Literacy Nassau

1 Ivy Lane

Wantagh, New York 11793    

Phone: (516) 867-3580


Creating a Safe Learning Environment for Your New Student

July 22, 2016


You may have heard the audible sigh of relief from the staff here in the office when post-test season finally wrapped up on June 30th.  Over 500 students were post-tested across multiple programs and 60% of them made significant enough gains to be eligible for the next level.  It is so exciting and rewarding to see the difference that Literacy Nassau’s tutors are making in the lives of their students, and for many of you, this means that you will be starting with a new student or group this fall. 


For those of you starting with a new student or group or who are resuming lessons after a hiatus, keep these tips in mind to create a safe learning environment for your student.

  1. Stay calm and be prepared.  I used to guest lecture for a marketing class at Baruch College in Manhattan.  It was always a new class when I did, and I would get a little nervous.  A friend who has been a college professor for twenty years shared with me that she still gets nervous on the first day of classes.  She felt that any teacher worth their salt would experience some nervousness in meeting new students.  Be sure to arrive early, scope out your meeting place, prepare your lessons in advance and consider including an ice breaker.  It is a great way to learn more about each other, and it will help both you and your student relax especially during the early sessions.

  2. Focus on your student’s goals.  Why do they want to learn English?  What are their language needs?  Based on what you know about them, what vocabulary do they need to learn?  If you do not have enough information, please call your literacy specialist to find out more.

  3. You may need to keep it short at the start.  Working with a true beginner for two hours can be intimidating for you and overwhelming for them.  You might consider meeting for two separate one-hour sessions for the first few weeks as your student builds vocabulary.

  4. Listen.   It is so important for your student to practice their language skills by speaking.  Be sure to pause and give them an opportunity to ask questions and also ask them follow-up questions so they can start to build fluency.

  5. Be kind and smile often.  

  6. Be patient.  In the early days, the focus is on vocabulary and repetition.  I read recently that in order to memorize a simple phrase in English, the average adult would need to repeat it fifteen times during the day in three blocks of five over a five day period.  And that is for a native English speaker who already knows the language!   But be mindful not to over-drill without changing up the activity to keep your student engaged and your lessons fun.

  7. Allow for mistakes.  Remember the emphasis is on understanding, not perfect English.  Help your student to build confidence and fluency by letting them speak without interruption.  Once you observe patterns or areas for improvement, use it as an opportunity to incorporate into a future lesson plan.  Let them know it is okay to make mistakes and see guideline #8.

  8. Laugh with your student(s).  Be sure to mix some fun into your lessons and don’t be afraid to be a little silly.  Recently, when I was talking to a potential student on the phone, I mistakenly mispronounced “appellido” which means “last name” in Spanish and said “abuelito” which means “grandfather” instead.  We both laughed as did my Spanish-speaking coworker who overheard the conversation.  Laughter is good for the soul and a fantastic way to start building a rapport with your student.

  9. Admit if you don’t know something.  This is a hard one for me.  I am so goal-oriented that I like to skip ahead to the answer often neglecting the fact that the real goal is ongoing learning, not just having the right answer.  It is also a fantastic opportunity to share online language resources or apps with your student so they know where to look up information when you are not there.  If you do not know the difference between a present participle and the present perfect, a great response is, “I don’t know, but let’s look it up.” 

  10. Enjoy yourself.  Learning a new language can have a hugely positive impact on an individual’s life, but it can be extremely challenging for both tutor and student.  As the tutor, be sure to relax and have fun while you provide instruction. 


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