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Engaging a Reticent Student

Updated: Apr 10

Sometimes a session with a student can fly by and the 60 minutes you and your student set to work together is over in the blink of an eye! But for some tutors and students, speaking in English for a solid hour may be quite challenging.


In our May 16 Tutor Talks, we discussed how to plan a session with a student who is reticent to engage for a full hour. So many ideas sprung forth from a variety of tutors.


Here are thoughtful suggestions and as always, consider if and how these suggestions apply to your student! There is no one or right way to do this important work.


  • If you find that your student tires after only 30 minutes, don't forget that speaking English for even 30 minutes for lower-level English Language Learners can be a LONG time. Be patient and understanding and don't feel you are short-changing your student if you end the lesson when he or she seems ready rather than by strictly watching the clock.

  • Over-prepare and be ready to use a variety of several shorter activities if your student has trouble focusing too long on one topic. Michele Doctoroff pulls several kinds of activities together, including check-in time, music, readings, short videos, review of past lessons, etc.

  • Check-in with your student, and ask if there's something else your student wants or needs to help direct you.

  • Try using short dialogues. Michelle Gross found a resource of short Hebrew dialogues with English translations. She finds them a nice, simple, and not intimidating way of getting a student to speak and practice simple sentences on many topics. Here's the link to the resource she uses.

  • Songs are an amazing way to connect to language and vocabulary and make for a fun and engaging activity. Kira Belkin says, "Songs are especially good for remembering words."

  • Julie Cohen likes to spend a little time playing online board games with her students as an interesting and interactive activity!

  • Tutor Martha Lott has actually read a short novel with her students, taking a few pages at a time and of course, not only focusing on this one activity during a learning session. She particularly recommends a novel called, "A Long Walk to Water" which is a fictional story about two Sudanese youth dealing with the mortal dangers of life in war-torn Sudan. Martha said the story really resonated with her students. I found there are several free sites in which you can access this book, including this one!









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