News & Insights 21 June 2019

Olivia’s top tutoring tips to make lessons more engaging

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.

volunteering as a tutor


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.

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Written by: Olivia Poust