Carnegie Mellon University

I. General Guidelines for Tutors

1. Getting Started

Your role as tutor is to help students learn the process for problem solving and build their confidence and content knowledge. You may feel pressure because you have the ability to influence a group of students, and you want to do well. Take it easy! If you are doing your best to tutor students, they will see that and respect you for your effort. Know that you have a support system with the staff at the school, fellow tutors, and in the Leonard Gelfand Center at Carnegie Mellon.

Here are some basic principles for working with students:

  • Communicate Communication is one of the keys to success. Nonverbal communication is just as important as verbal, so be aware of your posture and body language. Avoid crossing your arms, leaning back in your chair, tapping pens, doodling, fidgeting, zoning out, or ongoing looks of frustration. Nod and smile appropriately to let your student understand that you support him/her. Be sure to make appropriate eye contact. Your behavior is a model for your student, and this is a great way to show you are listening and engaged.
  • Be sincere More than how much you remember about geometry, students care if you are real with them. If you feel relaxed, open, confident, and comfortable, students will feel this way, too. Chit-chatting before and occasionally during the tutoring session allows you to relate to the student and to better understand the most effective ways to teach them.
  • Share your experience We all have stories about having difficulty with particular subjects/topics. Sharing these anecdotes helps students to know they are not alone. If your students know that they are not alone, they will feel like the trouble they are having in school is a part of the learning process. Trust us, it is!
  • Make the process transparent Teamwork and communication are really important parts of tutoring. In order to maintain a successful program, we need all the tutors to act as transparently as possible. Set clear boundaries and make a plan that meets both your expectations and the student’s. Communicate openly and often.
  • Talk to your fellow tutors and the school faculty They may be able to provide helpful information about the students’ lives and can give you tips that you may have not considered.  Tell the teacher what’s going on with students’ behavior and progress (ex: what issues they are having); they may have strategies/ideas to improve your next session with that student.

2. Tutor-Student Relationship

Helping students take ownership of their learning is a critical step in the process of education, and as a tutor you will have the ability and the responsibility to guide these students to be empowered learners.

  • Make students do the work. Never give them the answer. In the long-run, you’re doing them a huge favor by teaching them how to learn the materials at hand.
  • Have students prioritize their work.  Students can then make choices about what they want to work on during their tutoring sessions. For example, ask: “Which work should you do first? Why? What should we do now?”
  • Ask questions! You may begin by saying something like: “How would you begin solving this homework problem?” Be sure to ask questions your student is able to answer, as well as harder ones.
  • Do the hard homework first. The student can do the easy work at
    The truth is that parents may not understand some of the more difficult homework. Try to direct students towards finishing their harder work while they are around trained individuals who can support them.
  • Acknowledge students who are waiting for help. A good way to have them understand is by saying something like “I see you; I’ll come to you next.” Students will then tend to move on by themselves to another problem.
  • Try to get the students to do the work on their own. Sometimes students ask for help even though, when you ask them, they know how to find the correct answer.  Many students want to be validated and acknowledged for their work. Try giving them an instruction on their assignment: “Do number 3 now on your own and I’ll come back and check on you.”
  • Acknowledge your student’s hard work and accomplishments. You can do this throughout the session, but make sure to reiterate this at the end of each session.

3. Structure & Routines

The goal of tutoring is to teach students an efficient routine to complete homework on their own and to learn how to effectively seek answers. Thus, be sure to structure your time effectively and establish these routines. A few ways to show students that you are committed to being their tutor is by showing up on time and being available and present for all tutoring sessions. 

  • Set goals and establish specific, measurable objectives. This will allow you to set a diagnostic to the progress of your students and program. Speak with other members at your program to see what is already in place.
  • State objectives before you start the one-on-one or group activity. Let students know what to expect from the tutoring session. Always keep in mind that you want to have direction when working with your students. Before you begin any activity, state the objective and what it would mean for them to grasp the concepts.
  • Have a time-based outline of a plan for each session. It is important to have a plan of what you are going to be doing throughout the session, whether it is with a group or one-on-one. While it is not necessary to have a written timeline, learn how much time routine activities take so you can more effectively plan lessons.
  • Be consistent. Make it a point to be patient, encouraging, and flexible each session.

Students’ lives may be filled with many inconsistencies. You want to be a consistent and positive role model in their lives. This will help you gain their respect and trust. Show up on time and ready to work!

4. Process

  • Never be afraid to ask for help or direction. Tutors benefit from ongoing support. It is understandable that newer tutors will require more structure and closer supervision. Tutors can learn from each other’s experiences, as well as from teacher and supervisor suggestions for handling problems.

  • Implement “logs” for both tutor and student. This will help you to see what was accomplished and what still is needed among both students and tutors.

5. Working Towards Independence

As a tutor, you should help facilitate a path that would allow students to seek knowledge for themselves. These tips will help you find out new ways to help students learn how to do work on their own.

  • Reinforce progress and aim for student independence. Move from experiences where the student is fully supported to experiences where student is fully independent
  • I do, we do, you do. At first, you will be the one aiding with problems. The session will then get to a point where you and the student do problems together. In the end, you want the student to be able to do it successfully themselves.
  • Adjust the plan if the student is frustrated. There are many ways to teach a student the same concepts or lessons. Try not to get too focused on teaching the student a concept only one way. Be prepared to adapt to the way the student learns by teaching the material in a way that best helps your student grasp the concept.

Be aware of your student’s shifting workload. Constantly check to make sure the student is properly prioritizing their work and taking a more independent role in designing what this system looks like.

6. Behavior Management and Bullying

If you witness a student being bullied during a tutoring session, let the bully know that you don't appreciate what they're saying and encourage the bully to apologize. If the bullying behavior continues, contact a faculty member or site director to intervene. If there is a physical altercation between students and you are the first adult to notice, use a stern but polite voice to call for the altercation to stop. If that does not work, notify the nearest adult employee at the school or site location.