Top Tip for Private Tutors: Ask Questions

Top Tip for Private Tutors Ask Questions -

Huh? Shouldn’t the student be asking the questions? Isn’t my job just to answer their questions?

You’re not wrong. The students should ask questions. But you definitely knew that already. Our top tip is for you to ask questions…

Now, let’s backtrack a bit. As a private tutor your job is to motivate and encourage your students to achieve. While this is hard enough as it is, it gets even more difficult when the student isn’t engaged. Asking questions is the perfect solution!

Not only will your students be more engaged, but they’ll also appreciate that you actually care about them. It’s a very persuasive way of private tutoring. After all, you want to show them that you’re on their side and not another authoritative figure who is ‘against’ them…

So what kind of questions should you ask?

Let’s divide the questions into three groups…

  • Introductory questions
  • Engaging questions
  • Personal questions

Allowing for a few minutes of conversation each class can dramatically increase your effectiveness. However, be warned, some students are chatty. Don’t forget what you’re there to do – teach!

Private Tutors Top Tip: Introductory Questions

We didn’t know what else to name these. So, sorry for the bad name. ‘Introductory’ questions are the questions you should ask during the first lesson with your student. We’ve written another blog post about what you should discus before hiring, you can check it out here…

Anyways, here are some suggested introductory questions. Don’t limit yourself to these. If you have your own suggestions, please let us know in the comments area below…

  • What are your target grades? Where are you at now?

Let them know what to expect. For example, their current grade is a H4, their target is a H1. Let them know they’re going to have to work real hard!

  • What course do you want to get into?

More of a ‘personal’ question, but it’s very helpful for you to picture their end goal.

  • What is your strongest subject?

This subject doesn’t have to be the one you are tutoring. For example, you’re tutoring maths and their strongest subject is history. You might think to give more wordy explanations as opposed to numerical explanations.

  • What is your weakest subject?

If this is the subject you’re tutoring, narrow down to the topic they’re having trouble with. Plan out your classes while you’re talking. For example, you might choose to start on their most troubled topic and build up to their most comfortable.

  • What is your favourite subject? Why?

You’d imagine this is the same as their strongest subject, but you might be wrong. Narrow down to the reason why it’s their favourite. Perhaps it’s because the teacher of the subject teaches in a certain way that connects with them. You could ask more and copy that teaching style.

These ‘introductory’ questions should give you a clear idea of how you can help your student and what goals they want to achieve…

Private Tutors Top Tip: Engaging Questions


 Fast forward a bit. Now we’re in the middle of the lesson around the 40-minute mark. It started off perfect, but now they’re starting to lose focus. You want to reengage your student and get back on track…

This is where ‘engaging’ questions come in handy. Again, these are suggestions. Don’t limit yourself to these. And if you have any suggestions of your own, let us know in the comments area below…

  • Is there anything you don’t understand? Or anything you want to go over again?

Their lack of engagement might be because you skipped over something you thought they knew. Always best to ask this question repeatedly. Let your student know that it’s okay to backtrack a bit cause that’s why you’re here.

  • Can you explain _____? I’ve forgotten it

Please ask this question. Asking your student to explain difficult concepts in their own words really enhances their learning. It means the concept goes through their head at least twice. Pretend you’ve forgotten it and they need to teach you.

  • What do you think about _____?

For opinionated subjects such as English, Art or History, you can teach by guiding your student’s thinking process. Guide them in such a way that their verbal answer echoes the format they want in the exam.

  • Why is it _____?

For right-wrong subjects such as Maths, Accounting, or Chemistry, you should get your student to explain their answers and make sure they didn’t get to the answer by chance. Also consistently remind your student to write down and submit all their rough work in the actual exam!

  • How was the homework?

This should be asked at the beginning of the class, but if you’ve forgotten, it might be the perfect time to change topic. Also, if any of the homework ties into the topic you’re currently covering, make the link and reengage your student.

These ‘engaging’ questions should redirect your student back to the task at hand. If they fail, literally get them to stand up and do some stretches. Anything to get them back on track!

Private Tutors Top Tip: Personal Questions

Here’s where the questions reach a ‘grey’ area. Should you engage with your students on a more personal level? It’s a difficult question to answer, but we recommend it. We believe that students can relate better to private tutors this way. Their private tutor will be a breadth of fresh air compared to the all-important teachers in school…

As we said before, allowing for a few minutes of conversation dramatically increases your effectiveness as a private tutor. But don’t let the conversation time ever be more than the teaching time!

Here are some sample ‘personal’ questions. If you have any suggestion, let us know in the comments area below…

  • What are your hobbies and interests?

Find this out as soon as possible. Having common interests instantly builds trust and turns you into their role model. You can also incorporate their hobbies into your teaching. For example. If they have an interest in rugby, a team sport, you can make a connection with how all the sections in an essay also work together as a team. We’re sure you have better examples than us!

  • How was your week? Do anything fun?

It’s good to get to know your students’ weekly schedules. This way you’ll be able to accurately plan out a study timetable and assign manageable homework. (Yes, you can give homework.) Also, if they’ve done something fun, they might be able to associate your tutoring with that fun thing? We’re probably dreaming, but it’s worth a shot!

  • What are your goals/dreams?

Don’t just limit this to their dream college course or their target grades. You might find that your student is an avid musician whose dream is to perform in Carnegie Hall, or your student is an adventurer whose dream is to travel the world. Again, this is for you to find common ground.

  • Do you have any questions?

Give your student a chance to ask you questions. They don’t have to be study related. The purpose of this is for you to seem accessible. Your student will trust you more and as a result, your lessons will be more successful.

  • What would you like to cover next week?

Ask this at then end of the class. Let the student know that you are here for them and that all your lessons are personalized to them. Also, you get to plan ahead and avoid any embarrassment of your student knowing more than you!

At the end of each lesson we highly recommend you let your student know that if they need anything during the week, they should just send you a message. This friendly offer will show your student and their parents that you are ready to go above and beyond as their private tutor. Honestly, more than half the time, they won’t even pick you up on the offer!

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