How to create content for private ESL lessons

Dear Teachers! The following is an excerpt from a guest post we did a couple months back for the mighty ELT Jam covering the building of content for private ESL lessons. The original article can be found here.

Over the past seven years, we (founders of Off2Class) have been teaching private ESL lessons in several locations overseas (most recently in Istanbul). Like many teachers working abroad, private English tutoring has often been more lucrative than our monthly salaries. Like us, many of our teacher friends and colleagues also received requests for private tuition; however, they often would refuse the work due to time constraints in preparing for the lessons. We soon came to the realization that finding suitable content for private ESL lessons is challenging. There seems to an ever-expanding plethora of online resources targeted at the traditional classroom, but very little focused on private teachers.
Where do private EFL teachers currently find content for their lessons?
Many teachers will often “wing it” and take a purely conversational approach with their student by discussing topics that interest them. This approach can work quite well with adults but it tends to dry up after five to ten lessons. Eventually, even the most energetic and worldly ESL teacher will run dry of new conversations to weave useful vocabulary and grammar into. The general feeling of unpreparedness can also lead to a bit of anxious stress as the lesson time approaches.
You can find lesson content online. There are some impressive user generated communities that have sprung up over the years such as Dave’s ESL Cafe, OneStopEnglish and ReadWriteThink. Most of the content on these sites is provided by teachers from traditional classrooms. Yet, content for private ESL lessons has some unique characteristics.
What are the unique needs of a private EFL lesson plan?
Form and function
In a conversation based tutoring session, the focus is on building confidence in order to promote the student to speak. Many students will learn major grammar and vocabulary topics in class. The private tutor is designated to reinforce existing principles while building confidence to speak. Workbooks, exercise sheets and class homework are far from ideal tools to accomplish this task. What is required is a conversation guide, a prompt that naturally directs conversation while reinforcing target grammar and vocabulary. Pictures with small amounts of text arranged using slide presentation software such as PowerPoint or Prezi are ideal.
Most user generated lesson plan sites and communities are organized as PDF banks. This requires printing your content before lessons. Often, the materials are not easily editable or adaptable. If you are teaching online, PDFs are usually not effective for screen sharing. A private tutor’s content should be in a format that can easily be shared with their students (either online or offline). With the growth of online teaching, this increasingly means on laptops and tablets. Even in a physical setting, a private student will respond well to sharing a teacher’s laptop screen.
Since most lesson plan sites are generated by a multitude of authors from different backgrounds, there is very little consistency in quality and style. As a private teacher you begin to develop a signature flow to your lessons. This flow becomes an expectation of your students. Delivering consistently styled lesson content helps create comfort for both the student and the teacher.
Private lessons can have a fluid nature. A conversation lesson can begin covering a specific grammar topic and then quickly jump to an alternate (and unintended) topic. Teachers may need to access content quickly either between lessons or even during a lesson. Most lesson plan sites have grown to reasonably large sizes, making their taxonomy and organization a challenge to navigate. In an ideal scenario, private ESL teachers would be able to draw on a well-organized content bank sorted by grammar and vocabulary topic areas.
So where can private ESL teachers find ready-to-use content for their tutoring sessions? If you scour the online world, it is often very challenging to find just what you are looking for. Often, by the time you’ve adapted the content, you realize that it would have been easier to generate your own PowerPoint lesson plan from scratch.
Introducing Off2Class: Lesson plans designed for private ESL tutors
It was this lack of suitable content (both in style and form) that inspired us to launch a new site dedicated to private ESL lesson plans. We’ve released a set of lesson plans (many of which were adapted from materials we’ve used with our own private students) on a simple to use web platform. We hope that Off2Class will fill a content gap for private ESL teachers.
The lesson plans are purposefully designed to guide a private conversation class. They are clearly organized by different grammar and vocabulary themes. Most lessons start with conversation prompts, which promote discovery and end in exercises that reinforce the target language. All of our lessons come loaded with teacher notes that guide the teacher on how to deliver the content.
The lesson plans are loaded onto a web platform that has been designed to accommodate all sorts of screen sizes, browsers and devices. A teacher can share their own device with their student (either online or in person) or the student can follow along to the lesson on their own device.

We hope you enjoy teaching them!

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