The very first lesson with a new student

Although I have been in the teaching profession for over 16 years now, I still get excited when I start classes with a new student and the first lesson always serves as a great opportunity to get to know each other.

As each of us is different, so is our language journey. And as each student comes with their own learning experience, language goals, expectations, motivation, skills, interests, etc,  no two courses I teach are ever identical. That’s why I strongly believe it is very important to spend the first lesson finding out as much as possible about your student (or students if you are teaching a group) in order to design the ultimate language course, best suited to their needs. Knowing about where your students have come from and what they are aiming for is the key to effective teaching.

When it comes to language learning, one size fits all is not an option. Over the years I’ve come up with a questionnaire I go through with my students during our first session to help me get to know my learners and devise the best tailor-made course. While the students answer the questions I learn about their experience of learning the language, their objectives, their areas of interest, their motivation, their preferences and at the same time get a good indication of where they are level-wise.  I also let my students ask me questions so they know what to expect from the course.

The questionnaire will be suitable for students at level A2 and higher, although you might want to skip some of the questions with the less capable students. If you’re teaching a big group, give each student a copy of the questionnaire and let them interview each other while you walk around, listen to their answers and make notes. I’ve also chucked a few extra questions you might want to ask your corporate clients/business English students and some additional questions to students preparing for exams.

I hope you find the questionnaire useful. Happy teaching!

General English courses

  1. Why are you interested in improving your English?
  2. How long have you been learning English? Talk about your experience.
  3. What do you do? Do you use English at work? What do you use English for?
  4. Is there anything you find particularly difficult about learning English?
  5. Do you use any applications on your phone to help you learn or revise?
  6. Do you subscribe to any YouTube channels? Which ones?
  7. Do you watch tv or films in English?
  8. Do you have any English-speaking friends?
  9. What classroom activities do you enjoy the most?  Do you learn best by seeing, by hearing or by doing?
  10. What methods do you have for learning new vocabulary?
  11. What are your hobbies and interests? What would your ideal weekend look like?
  12. Talk about your last holiday.
  13. Have you ever been to any English speaking countries? If you have, talk about your experience. If you haven’t, which English-speaking country would you most like to visit and why?
  14. Do you find British or American English easier to understand? Do you have a preference for either?
  15. What motivates you to try your best?
  16. Do you like to keep up with the latest news in the world? What news stories have you heard recently?
  17. How would the world be different if everybody in the world spoke English as their first language?
  18. Talk about your short-term and long-term plans.
  19. How would you describe yourself in 5 words?
  20. What would you like to know about this course?
  21. Finish this sentence: I will stop learning English when …

And here are some extra questions you might want to ask your business English students.

  1. Is English the official language of your organisation?
  2. What do you use English for at work?
  3. Do you travel on business much? What’s the purpose of your business trips?
  4. Which skills are most important in your job?
  5. Do you talk on the phone at work? Do you find it easy to understand people and communicate ideas over the phone?
  6. Do you write much in English? What do you write most often at work? What do you find most difficult about writing?
  7. Does your company do business in other countries? Is cultural awareness important in your job?
  8. How do you find small talk?
  9. Do you have any colleagues at work who don’t speak your native language? Do you socialise with them after work?
  10. Do you often have meetings in your company? Are they usually conducted in English? What is your role in these meetings?
  11. Do you ever have to give presentations in English? What are the presentations about? How easy do you find it?
  12. Have you ever experienced a funny situation or a problem which resulted from miscommunication? Talk about it.
  13. Have you ever had to negotiate something – a deal/a pay rise/a contract in English? How strong are your negotiation skills?
  14. If you were asked to teach for 60 minutes, what would be the topic of your class?
  15. What are your short-term and long-term goals as far as your professional career goes?
  16. Would you continue to work if you won the lottery?
  17. How do you envisage the world of work 30 years from now?

Questions to students preparing for exams

  1. Why are you interested in taking this particular exam? What door do you hope it will open? What is your desired score?
  2. Have you ever taken this exam before? Are you familiar with the exam format and assessment criteria?
  3. Have you ever done the ____(name of exam CAE/IELTS/etc.) mock exam? How well did you do? Which part did you do best in? What part was your weakest point?
  4. How much time can you devote a week to your exam preparation?
  5. How will you celebrate if you pass the exam with the desired result?

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