Each week here in Madrid, I teach a few clases particulares, private English classes, to earn some extra money. Private classes are completely different from teaching at school. In most ways it’s easier, but they do offer some unique challenges. It’s nice to not have to control 25 kids at once, so I can devote all my attention to one person and tailor the class to the student’s specific needs and interests.
However, because activities move faster when there’s only one person, it can also involve a lot more planning. Some days the student will have specific topics to review for a test at school, but other days, I have to provide all the content and activities, which can be a lot of material depending on the student. I have one student who is chatty and will happily talk to me in English about anything related to the topic, so a certain activity may last thirty minutes, because she answers my questions with whole paragraphs and stories. I have another student who is very quiet, and he answers my questions with as few words as possible. I have to avoid yes/no questions or “yes” and “no” will be the only words he says. He is willing to participate, but he doesn’t expand on his answers or ask me questions in return, so the same activity with him will last barely ten minutes. So for that class, I have come prepared with a lot of structured activities because I can’t rely on natural conversation without feeling like I’m interrogating the poor kid.
I’m always scrambling to find new games and activities for these classes, because I want them to be fun instead of feeling like homework for these kids. Here are a few private lesson games I’ve used recently…
This classic card game is a good ESL activity on its own for practicing question structure (”Do you have any ______?” “Yes I do / No I don’t.”) and the numbers, but I use it to practice other things as well. Before we start, on a piece of paper, I draw a spade, diamond, heart, and club, and we choose four things the student needs to work on. For one of my older, more advanced students, this could be grammar: present simple, present continuous, present perfect, and past simple. The game is played normally, but each time we have to “go fish” and draw a card from the deck, we have to make a sentence using the grammatical form that corresponds to the suit of the card. For my younger student, I keep the categories simple: animals, food, family, and sports, for example.
Memory is a game that can be used for almost any vocabulary. I don’t have printer available to make cards with pictures on them and drawing the pictures myself would be very time-consuming, but I have still used it for other things by making cards with just words on them. For example, I made a set of Opposite Memory cards where the pairs are things like big/small, on/off, tall/short, etc. I also made a set of Homonym Memory cards where the pairs are things like see/sea, eight/ate, right/write, etc.
For a more kinesthetic game, my student and I will toss a balloon back and forth, and each time we hit it, we count in English. We try to see how high we can count before making a mistake or letting the balloon touch the floor. Variations include moving through the alphabet, days of the week, or months of the year instead of through the numbers. To make it more difficult, sometimes I outlaw the use of hands, so we can only hit the balloon with feet, knees, elbows, heads, etc.
To any fellow ESL teachers, what are your favorite games and activities for private classes? I’m always looking for new ideas!