Tutoring Techniques

“What works for some may not work for others.”

Each person learns differently. The old adage “What works for some may not work for others” is a crucial point for tutors to remember. You, as a Tutor, have the advantage over instructors of being able to individualize your student’s style of learning. A combination of strategies from the list below may work well for students, including those with learning disabilities. Familiarize yourself with these techniques and practice them. Remember, techniques are interchangeable. For example, you may find a technique listed under Math Techniques and use it for tutoring a history course. Tutoring techniques are grouped into:

  1. Required
  2. Commonly Used
  3. Reading
  4. Writing
  5. Math & Science

Required Techniques

Required techniques are techniques that should be used during each session. We will discuss and practice these techniques in our CRLA Training Session. Read each technique carefully and envision yourself using them in a tutorial setting.

  • Preparation
    • Get a copy of your First Sessions Checklist;
    • Review your copy of the student’s syllabus;
    • Plan an agenda for your session. (Remember the agenda doesn’t have to be strictly adhered to. Your student may have an agenda too. Work with your student on what needs to be covered.)
  • Beginning a session
    • Make sure you and your student log in;
    • Scan the cubicle to make sure it is clean and the technology works;
    • Know how to handle no-shows;
    • Review the student’s Student Tutorial Assessment and/or the Cook Study Skills Checklist with the student to inquire how the student is doing. There are certain questions you can ask your student, like:
  • “How are your strengths helping you with school this semester?” (Motion to areas that students do well in.)
  • “Have you seen improvement in these areas?” (Motion to areas that students want to work on.)
  • “What new study habits are you trying?”
  • Ending a session
    • Inform the student when the session is almost over.

This cues the student that it’s about time to wrap up. Say something like, “We have 5 more minutes left. Let’s review what we’ve covered today.”

  • Do a recap of your session with your student.

Briefly explain what was covered in the session. Ask your student how they benefited from this session. Ask them to identify study skills they will use.

  • Confirm next appointment.

You and your student probably already have a set schedule of sessions for the semester but it’s a good idea to remind your student of the next appointment. For example, you could say, “I will see you this Wednesday for our regular 6 o’clock appointment.”

  • Make sure you and your student log out.
    • Complete your session log.

This gives you an opportunity to reflect on the session and to plan for the next one.

  • Add working time to eTime.
  • Active listening
    • making eye contact,
    • leaning slightly toward the student,
    • nodding appropriately,
    • responding with appropriate facial expressions, and
    • relaxing when you are watching the student communicate.

When a tutor listens actively, it shows students that they are important enough to have your undivided attention. You can demonstrate active listening by

  • paraphrase what the student communicated,
    • to ask questions that will lead the student to her/his own solution,
    • offer constructive feedback rather than criticize,
    • guide students to make appropriate choices, and
    • ask the student if there is anything else s/he can share.
    • Be familiar with difficult situations.

When it is time to respond, an active response may be to

  • Active probing

More often than not, students have gaps in their learning. A good way for tutors to figure our where students are fumbling is by asking questions. (This is not meant to be a police interrogation. Refer to Active Listening.)

When students are answering your questions, you can begin to see where students are “getting it” or “not getting it.” Good questions to ask the student are open-ended which allows them to give you a detailed response. Avoid yes or no questions, which would most likely give you nothing beyond the standard “yes” or “no” answers. Open-ended questions often begin with how, why, where, when, who or what. Here are some examples of the questions you could ask:

  • “How did class go yesterday?”
  • “How did you come to that answer?”
  • “How does that apply to this?”
  • “Why do you think that’s the answer?”
  • “Why do you think this happened?”
  • “Why do you think the teacher said this?”
  • “Where would you go to find the answer?”
  • “Where do you study?”
  • “Where do you think the teacher is going with this information?”
  • “When is the best time for you to study?”
  • “When are your tests, projects due?”
  • “When will your class be studying this topic?”
  • “Who said this?”
  • “Who do you think you could study with?”
  • “Who pioneered this technique?”
  • “What did you learn from reading this chapter?”
  • “What do you think the teacher will test you on?”
  • “What does your teacher emphasize most in her lectures?”

The kinds of open-ended questions you could ask your students are endless. Tutors should jot down a few questions they would like to ask their students during the next session or while the student is explaining their thought process.

Commonly-Used Techniques

  • Role Reversal

Using Role Reversal encourages the student to think for himself, and assimilate what he has learned in class and in tutorial sessions. (This can force a sleepy, unmotivated student to become active and involved during his tutoring session. It also works well as a review session.)

  • Give student time, time, and more time

Let the student try to figure out what the answers are. Showing patience and gentle encouragement reduces anxiety and allows the student to be active in the learning process.

  • Tutor in a quiet environment

Deaf students often find visual noise distracting. Keep distractions to a minimum and encourage others to do the same. Be aware of what you are wearing. Solid shirts with neutral or cool shades of blue are more “quiet” than a shirt with busy print or neon colors.

  • Present information in manageable steps

Isolate each step. Use index cards, bullets, or single sheets of paper to present each piece of information.

  • Give examples

This is a popular technique. A lot of information is new or abstract and our minds often need association to absorb it. For example, a student has not encountered the theory of “social construction” before. You might say “social construction is like the human body. Each part of the body has a responsibility to make the body run. For example the heart is responsible for pumping blood, lungs are responsible for breathing, legs are responsible for walking. Likewise each member of society has a responsibility to contribute to society to make society function, like firefighters, teachers, doctors, janitors. That is what ‘social construction’ means.”

  • Write directions for assignments

For most of us recall is only good for a short amount of time. If you want your student to practice a study skill, remember an assignment, or rehearse vocabulary, write it down. This is also true for presenting information in small manageable steps.

  • Relate material to student’s everyday life

This is a highly effective tutoring technique. Remember the Chinese saying, “Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand.” How true that is! If you can relate your course material to something that your student has experienced before, this will help the student remember it better.

  • Experiment with LARGE print

This applies to presenting information in small manageable steps. Sometimes material is too crowded and so overwhelmed with data that it becomes hard to extract important pieces of information. Sometimes when the print is larger information becomes easier to read and absorb. Use the copier to experiment with LARGE print. If the information is on a computer, increase the computer’s screen resolution.

  • Elicit brain storming – ask “Why?”
    • recall information;
    • make corrections;
    • understand how they got the answer.

Asking “why” helps students explain how they reached a particular answer.

    • see how their students are processing information;
    • ensures that the student is on the right track;
    • helps the student become independent thinkers.
  • Ask students to paraphrase information

Paraphrasing is a powerful tool that helps students assimilate and rethink information. It turns them into active learners and it helps the tutor check to see if the student genuinely understands the material.

  • Encourage questions from students

Students who ask questions are active-learners. They are taking charge of their learning and often overcoming little voices that say something akin to “People will think I’m stupid if I ask.” Assure your students that no questions are bad. Educational exchanges happen when people ask questions, no matter how blighted the questions may seem.

  • Offer materials for students to keep

Reviewing material is important for memory retention. Additionally, when you give or lend materials to students, this bolsters their motivation to study. (Use the photocopier to make copies.)

  • Drill for rote learning while walking

Rhythm leads to clearer thinking. This is a good technique to use when students need to memorize material such as vocabulary, formulas, and algorithms.

  • Allow frequent breaks

Studying is exercise for the brain. And as with all exercising, the body and mind need a break. Allow a few minutes for the student to get water and go to the bathroom after 30 to 45 minute intervals. Concentration will improve.

  • Restate information differently

You may have a student say, “In ASL, please.” Signing aloud is a way of restating information in a way that students believe they will better understand. We do not encourage Tutors to sign long texts aloud from course materials but rather encourage Tutors to have students sign the material themselves. When they read aloud they are in fact processing information better than they would if a Tutor signed it for them. Tutors, in turn, can watch the students signing to see if they are accurately restating information. Tutors do at times need to restate information. Tutors can draw images, paraphrase, identify different references, color code, and/or isolate information.

  • Prepare students for changes in routine

Students are often taken by surprise when a tutor tries something different. It’s better for a tutor to inform the student what will happen beforehand so that the student remains comfortable and focused on the tutoring session.

  • Show information in different ways

Although this is less true these days, a student occasionally will come across education material that weighs heavily on reading and very little on visuals. Use text, graphs, charts, and drawings to stimulate your student’s visual comprehension of the material. Conversely, but less common, some students retain information better through text than through pictures. Be sure to observe your students and identify learning styles that work well for them.

  • Use technology

We live in the Information Age because of technology. Technology has given people different avenues of acquiring knowledge. It is a huge improvement over the traditional “read-text-for-hours-or-else-you-fail” approach of the bygone days. Allow technology to enhance your tutoring sessions. Take advantage of the internet, course-related software, high speed photocopiers, and videophones to work with your students.

Reading Techniques

  • Highlight important information

Have student scan textbook, chapters, bold print, and pictures to come up with an idea of what the author(s) will say.

What does (course title) mean?”

  • Math tutors, for instance, could ask their students, “What does algebra mean?” (It basically means the study of variables.)
    • “How is your text book divided?”
      • microbiology (things we can’t see like atoms, DNA, cells) and
      • macrobiology (things we can “see” like ecosystems, anatomy, and evolution).

Look at table of contents to see how it is organized. For instance, most biology texts are divided into two major parts

  • “How does this chapter fit into this book?”

For example, history texts are organized chronologically which means events in earlier chapters may have lead to events in the current chapter.

  • “What are the subchapters/ sections of this chapter?”

This helps the student see the relationship between subchapters and the chapter itself.

“Look at the pictures and bold print in this chapter. What are they telling you? How are they related to the topic?”

  • “What kinds of quizzes or assignments does this chapter have at the end?”

Reading through the review questions before reading the chapter helps students get a feel for what the author and their teacher want students to learn.

A good way to approach this technique is to ask the student

  • Discuss vocabulary before reading

Familiarity with essential vocabulary words helps students read more fluidly and confidently.

  • Use highlighter to identify key words or phrases

Not everyone likes their text marked with a highlighter. If this doesn’t appeal to your students, then encourage them to isolate important information in their notes, jot notes in their text, or use post-it notes.

  • Have students read/sign aloud to you

Avoid reading/signing aloud to students. Let them read to you and you watch how they convey information. You may begin to see where they are struggling or missing important information.

  • Jot notes in text

Not everyone likes their text marked with notes. If this doesn’t appeal to your students, then encourage them to isolate important information in their notebook, use post-it notes, or highlighting.

  • Discuss review questions

Reading through the review questions before reading the chapter helps students get a feel for what the author and their teacher want students to learn.

  • Have students take notes while reading

Taking notes helps students commit information to memory. Notes should include questions students have as they read as well as identifying information they need to review later.

  • Openly discuss material on hand

Tutors probe, students answer. In other words let the students do most of the talking and the tutors do most of the guiding. See active probing.

  • Use sketches, maps, flow charts

Visual images often help students see what a stream of words cannot. This is a highly effective technique.

  • Teach students SQ3R

Survey, question, read, review, recite

Writing Techniques

  • Ask questions about the assignment

How many pages? When is the paper due? What does the teacher want you to do?

  • Ask the student two or more subject-centered questions about their topic

What do you already know? What do you need to find out? What is your thesis?

  • Create a time line
  • Use pre-writing strategies

brainstorming, mapping, outlining, jotting notes

Recognize common ESL problems 

  • Help students develop a formal outline

Introduction, body and conclusion.

  • Become familiar with the process of doing a research paper 
  • Encourage students to make an appointment with a English Coach at TIP, especially when they are working on papers.

 Jordan Student Academic Center (JSAC) Room 1221

Math & Science Techniques

  • Use color coding

Organization becomes easier when people see items grouped together by color. This is a popular technique used for isolating math steps.

  • Do flowcharting, diagramming

Words don’t always say enough. Clearly showing the relationship between numbers and objects through visual aids really helps students understand how mathematicians and scientists have come to certain answers.

  • Use flashcards

Index cards help isolate information and allow students to flip through them often.

  • Use graph paper instead of lined-paper

Remember when you made a math mistake because your numbers weren’t lined up clearly? Most schools in Europe and Australia require students to use graph paper because graph paper lines information up both vertically and horizontally. It helps students organize and see their information better. (Graph paper is sold in the Gallaudet Bookstore.)

  • Let students touch and handle instructional materials

Familiarity with a tool helps students better understand how it is used. And it reduces feelings of alienation.

  • Use stimulation

Stimulation like board games and computer activities allow students to practice a particular skill without worrying about consequences.

  • Do hands-on activities

Most of us are tactile learners. We acquire information as we touch objects and try to figure out how they work.

  • Supplement materials with art notebooks, coloring books

Some texts have a supplemental book with clear drawings and visual-based activities for students. Anatomy coloring books are a hit with college students