Private Chat Hour

One of the most rewarding aspects of this internship for me was getting to work one-on-one with students during privately scheduled chat hours. During these times, you and a student will work on test prep, conversation practice, or writing practice in the intern office, an empty classroom, or—in rarer circumstances—an empty table in the cafeteria or the student lounge. In my experience, private chat hours are both challenging and rewarding: being able to thoroughly explain grammar points in basic English, understand each student’s individual needs, and balance private chat hour duties with other duties can be difficult; however, getting the opportunity to help students on a more personal level was definitely the highlight of my internship experience. Throughout my three months as an intern, I helped a total of seventeen different students during private chat hour; at one point, I had five regularly scheduled private chat hours a week. There’s still a lot I have to learn in regards to teaching and running these private sessions, but I hope that this guide will prove useful to others!

Arranging/Scheduling Private Chat Hours

When I first became an intern, the few private chat hour requests I received were more general requests: a student spoke to a teacher about wanting an intern’s help, and the teacher would ask which intern would be willing to help the student. However, in my experience, the vast majority of private chat hours were organized solely between me and a student: a student would approach me either in person or via LINE asking for help and we’d arrange a meeting time together. In both scenarios, you’ll have to compare your intern schedule to the student’s class schedule to find a time when you’re both available.

The big difference between the two is that when you specifically are requested for a private chat hour (i.e., the student approaches you personally), you have to make sure that the teachers and the other interns will be okay with your absence. For example, if multiple interns are busy with previously scheduled duties during a single period, you may not be able to use that period for a private chat hour. The best thing to do is communicate with the people around you so that everyone’s on the same page!

There are some cases though when schedules simply won’t match up between you and a student. If this is the case, talk to the student and to other interns to see if it would be more practical for the student to work with a different intern. The students are often flexible in this regard, but there are others who might be more hesitant. I’ll admit that there are times when I agreed to meet with students after school hours or spoke on the phone with them once they got home in order to help them study. However, I only recommend doing this if the student is requesting for conversation practice or studying for an in-class quiz/test (such as the ones in the EC courses). This is because standardized test preparation (EIKEN, TOEIC, TOEFL) requires weekly, routine meetings in order to be effective, while correcting writing assignments via phone call or email runs the risk of students simply changing their grammar mistakes without understanding why the grammar was wrong in the first place. Just remember to think about your personal schedule and responsibilities so that you don’t overextend yourself!

Planning What to Teach

Planning your lesson is always going to depend on what exactly the student asks you for help with; however, when you’re given something general like “TOEFL prep” or “pronunciation help,” it can be a bit difficult deciding topics for each lesson.

It’s always best to try and individualize the lesson for the student if you can! Sometimes just being friends beforehand can help with knowing the student’s strengths/weaknesses, but I also think that asking the student directly about what they are/aren’t confident in can be very useful. If the private chat hour is going to be  a routinely scheduled event, then asking the student to complete a practice exam isn’t a bad idea. However, a practice exam is most effective if you take the time to analyze the student’s results. For me, the most effective way to do this was to 1) mark the test, 2) isolate the incorrect answers, 3) analyze each question type and sort them into categories (tense/aspect, word class/sentence structure, subject-verb agreement, etc). Doing this will allow you to quickly see which grammar points the student needs help with so that you can base a lesson off of them.

If you need some help coming up with lesson topics, the three most common grammar mistakes I noted when prepping for private chat hours were: articles (differences between the definite, indefinite, and zero), plurals (forgetting the ‘s’), and prepositions. And, of course, traditional test taking strategies can also be thrown in once in a while. A former intern, Martin Chan, also made a pretty helpful guide for teaching TOEFL using the Delta textbook. I definitely recommend looking through it if you’re struggling to find some kind of framework for your lessons. I would also suggest reading up on different grammar explanations that correspond to whatever topic you plan for your lesson; it’s important that you’re confident in what you’re explaining because then it gives the students more confidence in what they’re learning.

Private Chat Hour Itself

Even though it’s best to prep something in advance, an hour and a half is a really long time for a private lesson. While it’s true that they’re coming to you because they’d like some extra help, drilling them with grammar and test prep can get tiring—especially since it’s what most of them are already doing in class and during their free time. They’re busy with their coursework and part-time jobs, so sometimes they feel overwhelmed and start losing focus. When this happens, switching gears to free talk helps them relax and can really help them get back into the swing of things after a few moments. It’s also a great opportunity to get to know the students more!

In my experience, most students ask for help with their grammar and pronunciation but later admit that the listening section on exams is often what is most difficult for them. I’ve been told that the speaker during the exam often speaks too quickly for some students to understand. Just going to chat hour and interacting with interns can help them with this, but I think that even just reading the questions aloud with them can prove to be useful in regards to both listening comprehension and pronunciation.

At first, I was really hesitant to give students homework because I knew how busy they already were. However, I found that it’s super beneficial: sometimes they’re having a bad day during your scheduled private chat hour, and if that’s the case, they’re not going to perform as well on practice questions as when they’re alone. At the same time, reading comprehension questions can take a really long time to go through during class. By assigning them homework, they can take their time answering the questions at home which typically leads to better answers. While it’s true that all of the standardized tests are timed, you have to work on answer accuracy before you can really work on time management. At the same time, if provides some easy structure to the class: review homework, teach/review a new grammar point, assign new homework.

Conclusion

It definitely would have been easier for me to go into each lesson without preparing much, but I firmly believe that you will get out of this internship experience what you put into it. Being able to individualize each student’s private lesson is an investment in its own way, and it makes watching their improvements all the more exciting. I often felt like I was experiencing their anxiety and excitement vicariously through them: waking up early on the day of their exam to wish them luck and remind them to have confidence; anxiously waiting for test results to come back; sharing in that happiness when they open up their letter for the first time or call you in the middle of the day or run up to you in the middle of lunch. Doing private chat hour was definitely one of my favorite aspects of this internship, and so I would definitely suggest trying it out if you’re given the opportunity!