Effective Tutoring According to the Research

by Luke Jackson, Ph. D.

To preface this article, I am basing these suggestions on literature to improve tutoring. That doesn’t mean I don’t support the ideas, but this isn’t my ego telling you how to do things properly.

Even the best tutors can improve, and that’s the point of being a good educator. Never be complacent with your teaching. Always strive to be better, and learn from your mistakes (and students).

D+ !!!

Increased Achievement in Tutoring

Gibbs (2019) identifies components of effective tutoring programs:

  • Tutoring programs that incorporate research-based elements produce improvements in reading achievement Evaluation from research helps support achievement in reading and other areas
  • Tutoring sessions are well structured. Structured programs in which the content and delivery of instruction is carefully scripted demonstrated higher gains. In a study involving the use of tutorial scripts in teaching math, researchers found that most successful tutors often have well-rehearsed scripts for responding to student errors.
  • Tutors receive intensive and ongoing training and feedback. Tutor training is key. “It’s very important that tutors are trained in interpersonal skills so they do not become impatient with students” (Jenkins & Jenkins, 1985). Training should include strategies for reinforcing correct responses and correcting incorrect responses (Warger, 1991).
  • Each student’s progress is monitored and assessed regularly. Successful tutor-student relationships were characterized by explicit demonstration of appropriate reading and writing processes. When the student moved from being fully supported to working independently, improvement was observed.

Effective Tutoring Programs

If you are struggling to master the art of teaching, there is plenty of support out there (much from this site). Think about these aspects of your own practice:

  • Have a mentor handy for advice or just to vent during the day from bad lessons (they happen to the best teachers)
  • Make sure you have a commitment to the profession or are motivated. Even if this is a part-time gig or a summer job, remember who you are serving
  • Take in some training from a veteran teacher or a tutorial from the site. Training will be provided in tutorials so you can practice and learn. That’s the best way to improve.
  • Understand the expectations from the site and follow professional behavior as much as possible. Don’t be a robot, but be appropriate
  • Identify learners and establish expectations
  • Get to know your students at least on some level. Definitely know their name and what they are struggling with. Other info is at your discretion
  • Try and schedule sessions two to three times a week. If the student doesn’t have time or can’t afford it, make the most out of the time spent teaching
  • Check in with your mentor tutor regularly and ask for advice. They may also guide you to resources and lesson ideas
  • Find a quiet area with limited distractions. Suggest the student do the same. If you have a dog, try and put them in a room or outside so there are limited distractions.
  • LESSON PLAN! Prepare your lesson ahead of time unless it’s the first meeting. Always be prepared and organize your time with the student

What do Tutors do During a Session?

Simple, but good question. If you are a seasoned teacher, you know how to lesson plan. If you’re not, here are some guidelines to set up a lesson.

First off, there is no perfect way to teach a concept. I wrote a blog about scaffolding, so that is important. Be yourself, but follow this path if you are anxious or confused about what to do (Taken from Mozolic & Shuster, 2015):

  • Start off with clear, specific, and measurable objectives. Know what the goals are of the lesson ahead of time
  • Use structured programs to meet program goals. Follow worksheets or notes provided from their teacher. But don’t abide by them. Just use them as a resource to help show them what they were learning in class.
  • Conduct ongoing assessment for individualization of lessons. Conduct regular assessments or learning checks to make sure they are progressing. This doesn’t mean give them a test, but verbally ask them a review question, have them do a practice problem over, or simply give them a short set of practice problems or writing prompts to see if they are mastering the content.
  • Provide immediate feedback, motivation, and encouragement. Once you check for learning, be positive if they haven’t got it yet. Encourage them to try again, continue to praise improvement, and be patient if they get frustrated or impatient.
  • Scaffold instruction and model strategies. Here is a direct quote I like. “Research points to scaffolding (instructional supports that are provided initially, then gradually removed as student gains proficiency) and modeling (instructor demonstration for student observation and imitation) as two essential techniques that set successful tutoring partnerships apart from less successful pairings (Juel, 1996). Enough said.
  • Coordinate with classroom instruction. You probably won’t be able to coordinate with the classroom teacher, but talking to the parents may be useful. Find out their habits and if they are making improvements at school or home.
  • Continue to establish rapport and develop motivation. You don’t have to be their friend, but good teachers develop their students’ motivation, problem solving, and self-regulation, not just their grades. A successful academic partnership involves the social bonding and trust that is earned after time working together.

Hopefully these ideas help you in your tutoring endeavors. I’ll post a chart with simple tips on the tutoring site as well. Plus there will be video tutorials and other resources if you need them. Have fun teaching!


Gibbs, S. Effective tutoring: Assembling the pieces. Information for educators. Extracted from on April 18th, 2019.

Jenkins & Jenkins, (1985). Paired reading positive reading practice. Kelowna, British Columbia: Filmwest Associates.

Juel, C. (1996). What makes literacy tutoring effective? Reading Research Quarterly, 31(3), 268-289.

Mozolic, J. & Shuster, J. (2015). Community engagement in K-12 tutoring programs: A research-based guide for best practices. Appalachian College Association. 143-160.

Warger, C.L. (1991). Peer tutoring: When working together is better than working alone. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.

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