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Approaching Your First Tutoring Session

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The first few times you meet with a tutee can be very exciting!  Here are a few guidelines to help you out:


Arrive 5 minutes before your shift to get situated in the room, prepare any materials* or equipment you may need, and mentally prepare for the appointment.

Greeting the Tutee

When the tutee arrives, welcome them by name and introduce yourself.  You could smile, extend your hand, ask them how their day is so far.  Ask them if they have had a chance to check-in at the Hume kiosk.  If not, advise them to check-in first so that they are not marked as a ‘no-show’ by the system.  After check-in, invite the student to have a seat.  Each tutor has their own style—so be yourself, but think ahead of time how you can show that you are friendly, interested and supportive to the tutee even in these initial moments.

Structuring the Sessions

A typical session starts with asking the tutee questions to get a sense of their situation, goals, and concerns.  You can ask questions like, “What brings you in today?” “What are you working on?” “What would you like help with today?”  It’s helpful to jot a few notes down about the tutee’s concerns or objectives, so you can attend and refer to them during the session.

Based on the tutee’s needs and what you can reasonably accomplish in the 45 minutes, set an agenda.  This might be simply brainstorming or talking with the tutee about their research in order to identify their core message or refine the topic.  The agenda could be rehearsing a presentation or mock interview, and giving feedback.  You might say, “Ok, why don’t we focus on ______ today, and then if we have time, we can work on _______.”  Or you might suggest, “Why don’t we focus on the introduction first.  Would you like to practice or talk me through what you have right now?”

Giving Feedback

It is always best to begin a feedback session by first remarking about something positive.  After that, the way you phrase a recommendation makes all the difference.  Objective phrases such as “I have some thoughts about..”,  “Let’s take a look at…” or “At this point, it seemed like you had a difficult moment…” are easier to hear than, “You talked too fast,” or “You were disorganized.”  And as the literature on effective coaching advises, use “I felt” or “I was” to frame statements whenever possible.  We urge you, however, to develop your own approach to the more difficult moments of a peer tutoring session and to think in advance about how you might frame your comments regarding sensitive issues such as:

  • Clarity of speech, especially in the case of non-native speakers:
  • Excessive talking and rambling; presentation running overtime:
  • Extreme nervousness:
  • Inappropriate tone (for example, condescension or low affect)
  • Idiosyncratic non-verbal behavior

It is also important to recognize that individuals vary in their sensitivity to feedback.  You might pay attention to the tutee’s nonverbal behavior, such as their body language and facial expressions, to gauge their receptivity to your feedback, and the amount of feedback they can handle in any one session.  Pay attention, as well, to the situation (e.g., how much time the tutee has to make changes) in order to gauge the appropriate amount and type of feedback to give to the student.  As a general rule, erring on the side of more supportive comments and offering 1-3 concrete and feasible suggestions can help build the speaker’s confidence and give the tutoring session a positive and productive tone.

Ending the Session

At the end of the session, reserve a few minutes to briefly identify and assess with the tutee what was accomplished during the session.  How much progress was made?  How does the tutee feel now about the issues that brought them in?  What are the next steps?  If appropriate, invite the tutee to make another appointment to continue working on the other speaking goals.  Remind them to check-out at the kiosk.

Printable OCT Evaluation Form 1
Printable OCT Evaluation Form 2

* In each OCT tutoring room, there is a file pocket in the cabinet containing Oral Comm handouts which you can use during the session or as a takeaway for the tutee.  We encourage you to get acquainted with the materials in this folder, and let us know if you have any suggestions for additional resources!