Five things I’ve learnt while on placement with Action tutoring

7 February 2022

Student Volunteering Week is an annual event that celebrates the impact of student volunteers. This year the week will be taking place from 7th – 13th February 2022. This is a brilliant opportunity to demonstrate how social action creates positive change.

Our student volunteers inspire us, and so we wanted to share some of their stories this week. Elsie volunteered with Action Tutoring for one term as part of a university placement module.

I am a third year English Language student studying at the University of Liverpool. Whilst on placement with Action Tutoring this year, I have had the privilege of tutoring a handful of pupils aged 9-12 in English, at three schools across the country, both online and face-to-face.

My university placement with Action Tutoring has been highly rewarding, and I would love to encourage more students to be part of this experience. In case you are unsure, here are five of the most invaluable lessons I’ve learned from my time tutoring.

The importance of communication, and how you communicate with the pupils

Using an online platform can sometimes bring technical hurdles, meaning that clear, loud, and upbeat speech is more important than ever ensuring a successful and well-understood lesson. One of my Programme Coordinators explained to me the importance of pitch when speaking to the pupils.

Different pitches can indicate whether they are receiving praise for their hard work, or whether they are being reminded to maintain concentration. Name use is another important communication technique, particularly during online sessions. Using the pupil’s name shows that you are taking an interest in what they have to say, indicating that you value them as an individual.

Time management and planning is essential

I knew that becoming a tutor would mean improving my time management skills to fit around university lectures. Action Tutoring provides great templates for each week, which have everything you need to lead the session. I would advise reading through these templates thoroughly in advance, especially the texts.

It is important to remember time management within the sessions, too. They can progress a lot faster or slower than expected, depending on how well the pupils are understanding the content, so it is important to know when to adapt a lesson to suit this. Always have additional activities prepared for the end of the session in case you finish with spare time!

Brain breaks are your best friend!

A great session should always involve a brain break. That’s what my Programme Coordinator taught us; to combat attention levels dipping half way through the session. A brain break is a short activity which moves the focus away from the lesson content, to a more fun and often fast-paced game or challenge.

My pupils really enjoyed hang-man or memory games, but other ideas could include word-bingo or scrabble. I learnt that using trickier words from the text within the games was a great way to solidify a new word into the pupils’ vocabulary.

The importance of non-verbal communicators

During my placement with Action Tutoring, I learnt how important other factors; such as enthusiasm, body-language and confidence; are to engaging and building rapport with children.

Eye-contact is a really great way to show a pupil you are giving them your full attention, valuing what they have to say, and checking their understanding.

A pupil is more likely to lose attention if you are not giving them regular eye-contact, and this works well alongside using their name too. Pupils may also give off non-verbal cues which indicate if they are understanding the session, so be sure to look out for your pupil’s body language and enthusiasm levels.

The importance of tutoring and the impact it has on the pupils

All of the pupils I tutored improved their English skills as we progressed through the weeks. It was amazing to watch their confidence levels grow as they became more comfortable in challenging themselves and building upon skills gained from previous sessions.

They enjoyed themselves as well. One pupil told his teacher after a session that he thought tutoring was ‘going to be boring…but it was actually really fun!’ This kind of feedback is what makes tutoring so worthwhile.

Blog by Elsie Holmes

We offer in-person tutoring programmes and for those with busy schedules, our online programmes are available so you can still get involved and be a part of our mission. Join our inspiring volunteering community today!

How I get pupils reading

17 April 2020

Richard Riggs is Head of English in a London boys’ school and has been teaching for 15 years. We asked him for his thoughts on how to get pupils reading for pleasure.

How to get pupils reading

I have lost count of the times that I have been told at parents’ evening that someone’s teenage son or daughter has stopped reading. If you look at the research on this topic you generally find two things: firstly, that children should not be forced to read – they should engage with it autonomously; secondly, that in most cases when children are given the choice to read they choose not to. Even enthusiastic younger readers tend to read substantially less by the time they reach their teenage years.

Reading is important for so many aspects of children’s development, not least empathy. In fact, this is my favourite quotation on the importance of reading:

‘I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big part of serious fiction’s purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves. Since an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering, part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience, more like a sort of “generalization” of suffering. Does this make sense? We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple.’

David Foster Wallace, when asked in an interview

I often use this in my first lesson with a sixth form group, to try to get them to think about what reading might be for beyond ideas about exams or the literary canon. 

At my school we have tried to engage with the dip in reading amongst teenagers by bringing in a certain amount of enforced reading. This is not necessarily in line with the research on the topic but if I, as Head of English, have to make a choice between teenagers reading or not reading then I feel it is my duty to push for the former to happen.

As such, we ask children to read at least one book every half term and in the holidays, including four novels over the summer; all of this is on top of the normal school work and whatever novel or play they might be studying in English. These books are class readers chosen by the teacher during term time; in the summer holidays the boys are allowed to choose four from a list of ten – one of which should be a classic like Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone or Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret.

What motivates teenagers to read?

We are fortunate to have the money to buy books (tragically, many schools do not, of course) and we have put a lot of effort into finding novels which we think will appeal to teenage boys. Whilst there are some modern novels which they enjoy (Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters’ Club, for example, or Andrea Levy’s Small Island) it’s interesting that some older writers still have a strong appeal, from Agatha Christie to John Le Carré. In fact, the mystery/detective genre and books in a series (such as Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy) are the things most likely to motivate teenagers to read. 

You will find that some schools have a rather canonical approach to reading but my general belief is that if teenagers are reading at all you are winning the battle – regardless of what they are reading. Although I would love a class of 14-year-old boys to read Jane Eyre or Great Expectations (and sometimes they might), I’m very happy if they are enjoying Skippy Dies by Paul Murray or Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet.

If they take pleasure in those novels now, then there is a very good chance that they will go on to become adult readers, with books embedded in their lives.

Written by: Richard Riggs

Are you a primary or secondary school in England? 97% of schools would recommend Action Tutoring to another school. You can partner with us and our motivated tutors will help the disadvantaged pupils of your school by providing personalised and sustainable academic support. This way, pupils can learn to enjoy the process of learning and reading.

Do you have a passion for English and would like to help children from low-income households to improve their writing skills, read more and have better grades? Get involved today and make a difference.

5 things I love about the work we do at Action Tutoring

14 February 2020

What do I love about being part of Action Tutoring’s mission?

For a wholesome, educational take on Valentine’s Day, I’ve pulled together a list of five things I love about the work that we do and the young people we support at Action Tutoring.

The curiosity and humour of the young people we work with

Be they primary or secondary pupils, the children we support never fail to put a huge grin on my face. They are resilient, hard-working, ambitious, and deserve the very best we can give them. Whether it’s first thing in the morning, or the last thing at the end of the day, I’m always touched when my pupils – who have so much on their plates and so many different pressures and deadlines – still find time to ask me how I am, tell me a joke, or share a story. We may be there to tutor maths and English, but the relationships we build bring it all to life.

Being part of so many different school communities

I have felt privileged to learn from and deliver programmes in a whole host of different schools across London. Staff have welcomed me, let me observe their teaching, and collaborated to make Action Tutoring a success for their pupils.

Each teacher is committed to developing and championing their young people academically and pastorally – it’s amazing to see what a difference their care makes to each child!

The diversity of our volunteers

I have been lucky to meet, train, and work alongside so many inspiring people from all walks of life, and see the myriad gifts and skills they bring to us and to our young people. Each volunteer on our programmes brings with them new avenues for connection and new approaches to learning – many have studied outside the UK too, and their perspectives enrich ours. Watching positive working relationships grow between our tutors and pupils is one of the most rewarding parts of my role, and underpins the academic growth of our young people.

Having such supportive, committed colleagues

This job comes with joys and challenges aplenty, but carrying each of us through is a tide of support from our co-workers. The Action Tutoring team – spanning eight cities – is a network brimming with bold and creative ideas, care for how one another are, and complete dedication to the pupils we serve. There are spaces for debate and reflection (and lots of laughter), and I have learnt so much from shared wisdom and feedback from my peers. We strive for better each day, inside and out.

Fostering a deeper connection with my city

Working in the charity sector has allowed me to see different facets of the city I live in, and the places where policies and lived experiences meet one another. I have learnt about and travelled more of London; I have observed in small pockets of the city the relationship between national politics and the individuals it affects; and like colleagues of mine all over the country, I have seen glimpses of the next generation’s potential. I feel more connected to the chaotic and wonderful place I’ve called home for the last five years, and with that comes an ever greater desire to see its youngest flourish.

Read more: How Action Tutoring helps volunteers with their careers

If you’re looking for a way to give back to or connect with your local community, nurture yourself and others, or are interested in joining the team, consider supporting Action Tutoring in a whichever way you feel you can. Donating, tutoring, marking, fundraising, promoting… if you’re keen to help, we’d love to know.

Written by: Anna Warbrick

The Importance of Tutoring

10 February 2020

Every September, a joke goes around university campuses that we have our first day of school coming up. Next year will be my thirtieth first day of school. 

When I took up my current position as a lecturer, I wanted to set aside some regular time to volunteer. An education charity was an obvious choice. I chose Action Tutoring because their aim is to help those pupils who would gain the most from a little extra guidance outside of their regular classroom.  

If you haven’t set foot in a school this side of the 2008 economic crash — as I hadn’t before I began volunteering — you can’t imagine how different today’s primary and secondary school pupils’ experiences are from what you might remember. More and more, I’ve come to realise how lucky I was. I’ve stayed in education all this time because studying came naturally to me, I enjoyed it, and it remained an option to me. I went to excellent primary and secondary schools, all for free. While I learned a lot (with thanks to my teachers), I didn’t appreciate why my peers might find studying more difficult. 

The importance of tutoring

One of the first things you realise when you start tutoring is that there could be any number of reasons a student is struggling, but it’s never being ‘bad’ or just not being able to understand a subject.

My academic field is linguistics, so when I volunteered for the first time and realised that every one of my tutees comes from a home where English is an additional language, I knew that I’d be working with some very intelligent pupils.

By the age of ten, some have learnt English as a third language, and are now studying a fourth in school (together with a second alphabet). This is an achievement for which most adults would laud others. It does mean, though, that my tutees’ parents might not be able to help them with their English homework, or that they’re particularly attuned to the UK’s preoccupation with testing, for example, Spelling-Punctuation-and-Grammar (which, if you were to ask a semi-professional opinion, are as much a test of a rigid writing style as anything else).

So now I spend an hour or two on Friday mornings reading with two or three pupils, working on their vocabulary and comprehension skills. Over the term I’ve taught them, my tutees’ confidence with reading has grown, but I should attribute that to the teachers who work with them every day.

If there’s one thing I know they’ve learned from me so far, it’s how the best strategies for playing Hangman work: vowels are the best letters to ask for first because, if you study phonology, you’ll know every word is broken into syllables, and every syllable in English contains a vowel. After that, continuant sounds like n and r link the vowels to other consonants. And at all times, keep an eye out for complex, but predictable strings of consonants like str or spr at the beginning of a word, or suffixes like -ing at the end. Hopefully, my tutees will put this knowledge to better use in the future, but if they move from Hangman to Scrabble, or to cryptic crosswords (once they get to my age, maybe), I’ll be only too pleased.

Written by: Sam Steddy

At Action Tutoring we believe that tailored and personalised academic support can help pupils improve their subject comprehension and increase their confidence. Our incredible volunteers are committed individuals who believe in equal education opportunities for everyone and their support helps lower the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.

If you would like to find out what our pupils and volunteer tutors have to say about their experience with Action Tutoring, you can read our success stories here.

Volunteering Experiences – Primary school

3 July 2019

Stefanie Bongert is a Systems Consult at SustainIt and has tutored maths to primary school pupils with Action Tutoring. Stefanie has attended fifteen sessions and shares her volunteering experience below.

SustainIt offers each employee the chance to volunteer for a charity of their choosing for two days, every year. I decided to volunteer with Action Tutoring in Bristol, who support disadvantaged pupils in local primary and secondary schools, by offering tutoring sessions for maths and English.

Every tutor works with the same group of two or three pupils, for one hour a week over the period of one term (8-10 weeks), with the option of continuing the following term.

Why did I volunteer as a tutor in a primary school?

Having previously studied English and Maths to become a teacher, this volunteering opportunity seemed like a perfect fit. The main reason behind my interest in volunteering with Action Tutoring was that I wanted to commit to an entire term as I really think that it is important to only start something that you can dedicate enough time to.

I also particularly like the fact that you work in a room full of other volunteers, working with pupils of the same age group. We get the chance to help each other and share ideas during the sessions, or in our 10-minute catch-up after each volunteering session.

During each session, we try to concentrate on a specific topic, including time for both group and individual work. During the small breaks between longer tasks, we play mathematical games or try the brain teasers in the workbook. Figure 1 shows an example of some of the activities we ask the children to complete. Can you solve the triangle mess and count the triangles?

It is great to see the students enjoying the sessions when we get to a topic they find engaging. Sometimes, they almost forget that they are doing maths.

It has been important to get to know my pupils a little bit during the first session and observe what they enjoy in the following session. It is a great chance to plan the lessons with a mix of tasks they need more practice on, as well as those they enjoy and leave them with a sense of achievement.

Written by: Stefanie Bongert, Systems Consultant

Originally published

If you want to give back to your community and also volunteer like Stefanie in your area or online, get involved today and support disadvantaged pupils by providing them the academic assistance they need.

Olivia’s top tutoring tips to make lessons more engaging

21 June 2019

Lesson Ideas For Primary English Tutors

Based on my experience of volunteering with Action Tutoring in two Bristol-based primary schools, here are my top tips for making sessions as useful for the pupils as possible.


Each week we establish a list of three rules for the pupils to stick by during the session. This acts as a great incentive to keep them focused and working hard. If a rule is broken, the pupil receives a strike next to the rule.

If the pupils succeeded in not getting more than three strikes next to each rule, then they would be rewarded with a sticker at the end of the session. From my experience, incentives such as stickers worked extremely well for keeping the pupils on track and motivated, as they really enjoyed having a realistic and tangible goal to work towards.

The Lesson Plan

While it is widely recognised that the importance of planning ahead is paramount to the success of tutoring sessions, I find that openly discussing this plan with my pupils before beginning the session is just as important. So, although I was always sure to plan ahead, my pupils and I would always make a rough plan of the session all together at the start of the session, which would often just consist of four or five bullet points with a tick box next to each activity.

Having the plan written down was key as it would allow pupils to stay on track, but more importantly, it allowed them to take turns ticking things off the list when an activity was completed, which motivated them to keep pushing on and achieve lots with each session.

For example:

  • Play a warm-up game
  • Read two paragraphs from the text
  • Highlight words we don’t understanding as we go along
  • Add 3 new words and synonyms/antonyms to our word journals
  • Attempt five questions from the workbook


One of the most engaging tutoring tips for pupils is definitely word games. Starting each session with a game meant that the pupils looked forward to the sessions and, therefore, put them in a positive and eager mindset to learn.

One that always went down well in my sessions the pupils liked to call “the category game”. This involves the tutor choosing one letter in the alphabet, writing a list of 10 different categories (e.g. four letter words, modes of transport, verbs), and setting a timer of three minutes in which the pupils try and come up with an answer for each category. For example, if the letter were ‘B’ and we used the former examples as the first four categories on the list, the first four answers could be: busy (four letter words), bus (modes of transport), and borrow (verbs).


As the pupils would often get bored or easily distracted, I found the sessions to be most effective when we would stick to one section of the text rather than attempting to tackle the whole thing. This would often overwhelm pupils, further knocking their confidence and consequently their productivity.

Sticking to smaller sections would help to keep the tasks manageable, increasing the chance that the pupils would remain engaged.

Do you want to build your tutoring experience? Join our community!

Written by: Olivia Poust