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ESL forum > Techniques and methods in Language Teaching > Problem with a student    

Problem with a student

United States

Problem with a student

Hello my dear colleagues

Im turning to you once again to get some advice. You have been so helpful all the time before and always gave me such great advice, so I hope some of you may have an idea on how I can deal with this situation. Ive been teaching for about 12 years now and I have seen many children with difficulties, but now Im teaching a child (around 11 years old) and I really have no idea how to do with him anymore.

This year was his first year of English in school. He came to see me for private classes in the 2nd half of the school year because he just doesnt understand anything the teacher tells him in school. So Ive been working with him once per week and I found that he is really slow in comprehension. When I explain something, he doesnt understand it or he thinks he understood it, but once we start the exercises he does them wrong. I have tried all kinds of approaches. One example is, to explain the simple present sentence structure, I made a table for him with subject verb object, that he would just have to follow in order to do the exercises done in school. But even with this table next to him on the table he does mistakes.
I have worked with boardgames from eslprintables (thank you so much for those contributions) and first I thought it really helps as when we were playing the boardgames, he seemed to have understood. But as soon as the structure changed a bit he was totally lost again. For example I asked him a question in the game which he answered perfectly fine. Then I ask the same question in an exercise on paper and he wouldnt get it at all. When I explained again, he asked me  ah, just like in the game?. But then in the follow up lesson, I start all over again. Its like he really doesnt understand anything, no matter which approach Im trying.
In the last school test he had to write a dialogue between a waiter and a guest and he didnt even write full sentences because he cant express himself at all.
I asked him what he thinks where his problem is (like doesnt understand the tasks since written in English, concentration problems etc). But he just doesnt know. He said he thinks he understands, but then sees exercises and he just cant do them.

 In all the years I had students like that, but at least found an approach that would work after a while, but this time I really have nooo idea anymore what to try.

The kid is not one that just doesnt want to work and therefore refuses to understand things. He is really trying. He has problems in other subjects as well and has private teachers in Math in French. And he told me he understands a bit there (his marks are sometimes good sometimes bad, not constant at all), but in English they are always low.

I know that the situation at home isnt that great either (his father doesnt care much about him / doesnt live with him, the mother is putting pressure on him always saying he has to work hard to not end up like her) etc.
I talked to the mother and told her that it has to stop, but whenever I hear them talk I hear the same things over and over again.
So I thought maybe something is blocking him due to the home situation, but then again, shouldnt it be the same then in all subjects

So I start wondering if Im a bad teacher, or what I can do to help him, because he and his mum are both getting pretty desperate. And me I start wondering about my own capacities.

Im sorry to have kept you busy with reading all this. It was good though, to get it out of my head J and I really hope somebody may have a little advice on how I can do better in future?

I hope you are all having a great day and a lot of sunshine like we do in Paris :)



6 Jun 2013      

United Kingdom

Dear Sara,

I have had similar problems. Some people just can t do languages. The fact that he didn t start until he was 11 isn t going to help his situation. You re just going to have to go slow. With people that don t get grammar, I tend not to use it in the lesson. What s the point of telling them "subject, verb, object" etc when they don t know that means in their own language? You have the right idea by using games, and the fact that you have had some success in that seems to prove it. I had a difficult student that could grasp conjugations in English so, I used to do the "famous person 20 questions" game. I would write down names of about 30 famous people with a small amount of information (job, nationality) on cards. And then ask her simple question to practice short form responses ("Is he a man"? "Yes, he is." "Is he from Europe?" "No, he isn t." etc.) And after I got her saying "yes, he is/no he isn t" correctly, I would reverse, getting her to ask me questions so that she got to practice "is he ...?" I would repeat that until she could do it asleep and then change it to first and second person singular by telling her that she was the person on the card and then I was so that she could practice "Yes, I am/no, I m not". "Yes you are/ no you re not" etc. I even did nations, pop groups and football teams to practice the plural. Slowly but surely she got it. I used the same thing for the past (famous dead people) and similar games for practising verbs in the present tense (What s my job? 20 questions).

It s going to take a long time but you won t get anywhere using grammar with him.

One thing to remember though, and it s very important- it s not your fault!

There are lots of students like this in every school and the fact that you are taking time out to help him says a lot about your work ethic.

Keep up the good work and best of luck! Thumbs Up

6 Jun 2013     

maryse pey

private mail sent.

6 Jun 2013     


Has the boy got any specicfic language problems in his own language? I mean something like dyslexia... because it has happened to me, I ve got a couple of students who can understand a text but when they have to produce their own one they just can t. They join words with no sense, and one of them is dyslexic.

6 Jun 2013     


I m with abba on this. I think that he has a learning disability of some kind. Probably dyslexia and dyscalculia - it s like dyslexia but affects ones ability with numbers and Math. I had a student like him and he had a really difficult time remembering things in all subjects. He liked reading, but never could remember what a book was about or how to tell you about it. Any type of change was hard for him and he would get confused very easily.

Unfortunately, some parents are blind to these problems. My students mother had the nerve to say he had only a small problem with dyslexia when it was a problem the size of a house! Pinch I dont know if you can tell the mother or find him help but I do know that if he stays with you - patience and do NOT let mummy tell you its your fault hes not learning.

6 Jun 2013     

manonski (f)

I think this kid needs to be evaluated by someone who can diagnose dyslexia or learning disabilities.
You ve done a lot of great things with that student and the fact it does not work only points towards a disability of some kind.

6 Jun 2013     

United States

Ditto to all the above!

6 Jun 2013     


I ditto Douglas ditto.

6 Jun 2013     

United Kingdom

I agree with all of the above comments.
I think that the student has some form of dyslexia.
If you send me your e-mail address I will forward some ordinary, simple, repetitive Worksheets, (NOT to cure dyslexia) which may help him and you.
What a LUCKY STUDENT he is to have such a LOVELY, devoted Teacher as you!

6 Jun 2013     


Hi again,

I just remembered that Virginie has a wonderful guide to helping with dyslexic students.


Have a look and it might give you a few ideas or help you at least understand him a bit better.


6 Jun 2013     

United States

I really don t know what to say. I was really really touched by what you all said!! You are so great and your students are the lucky ones to have such great teachers! Hug You made me feel so much better. I was really down the last days questioning myself. It feels so good to hear that it is not my fault.

I must admit that didn t think about dyslexia at all. I had a feeling though that something must be wrong somewhere (like either due to the home problems or psychological ones)
I always had in my head that in all forms of dyslexia you are mixing up letters like d and b. But reading a bit more about it thanks to your help now, it seems to have many forms.
I will try to find out how the system works in France to get him tested and hope that the mother will take the advice.

Thank you so much, everybody, for all your advice and especially you taking so much time and thought to help me with my problem. It is really touching and I really appreciate it!

Hugs Hug

6 Jun 2013     

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