within it before you have your first official tutoring session. Zoom, Microsoft TEAMS, and Google Meets provide step-by-step instructions on how to get started and use their functionality for an interactive, productive tutoring session.

  • Be aware that many students had negative experience with online learning during the beginning of the pandemic, so they may still be skeptical about the efficacy of online learning. Having a practice session with a friend will prepare you to feel confident going into your first official tutoring session! This will put your students at ease and set them off to a good start!

  • For even more tips on getting your students started and comfortable with learning technology, see Brooke Helling's page on overcoming Technological Hurdles.

General Tutoring Recommendations:

  • Begin with a rapport- and trust-building session. Tell your student about your tutoring experience and areas of interest. Get to know your new student before you dive into the lesson. Ask your student some or all of the following:

    • Where are you from originally?

    • How long have you been studying English?

    • What is the most challenging aspect of English for you--reading, writing, speaking, pronunciation, or grammar? Which are you best at?

    • Which other languages do you speak?

    • What are your general language-learning goals?

    • What is your specific goal for this session?

    • What else would you like me to know about you that might help me to better help you?

  • Set expectations of what you can accomplish together during the allotted time period.

  • Always use level-appropriate materials and scaffold your lessons; students will be quickly lost if the material is either too difficult or not challenging enough.

  • Try to stay on task and on track, but follow your students' lead if they want to change it up a bit. The more practice you have tutoring ESL students, the easier it will be to change from one task or topic to another without interrupting the flow of the lesson!

Tutoring Writing

  • Determine how your students will share their documents with you.

    • Google Docs and Microsoft Word can be viewed and edited by anyone who has permission.

    • Microsoft TEAMS allows any participant to request control of the document. This allows both the student and the tutor to make revisions, although not simultaneously.

    • Troubleshooting tip: If your students have trouble sharing their documents from their end, have them email the document to you, and then you can share from your side.

  • Ask your student to read the composition aloud. Students are frequently able to "hear" their writing errors when they do so. This fosters self-confidence and independence in the revising and editing process. For a more in-depth look into the benefits of reading aloud during the revising and editing process, read Peter Elbow's article "How Does Reading Aloud Improve Writing?"

  • Focus on global problems first: The content and structure of the writing should fit the assignment/objective.

  • Next, if time allows, move on to local issues such as punctuation and grammar.

  • Finally, students should understand that writing is a process that cannot be perfected in one session. Tell them to put their writing away for a day or two (if they've given themselves enough time!) and revisit it, and perhaps have one more tutoring session, to polish it up. Now that's a good essay!

Tutoring Speaking/Pronunciation

  • Make sure your student can see and hear you clearly, and vice versa.

  • Clear your visual and auditory background of any distractions.

  • With beginning and low intermediate students, slow your rate of speech and speak clearly; for more advanced students, challenge them with your natural speaking rate.

  • Emphasize that spoken English is NOT equivalent to written English in many ways.

  • Don't interrupt and correct every error your student makes; it interferes with fluency development. Instead, focus on just a few major areas, such as a sound that is frequently mispronounced or words that are used incorrectly which may confuse listeners.

  • Keep a list of frequently mispronounced sounds and words that you can review in future sessions.

  • Refer to this set of ESL Conversation Questions if you run out of your own ideas. It happens to the best of us!

Tutoring Vocabulary

Traditional paper and pencil, rote vocabulary practice is, well, impractical. Remote tutoring requires innovative approaches to vocabulary development. There are numerous websites and apps at your fingertips to help you facilitate rapid vocabulary acquisition with your students.

  • If you want to create your own activities online, BookWidgets is a low-cost site that provides teachers with over 30 types of widgets that can be used to make vocabulary flashcards, games, quizzes, picture/word associations, and so much more.

  • The benefits of using mobile technology for English language skills development, especially vocabulary, have been well documented. You can't be with your students 24/7, so introduce them to some of the best English language vocabulary learning apps, such as Duolingo, Quizlet, and Busuu.

  • If your students don't want to download yet another app, don't fret:, Freerice, and LearnEnglishFeelGood are just a few of the vocabulary learning sites your students can practice on.

  • When it comes to learning and retaining vocabulary, repetition and using the vocabulary in context are key. Create conversation questions that focus on the specific vocabulary your students are currently studying; then have the students create the questions.