Have a plan for making a good first impression, Part 1

This is the first of a three-part series of posts to help tutors get tutoring off to a good start with new students (learners). In part one, we look at creating a plan for the first session or two to help establish trust and set expectations for future tutoring sessions. 

It’s Fall and the new school year is underway. Kids and teachers are hard at work in the classroom. Outside the classroom, it’s a time of year when many tutors are beginning to work with new students (learners). The first meeting or two between a tutor and learner are important–they set the tone and direction for the work they’ll do together throughout the year. Here are some suggestions that can help tutors get the tutoring year off to a good start.

Don’t wing it!

First impressions count, so tutors should come to these initial meetings with a plan. That plan should focus on:

  • Relationship Building: Come to the first session with some activities to get to know each other and that begin to help you build trust.
  • Establish Expectations: Tutors are there to tutor, to help with reading and academics. You can have some fun and make it engaging but it’s important to communicate that the focus of your work together will be on learning.
  • Assess Initial Needs: You can’t learn all you need to know about a student in the first two meetings but you can begin to identify key needs. Bring a few books to these sessions and listen to your student read. You’ll begin to get an idea of what you two need to work on during tutoring.
  • Ask Questions: Tutoring shouldn’t be something we do to kids but something we do with them. Ask your student what they want from the tutoring sessions and what areas they need help in. This sets the tone for future sessions that balance tutor and learner talk.

Let’s take a look at two of these issues: relationships and expectations.

Relationship building 

Good relationships take time but you can get off to a good start with a few ice breaker activities. These can be simple like playing the memory game: “You tell me 10 things about you and I’ll tell you 10 things about me and we’ll see who remember the most things about each other.” Truths and Lies is fun, too: “I’ll tell you three things about me and one of them is a lie. You have to guess which one is the lie. Then you can think up three things about yourself and I’ll guess which one is the lie.” Acrostic Name Poems are also a good way to get to know each other. The tutor and student each write their name vertically on a piece of paper and then think of words or phrases that begin with those letters that describe things about themselves. Here’s an example of an Acrostic Name Poem:


All of these activities allow the tutor and student (learner) to get to know each other but also give the tutor important information they can use in tutoring. For example, Tasha’s tutor knows she like soccer and probably likes animals–cats in any case. If the tutor has a chance to select books to use in tutoring these might be good topics. Singers and athletes have to practice in order to get better. The tutor can talk about how learning to read requires practice just like singing and sports take practice. A willingness to practice is an important expectation to discuss in the first tutoring session or two.

Establishing expectations

Tutoring is work focused on helping a student get better at something like reading or a subject like math, science or social studies. Early on in the work between a tutor and learner, the tutor needs to take time to talk with the student (learner) about what to expect during their tutoring sessions. Here are some goals to consider talking about:

  • Come to tutoring ready to get to work. This sounds simple but it’s important to set the expectation that the tutor and the learner will show up on time for each session ready to work. If attendance becomes an issue then this opens the door to a conversation about whether tutoring should continue. Also, a focus on academics helps when the tutor and learner get distracted or off track.
  • Come to tutoring prepared. For the tutor, this means planning for each session with books and activities that help address the student’s needs. For the learner, this means bringing their book or school work with them to each session and practicing or studying between sessions.
  • Communicate by talking and listening. Tutors need to tell learners that they’ll be good listeners–it’s something those of us who tutor need to remind ourselves of when tutoring. Learners also need to be good listeners and come to tutoring sessions willing to read and talk about the work and challenges they are facing.
  • Be respectful of each other. Many tutors and learners come from different backgrounds and have different experiences. Economics, race and ethnicity, age, gender and geography (rural, urban, suburban) all influence how we see the world. Many tutors were good students and may not have needed the kind of support they are trying to provide to their student. Bridging those differences requires respect from both the tutor and the learner. Be good listeners and hold back on making judgements. Tutors, who are usually in a position of authority, can open up dialogue with statements like, “Tell me more about that” when confronted with something they don’t understand and but encouraging their students to ask questions.

Tutors can engage learners in a conversation about these issues during the first or second meeting, or they can write these down. Check out the ReadWriteServe Handbook at RWS Tutoring website. There’s a Tutor/Learner Agreement in the back to the handbook tutors can use to guide the conversation or to share with their learner.

In the next post, we’ll look at how tutors can get important information to guide tutoring sessions. We’ll also talk about the importance of asking good questions to encourage learners to share important insights that can help in tutoring.


About bluegrassjb

I am an academic with a love for language, literacy and learning. The focus of my work is on student success at the K-12 and college levels. Outside of my professional interests I enjoy travel, photography and antiquing with my partner and wife. We like to hit the road in our travel trailer with the dogs and when at home party with the cats.
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