School prepares you for life. That’s the idea, right? Well, more and more people think that it isn’t doing its job anymore.
With hindsight it’s easy for us to see how the things you learn in school are actually useful in the real world, but that won’t be so clear to your students. That’s where you come in.
It’s a tutor’s job, and their duty, to bridge that gap between the page of a textbook and the big wide world.
If you keep the following points in mind whenever you plan your lessons, your students will be able to relate what they’re studying to their actual lives.
1. Choose an interesting context
Instead of giving your students new information ‘cold’ (e.g. “Do this equation” or “read this and tell me the answers”), why not try to think of a context or theme to base your whole lesson around?
A lesson on Shakespeare could easily be based around modern adaptations of his books. A maths class could be drawn out of sports statistics, and a language class can be based around, well, just about anything that you can think of!
If your classes are built on the background of interesting contexts and themes, your students will be learning something new about the world, as well as the academic topic of the lessons.
With your help, your students will realise that you are may be their tutor, but the whole world is their classroom.
2. Think about how they learn
In previous posts we’ve brushed over the phenomena of ‘learner types’, but here is where we really break them down.
It’s generally accepted that there are a handful of different learners – visual, social, solitary, logical, physical, aural and verbal.
Of course, it’s not as simple as every student being one specific type (if only!). In reality, each student is a unique cocktail of the seven.
As you teach your students, the type of learners that they are will become clearer and clearer. Once you know, you can adapt your lessons accordingly.
- For aural learners, incorporate songs or into your lessons, or try reading aloud.
- For visual learners, use things like pictures and charts.
- For logical learners, use systems and statistics to show them how things work.
- For verbal learners, help them learn through conversation or storytelling.
- For solitary learners, allow them time and space to make progress alone.
- For social learners, involve yourself more in the learning process, and tone down solo tasks.
- For physical learners, get them up and moving. Don’t spend the whole class sitting in your chairs!
Once you start giving your students the kind of activities that they respond best to, you’ll see how much easier it is for them to feel a part of the lesson. And remember, feedback is a crucial part of the learning process.
3. Make sure your materials look inviting
An A4 page of dull text is a dreary sight, and will immediately make your students feel like they’re sitting yet another boring exam.
The world is a colourful and vibrant place, so why should your teaching materials look any different? In fact, different colours can actually help students learn different subjects!
Even the simplest activity can look infinitely more appealing if you add colours, pictures and choose your fonts carefully.
Likewise, if you’re dealing with a large block of text – why not think of ways to break it down in to smaller, more attractive chunks?
Not only will your activities be more attractive, but the extra effort you’re putting in will not go unnoticed by your students. They will respect the fact that you’re willing to go the extra mile for them.
4. Ask for your student’s opinions
Getting your students opinions on the work you’re doing together can bring a whole new healthy dynamic to your classes.
Teenagers will be used to being told to sit and listen, and agree with whatever opinions are presented to them.
Unfortunately, this approach leaves them feeling isolated, and resenting the things that they are being made to learn.
If, say, you’re teaching literature – ask them if they like a character in the book. Or even ask them if they like the book itself! Let them know it’s okay if they don’t.
Knowing their opinions are taken seriously is incredibly empowering for any young person, and will make them feel more connected to the things that you’re working on together.
5. Create a comfortable atmosphere and don’t dress like a headmaster!
Imagine that you’ve just been dropped off for a lesson with your new tutor.
You walk into a dark, grey room, with a pile of papers on an office desk and a serious-professor type staring at you down the bridge of their nose.
Not the most appealing image, is it?
An overly formal and bland learning environment will instantly create a chasm between you and your student, and they’ll find it more difficult to enjoy even the most entertaining of classes.
On the other hand, a bright, colourful room with a desk full of weird and wonderful lesson materials will immediately put a smile on their face.
Sure, a tutor shouldn’t wear shorts and a T-shirt in their lessons, but a suit and tie might actually be an even worse option! Students associate traditional teacher-wear with old-fashioned, boring educational practices.
When deciding how to dress, most tutors opt for something casual.
6. Show an interest in their lives
Your students respect and look up to you, whether they choose to show it or not (they probably don’t!).
Asking them if they’ve had a good week at school, or letting them chat about their plans for the weekend, will make them feel valued and will motivate them to give it their all, every class.
If they know that you show an interest in them, and respect them, they’ll reciprocate by respecting what you’re trying to do for them.
7. Smile, and be positive
Last, but certainly not least, don’t forget to turn that frown upside down!
Your attitude and general demeanour might just be the most valuable tool that you have.
Students will mirror the way you act and speak, so you can create and maintain a happy and optimistic tone that permeates the entire lesson.
Not only are positive lessons more enjoyable for both you and your students, you’ll find that you achieve more with a ‘can do’ attitude.
Creating a positive learning environment is the foundation from which you build all of your lessons, so never underestimate its importance.
By following the steps above, your students will enjoy and get more out of your lessons and, as their tutor, you’ll make a real difference in their lives.