One of the best ways to start your own business and make money is through tutoring. Not only do you get to teach a subject that you’re interested in, but you can also work on your own terms and make some cash on the side.
However, the one caveat to tutoring is that you need to do everything by yourself. It is up to you to find students to tutor, connect with them for tutoring sessions, and ultimately structure tutoring sessions that help your student learn. If you’re unsure about how to go about structuring a tutoring session, this post can help.
We’ll cover how to structure a tutoring session in detail below as well as a sample lesson outline (formatted identically to a lesson plan I used to use). Let’s get into it.
How to Structure a Tutoring Session
Here are some tips to keep in mind when structuring tutoring sessions that will help you create a long-lasting relationship with your student.
The First Session: Impress
The first session is often the most important as this is when your student will get a first impression of you (and as we all know, first impressions matter a lot). You’ll want to do your best to start on the right foot and continue your excellent tutoring for all lessons you do with your students.
First and foremost, make sure that you do not show up late! Whether you’re meeting with your student in person or online, ensure that you show up well ahead of time and don’t keep your student waiting. Starting your lesson on time is crucial to building a good first impression.
In the same vein, make sure that what you’re wearing is appropriate. As a tutor, you’re taking on the role of a mentor/teacher-type role, so you’ll want to dress semi-professionally. Of course, don’t overdress as this could scare off your students. Anything that falls under the category of “semi-formal” should work well.
In terms of actual content for the first lesson, don’t worry about that too much. The first lesson is all about getting to know your student and having your student get to know you. Spend the majority of the time chatting with each other and try to ask questions regarding what the student feels they need help with and their struggles in school.
One tip that you can try to implement is to bring one singular exercise for your students that can help you gauge their skill level. Make sure that this is an exercise that you can do together (and you can provide help on) and try to pay attention to a few things when your student is doing this exercise:
- Which parts of the exercise are they excelling at? Which parts are they not so good at?
- Which topics does your student seem well-versed in?
- By observing how they’re completing the exercise, can you glean anything about the way that they think?
Keeping these questions in mind while going through the exercise with your student can you better understand where your student is at and inform your future lesson plans.
Build a Relationship
Too many tutors get lost in the actual teaching part of tutoring and forget that tutoring is a very personal thing for a lot of people. It is important that you have the required knowledge and skills needed to teach your students, but it’s even more crucial that you form a good relationship with them.
A good tutor-student relationship means that the student will be more willing to open up to you if they have any questions. Furthermore, they’ll also probably be more receptive to whatever you’re teaching them if they view you as a friendly figure as opposed to an authority figure.
Building up a relationship doesn’t happen in one tutoring session, so this is something that’s important to keep in mind throughout all of your sessions. Make sure that every single tutoring session, you’re making a clear effort to get to know your student better. This will establish in your students’ minds that you are a trustworthy person and someone they really want to learn from.
Evaluate Needs of the Student
Every student is different, and using the same lesson plan for every single one of them is bound to result in lots of frustration for both you and your students. For each student you have, you’ll want to evaluate their needs as you go along and adjust your lesson plans so that they better fill those needs.
The initial exercise you asked the student to complete will be helpful in this matter. On top of this, make it a priority to encourage your student to speak about what they want and what they feel they could work on. This way, you’ll better understand which areas and topics you should be focused on, and the student will also feel heard (resulting in better learning).
Though it’s important to understand the needs of students, make sure that you don’t overemphasize certain topics. It’s good to give more practice in an area that the student is weak in, but you have to make sure that they understand the rest of the topics that you’re teaching as well, and don’t end up falling behind.
Give Students Opportunities to Do
One of the best ways to learn something is by doing it. According to a lot of studies, students pick up tasks significantly better and faster if they are given the chance to do them and try it out.
During your tutoring sessions, make sure to build in time for your student to actually try out the skills you are teaching and demonstrate their learning. This will give you an opportunity to continually evaluate your students’ growth and also help with their learning.
A good percentage of “doing” during a tutoring session to aim for is 30%. Teaching is important, but try to make sure that a third of the time, your student is actually implementing what your teaching them.
No two students are the same. Likewise, you’ll want to make sure that you take a unique approach with each and every one of your students.
Some students are more receptive to visual cues. In that case, it’d be wise to incorporate more pictures, diagrams, and charts in your tutoring sessions. Others learn more with their ears. For those students, you’ll want to incorporate more speaking in your teachings and maybe even get them to explain certain concepts back to you.
In a similar vein, each student will receive criticism differently. Some are very open to blunt criticism and will even encourage you to be straightforward with them. For these students, you don’t need to hold back too much. Others need constructive criticism and will just shut down if they receive anything else.
As a tutor, it’s your job to determine what kind of teaching best suits your students and adapt your tutroing sessions and lesson structures to reflect what will work best for each individual.
As famous motivational speaker Tony Robbins once said, “setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” This applies to career goals, personal goals, and business goals but also holds true for learning goals.
One of the best ways to keep your student motivated is to set goals for their learning process. When creating goals, make sure that they follow the SMART outline:
- Specific – Make sure that your goals is specific enough that it really hones in on a particular area of learning your student can focus on.
- Measurable – It’s not enough to have a goal like “understand ____ concept more.” Good goals need to be measurable (e.g. “achieve a 90% on the midterm”)
- Attainable – Of course, it’s important that any goals you set are actually realistic for your student. If your goals are too far out of reach, your student will likely lose motivation and give up.
- Relevant – One of the most important things to remember is that not all goals are made equal. When setting goals for your student, make sure that they are relevant to their learning.
- Time-Oriented – The final component of setting good goals is making sure that whatever goal you set has a time limit. Otherwise, it’s not clear for the student when they are expected to achieve whatever goal you set out.
Setting goals is a crucial part of tutoring and you’ll want to make sure that you build in some time during each session to check in on your learning goals and review them with your student.
Test and Adjust
Nobody is perfect at what they do. Being a tutor is no different. As you take on more students and expand your tutoring endeavors, make sure to constantly test your assumptions and adapt your tutoring sessions.
The best tutors are often the ones that are the most flexible and the ones that consistently adjust their teaching strategies.
A Practical Outline of a Structured Tutoring Session (Example)
Now that we’ve gone through some tips to keep in mind when structuring your tutoring sessions, here’s a sample tutoring session outline for an hour-long first lesson.
- Introduction (5 min)
- Getting to know you
- Getting to know me
- How do you learn the best?
- How many hours can you spend per week on homework, etc.
- Planning/formatting our tutoring
- Setting 3 goals or things you want to improve on through our tutoring (10 min)
- Going over prelimary assignment with feedback (15 min)
- Going over schoolwork (10 min)
- Exercise #1 (10 min)
- Lecture / Teachings (15 min)
- Introducing new assignment (5 min)
- Interim Homework Assigning (5min)
This is just a simple outline with some basic components of a good tutoring session built-in. As mentioned above, you’ll want to constantly adapt your tutoring sessions as you learn more about the student, their goals, and their learning style.
Recap: How to Structure a Tutoring Session
Tutoring is one of the most rewarding ways to share your knowledge and skillset while making some money on the side. However, it can also be a very stressful endeavor if you don’t know how to structure a tutoring session.
This post has revealed six simple steps you can follow to have the best success at creating your own tutoring sessions and also provided you with a sample outline of a tutoring session. Now it’s just up to your to implement these tips and make your tutoring sessions your own.
Jeff is a Harvard 2025 student passionate about making smart financial decisions both in school and in the workplace so that he can spend more time doing what he loves (like playing golf, spending time with family, and travelling). He has experience working in the financial industry and enjoys sharing all things personal finance, academic, and golf-related. Outside of blogging, he loves to cook, read, and golf in his spare time.