A tennis player wouldn’t play without a racket, a footballer wouldn’t turn up without a ball, and a tutor should never deliver a class without all of the materials they need.
However, without the right preparation, it can happen to the best of us. Here’s a comprehensive guide to make sure that you always have the right tools to deliver the lessons you’re capable of.
Yes, students should bring their own pens and pencils to lessons, but that would be in a perfect world – and this isn’t a perfect world. Every tutor is best off assuming that their students will arrive with absolutely nothing. That way, you’ll always be prepared.
Don’t forget to bring plenty of pens along for yourself and your student, and it’s good to use the same colours consistently. Younger students respond well to routine.
It’s also worthwhile taking a moment to decide what colour you’ll use to correct students’ work with. Red may not also be the best option.
Remember that, as a tutor, everything a student sees and uses in a classroom is a reflection of you, so it creates a bad impression if you turn up with chewed up age-old stationary. Professionalism is paramount, so make sure you look the part.
MATERIALS TO MAKE YOUR SESSIONS THAT LITTLE BIT SPECIAL
Now you’ve got the basics, there are a few resources you can add to your repertoire to really make you stand out from the crowd.
The more materials you have, the wider range of activities you are able to offer your students. The more activities they have, the more opportunities they have to learn. Students will want you as their tutor if they know that every lesson will be engaging.
Here are a few resources that add a bit of razzmatazz:
A mini-whiteboard is a fountain of possibility, and they are loved by tutors of every subject whether it be an English class, or Maths.
Lots of tutors also like to use them as bitesize substitutes for classroom whiteboards. Using it to teach, then letting the student write on it involves them in the learning process and builds a good rapport in your lessons.
They’re easy to get hold of, and don’t require much maintenance. Just remember to clean them every few weeks using alcohol or hairspray, and make sure the edges are covered if you’re using them with younger students.
The great thing about mini-whiteboards is that they’re so multi-functional. If you ever find yourself in a brain-fog, lots of tutors are keen to share ideas for activities online. Don’t be shy to join a forum, and share your own, either.
2. Flash cards
Whether you’re teaching trigonometry, English, Biology or Geography, flash-cards are your friends.
Drilling information with quick, to hand visuals is an important part of a tutor’s toolbox, and there’s really no better way to do that than with flashcards. Research shows that they engage a student’s ‘active recall’ (in layman’s terms, the student remembers the actual concept, not just some quote form a book).
So, after you next class, try writing down a few questions to test the students’ knowledge, then use them to do a quick fire quiz in the next couple of lessons. When you see the results, you’ll probably want to try something more creative.
It’s also a good idea to have a few blank flashcards on the side. They’re always useful for a bit of impromptu revision, and give you flexibility in the lesson.
3. Laptops or tablets
Laptops are so valuable to tutors, it’s hard to decide whether they should be in ‘basics’ or not. Many tutors feel as though they couldn’t live without one. It’s easy to see why.
The internet is a wonderful resource, and a well-chosen YouTube video can bring your lesson to life. Likewise, search engines like google are excellent research tools, and definitely beat tediously leafing through a dusty dictionary.
What’s more, students actually feel like they’re learning when they use tech, which improves their lesson-experience. Having happy students leads to a good reputation, and a good reputation leads to more students.
4. Music (and a portable speaker)
There’s no denying it, sometimes one to one sessions can be a little, well, awkward. Especially at first, when you and the student don’t know each other well.
Music is a great way to remedy any awkward silences, and it’s a wonderful tool to have in your teaching arsenal. All you need is your MP3 player and a portable speaker.
A little gentle background music instantly relieves the tension from a tutoring session, and puts the student at ease. Research suggests that it even makes us learn better.
Of course, there’s a right time and a wrong time to introduce music to the classroom, and it’s a good idea to avoid music with lyrics, or loud music (heavy metal and algebra don’t mix). Over time, though, you’ll fine-tune your ability to create a perfect learning atmosphere with a carefully selected song.
5. Dictaphone or mobile phone recording app
We’d like to hope our students go home after a class and read through the notes they took. Recording the session, so they can listen and relive the class whilst they review their notes, can really help your teaching sink in. Just send the file over google docs, or stick it on a USB drive for them.
If you’re a language tutor, getting students to record their progress is a great activity and helps to create more autonomous and self-motivated learners. Letting students record themselves speaking, then analyse their own mistakes, is a useful activity.
6. Board games
Let’s not forget these old classics. Board games have always been fun and, with a little rewiring, they can be an effective teaching resource that students will love.
Adding extra challenges to classics like Snakes and Ladders (e.g. ‘answer three questions when you land on a snake’) make them a pleasant and productive way to review new information. There are endless ways to adapt even the simplest of board games
They may not be hip, but board games have too many benefits to be neglected.
7. Fishing rods
No, not real fishing rods (unless you’re some sort of fishing tutor, I suppose). Homemade ‘answer rods’ – a fantastic resource for any tutor with young learners.
The concept is simple enough. You spread the answers to some questions (adapted to suit the subject) on the floor, and give the student a ‘rod’. You ask a question, then the student ‘goes fishing’ for the correct answer.
Here’s the science (I use that word loosely) behind it:
Take a plastic pole (an old broom handle will do). Tie a piece of string to the end, then glue a magnet to the end of the string. Congratulations, you are the now the proud owner of an ‘answer rod’.
Now, for the fish. Write down the answers to the questions you’ll ask on separate pieces of paper, then attach paperclips to each one. When your young fishermen hover the rod over the answer, the paperclip will stick to the magnet.
Teacher’s everywhere swear by these resources, and they’re always the first thing young learners ask for.
8. Arts and crafts
Whilst we’re talking about younger students, you’d be doing your kids a huge service if you incorporated some arts and crafts into your lessons.
Doing arts and crafts has been proven to help a child develop physically, in regard to their coordination, and mentally, in regard to their self-esteem.
They may end up with glitter in their hair and a felt-tip all over their face, but that’s what being a kid is all about. They’ll love it, and they’ll get more out of your classes.
If you’re stuck for ideas, the internet (who’d have thought it) is an absolute goldmine. Just buy a few materials beforehand, and don’t forget a few extras for yourself – when else does an adult have an excuse to make a Jellyfish in a biology class?
9. Homework plans
These are essential organisers for both you and your students. Your course needs structure, and students need to practice what they’re learning – your homework plan is the backbone of everything you do in the long term.
It’s important to find a plan that works for you and your student, everybody is different. You may want to use a pre-existing template from the internet, or you may prefer to create your own.
Either way, it’s a good idea to involve your student in creating it. It’ll make them more autonomous learners, and help them to not feel overwhelmed by the workload, as they break it down into manageable pieces. Remember, a homework plan is for the student, not the parents!
The benefits for your students are obvious – better materials mean better lessons – but you’ll actually find that you enjoy your lessons more yourself. Having the right materials makes any good tutor a great one.