Student Success Center Tutorial Programs

Tutor Q&A

Here is an ever-evolving selection of questions and answers.

For even more tutoring scenarios, potential problems and what to do, see

Q: What if my tutees ask me questions that I do not know?

A: (from Diana)Don't feel bad if you don't know the answer...that happens all the time! It is a good opportunity to help the student becoem independent and model what good students do when they are stumped: "Hmm...that one is hard! Where can we look? In the index of the textbook? On the Internet? Should we ask the instructor in class next time?"

A: (from Sandy) If you are not sure about the material, it is ok to say you do not know the answer, but that you will find out for them and talk about it during your next tutoring session. Remember, do not feel you have to be an expert and know everything. You may want, which I highly suggest, to talk to the tutee's instructor. By asking to see the instructor's green sheet for the class (and making a copy of it for yourself), you can obtain their contact info, as well as an understanding of the class goal. Above all, if you have told the tutee something incorrect, apologize and move on. There are also many resource books in the TC. Ask Jeannie or Sandy to tell you about them. If you find something in one of the books you would like to have a copy of, just ask Jeannie, Susan or Sandy and they will help you.

Q: What is the role of a tutor?

A: (From Sandy) Your real job or goal in tutoring is to work yourself out of a job. By this I mean you will be guiding the tutee's but in a way that makes them independent of you. At times you may be asked to help them solve problems, but in the processs you hopefully will ask them enough questions, that they will be able to solve them on their own. In doing this, you will be helping them learn. To make you feel more at ease, you are not expected to have all the answers and if the tutee asked a question you do not know, it is ok to tell them that, but that you will get back to them asap with an answer. When this happens, you also will be learning. Remember to trust yourself as a tutor and a peer.

Q: What do I do if no one is listening? If they all look bored and no one is paying attention?

A: (From Monica) I think the most effective way for a tutor to draw a tutee's attention is to make a creative game out of the subject they are teaching. I know that Thib has done that in the past for his group sessions but it is an effective tool. Also, you can make the subject not so intimadating for the tutte, just put them at ease.

Q: What about really shy people or students aren't conmfident speaking English? How do I get them to participate or understand?

A: (from Joy) English is my second language and sometimes I feel that my language skills isn't all that up to par. I had a student who was shy and English was her second language. During our first discussion, all the tutees shared their backgrounds and English was a second language for most of the tutees. This way, the particular tutee knows that he/she isn't alone. If the tutee comments on their lack conversation skills, you can let her know that you (as a group) are very interested with "what" he/she is saying then "how" he/she said it. You should give the tutee time to think about what he/she wants to say, and be patient when he/she is talking (avoid correcting his/her mistakes.) What I have also done is let the student share their cultural background with the other students when the experience is relating to the topic being discussed. For example, I had the student tell us about the birthing practice in her country, and the other students showed a lot of interest.

Q: How can a tutor create good group dynamics? How can I get all of them involoved and participating?

A: (From Thib) The dynamics takes some time to ignite. After students get to know each other, they will feel more comfortable working with each other, answering each other's questions, helping each other. To create group dynamics, always remind them that you want other people to answer questions, that you'd rather be involved only when necessary. :-) The goal during the quarter is to shift - somewhat - from tutee/tutor/tutee/tutor/tutee/tutor (the "ping-pong" effect: the tutor-centric group) to tutee/tutor/tutee/tutee/tutee/tutee (the "discussion" effect: the tutor-facilitated group). Always return questions to the rest of the group. ("What does X mean?" -> "Well yes, exactly, what does X mean? Can anyone help? I'm sure someone knows").

The more people in a group, the more difficult it is to individualize your assessment of students' understanding. Nevertheless, ask people to recap frequently, choosing specific group members to make sure you get everyone to be involved. You can also have someone take your place (I like to pretend I'm lazy, and I go sit down in the student's seat while they stand and draw a summary diagram on the board with the help of other group members). Depending on your subject area, you can: ask people to give another example, give another problem for the student to solve, suggest another word/sentence for the student to explain/analyze, etc. There are many ways to check up on what you have been talking about :-)

A: (from Leslie) It is hard to get all of the tutees to participate, especially early in the quarter. Look around at the tutees, and meet eye contact with each of them,a couple times to encourage participation. Try to sit in a circle so everyone can see each other, and so you can see all of them. Also, you might want to try a game/debate/activity based on class material. It will get everyone involved, and it will help to break the ice. Remember that not all the students are going to want to participate, and that is O.k, as long as they know that their opinions and intelligence will be respected if they choose to. If the student is not participating because they are not prepared, encourage them to read the material before they come to the group. Encouragement is a great motivator.



Q: When and why did each of you decide to start tutoring and why do you continue?

A: (From Thib) I walked into the Tutorial Center during my first quarter at De Anza, thinking that there had to be people who needed help learning my native language, French. I quickly realized there was much more than "simple help" to be given. You can improve people's study skills, help them reach their personal, academic or professional goals, enable them to open up to something new, provide them with guidance on levels other than the tutored subject, etc. If I didn't get something out of tutoring, I would probably not continue doing it -- but the truth is, there is so much satisfaction to derive from successful tutoring relationships, so many lessons to gain from students themselves and fellow tutors, so much to learn about myself through tutoring, that I can just never get enough. :-) Tutoring is very rewarding on a personal level, as much as it is rewarding for tutees: that is the number 1 reason I keep doing it :-)

A: (from Monica) I started tutoring when Diana and Sandy came into my Ewrt 1C class. I had never thought of tutoring but when they presented in front of my class a lightbulb went off in my head. I waited 1 quarter before i had the courage to do it.


Last Updated: 1/5/09