What Does Class Size Mean to Teachers?

One or 100 Students?

Most teachers will encounter a variety of lesson sizes in their careers teaching English overseas. From groups of more than 40 students who have gathered for an informal “English corner” style meet-and-greet to hour-long blocks of one-on-one time with an individual student who is willing to pay for the extra attention, there will be huge differences in how you plan your lessons.

For the new teacher, this can be daunting. Even if you’ve done a TEFL certification course (and you should!) it’s hard to feel prepared for everything, right off the bat.

To help you feel more secure in your abilities, here’s a few differences of one-on-one and group classes to help you understand the art of teaching a great lesson, no matter how big or small your group.


Sometimes called tutoring sessions, face-to-face lessons, individual classes, private classes or man-to-man classes, these lessons involve giving one particular student 100 percent of the teacher’s attention for the duration of the lesson. While both one-on-one and group lessons require a lot of concentration from the teacher, classes where you’re alone with one student will really require you to be “switched on” from the start to finish of the lesson. Even a tiny class size of two students will allow the teacher the flexibility of pair work or role play activities in which the students can talk to one another and the teacher can take a mental step back to reorganize for the next part of the lesson, take notes on the students’ progress, or analyze ways to improve students’ learning. But with a one-on-one lesson, the need to engage the student can make it tricky for teachers to get this mental space during class time. This makes it even more necessary for teachers to prepare the class well beforehand, and to be thoroughly organized and mentally prepared when he or she enters the one-on-one classroom.

Another challenge in a one-on-one environment is maintaining a professional relationship with the student. Most students who engage a teacher for a one-on-one lesson are looking forward to a more intimate classroom experience. This may mean that the teacher sits next to or across from the student, rather than standing by the blackboard. Or, it may mean that the classes take place outside a classroom—in the student’s home, in the teacher’s office, or even in a cafe or other public area. This change in environment is great for building students’ self confidence and for broadening their practical experience of the language (by ordering refreshments or introducing family members, for example) but can lead to a slackening of class protocols. Many teachers and one-on-one students become so friendly that the student starts making excuses to “forget” homework or other out of class assignments, or even skip lessons altogether. Also, teachers who feel more comfortable with their students may become more lax in planning lessons, and rely too much on conversation to fill the time in the lesson. (That’s not to say that conversation is not a great thing for your student, but it may not help them to progress as quickly to their individual learning goals.)

 Group Lessons

When you teach a student one-on-one, you’ll soon get used to his or her individual interests and particular learning style. If he loves cooking and learns best with games, you’ll know it in a few weeks. If she adores watching TV and learns best by reading material and taking notes, you’ll notice sooner than later.

But in a group lesson, new teachers will find that it takes much longer to get a handle on the students’ interests and needs. In some teaching jobs, you may not have the same students in every lesson, even if their names are always on the roster.

Group lessons will require different planning strategies than one-on-one lessons. You’ll want to make sure that your students get the most time possible to practice using the target language—but you may only have 50 minutes to help 10 students, instead of 40 minutes for one student. How can you make each of those 50 minutes count?  Not only will you need to think up more group-appropriate activities, but the time it takes your students to complete a task will vary depending on number as well. You may use the same basic materials for a one-on-one lesson as with a group lesson, and find that the one-on-one session used up the materials in a fraction of the time. Or, on the other hand, you may find that the one-on-one lesson allows you to go much deeper into the materials and that it will actually take much longer to complete the same activities. For a one-on-one lesson this is largely going to depend on the personality of the student, while a group class is going to depend more on your strategy and techniques as a teacher.

 For planning both kinds of lessons, I always recommend having a few fallback activities for use when things don’t go according to plan. If you find yourself teaching many one-on-one lessons, it’s a good idea to keep another set of fallback activities that will work specifically for these types of lessons, and not just in group situations.

  TED’s Tips™ #1:   One-on-one lessons are great opportunities to build a student’s self-confidence and really get to know him or her. Don’t lose sight of the goal—no matter how friendly you get with your student, you still need to help your student progress in his or her language goals.

TED’s Tips™ #2:  Group lessons and one-on-one lessons both require careful planning, but an activity that you used in a group lesson for 10 minutes may take much longer or much less time than that in a one-on-one lesson.

 TEFL Educator / TEFL Boot Camp

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Author: Ted

Semi-retired EFL teacher/teacher-trainer working and living abroad since 1989 in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.