How to: book your own intensive course

Startup Stock Photos

You may have seen our last post on some tips on how to find a gig for the summer. One of the ideas we explored was setting up and running your own intensive course for private students. The time to start advertising your course is around now, so in this post we’ll be giving some more details on how to organize, promote and run your own IELTS, PET/FCE/CAE, or TOEFL course.

First, you’ll want to identify which exams you’re going to offer courses for. Think about what you already have experience teaching. If you don’t have any experience teaching exams, then you have some other factors to consider including: your own education and study background, the difficulty level of the exam, the content on what needs to be taught for the exam and the number of hours involved.

Next, think about which courses are in demand

Right now the Holy Grail/Shared Nightmare for most Spaniards aged 14-45 is the FCE (Cambridge English: First). If you’ve had experience teaching this exam after school, this is a good one to plan an intensive course around.

Despite the high saturation of FCE preparation courses in Madrid, demand is still high (at the time of this writing anyway). As the Spanish education system transitions to being fully bilingual, there are thousands of Spanish-subject teachers who will need to prove that they’ve achieved at least an intermediate level of English in the next few years. Also, while it’s uncertain what exactly the results of Brexit will do to enrollment numbers at British Universities, the FCE and CAE are still relatively popular choices for Spanish students hoping to attend university programs that are taught in English (in the UK and elsewhere in the EU). Finally, many companies in Spain require the FCE (or equivalent) from job candidates before they will even be consider them during the hiring process. So, it looks like the FCE will remain a popular choice for a few years yet.

In order to run a successful FCE course you will need to 1) be familiar with the format of the exam, 2) have a firm understanding of grammar in English and 3) be able to explain not just the grammar structures, but when and why we use them. To pass the exam, students must demonstrate not only an understanding of complex grammar structures, but also a mastery over them by using them successfully to create two coherent, interesting texts in response to writing prompts on the exam.

If you already have a TEFL or TESOL certificate, you should be well-prepared for requirements two and three. Learning the format of the exam can be done pretty quickly, and there are tons of online resources to get you started. If you’ve taught writing at an advanced level (AP English, an introductory level university course, etc.) or worked as a professional writer (journalist, copywriter, etc.) then you probably have a good enough foundation to offer a course.  If you’re unsure of whether or not you’d be able to successfully prepare students for this exam, you could always try taking a mock exam yourself and seeing how you do. You can access a free computer-based grammar test here and you may be able to find complete exam practice books online or in your local library.

If the FCE sounds a bit intimidating to teach, there are other exams you could offer courses for. The PET (B1) is one qualification that private students often ask me about or request classes for. The IELTS is another popular exam that’s widely accepted as proof of language skills for migration, study or work purposes. The Trinity ISE exams have a reputation for being a bit easier than the Cambridge exams, though they are usually considered to be an acceptable equivalent by many Spanish employers.

Plan your course curriculum and set your rates

Before you start advertising, you’ll need to decide what you’re going to include in the course. Will you only teach exam format and strategy? Will you offer a dual-pronged approach and help students who may have just started studying the level of English required by the exam to consolidate their level before they take the test? The second option means a lot more work for you, but it opens up a larger student pool and potential client base.

As we mentioned in our last post about this, you’ll probably have to reduce your hourly rate if students are booking a significant number of hours (more than 4 per week). This is up to you, only you can decide what rate you can live with (and live on). Some teachers who typically charge €25/hr for exam prep may knock their rates down to around ~€15-€18 for more than 6 hours a week. There are things you can do to maximize the value you get for your time however, like having students book longer blocks of time (having class twice a week for 2 hours, instead of four days of 1 hour classes). As long as they have the available time, a small discount is usually enough to encourage students to book you for a longer class.

Encouraging students to find a friend so that they can book a pair class has a number of advantages. First, you can charge each person a little less indivdually while making more money than you would for a one to one class. Second, it’s usually about the same amount of planning for more money. Third, it’s often less work for you once you’re in the class. Two students means you can focus on giving the class instead of having to fill-in full time for the other half of role-plays and discussion activities.

How do you decide what to teach? While I have mixed feelings about textbooks in general, I have found them to be a useful guide for course contents. If you’re dead-set against using a book for your course you can still take a look at the scope and sequence of a course book to avoid getting overwhelmed with deciding what to teach and to give you an idea of how to structure your course.

Advertise your course

Next you’ll need to decide how and where you’re going to advertise. In addition to LingoBongo and TusClasesParticulares you could also try posting on milanuncios or making flyers to tack up around your neighborhood (or a more affluent one). If you’re trying to save time and money you can make them up yourself with a sharpie and cheap photocopies. However, something done up in color will be more eye-catching. Printaholic has some gorgeous examples of full-color flyers that may help you get inspired and Lucid Press has some great free templates available.

If you speak Spanish at the intermediate level you may find that you get more business by posting and doing the initial negotiation in Spanish. I’ve found that I was able to get myself a better deal in terms of pay and schedule by posting my ads in Spanish. I’m not sure why this is. Students may feel more comfortable or they may feel like you’re more trustworthy if they can ask you questions about payment and policies in their first language. Or, it may boil down to the impression that you’re harder to take advantage of since you’ve managed to learn the language.

Regardless, if you’ve been making an effort to learn Spanish it might be worth the extra time to write up some ads and get them checked by a Spanish-speaking friend beforehand.

Charm them in the interview
Interview images

Once you start getting calls about your classes, you’ve almost clinched it. Some students may just want to confirm some things with you regarding scheduling, rates and materials via phone. Others will want to meet you to see if they feel comfortable with you and whether or not you’d be a fun teacher. It’s natural to feel a little awkward (will they want to see a short demonstration of what we’d do in the class? is this an informal chat session? etc.), but do your best to be at ease.

Treating this like most other interviews will help students see that you take this seriously, while a sincere smile and cheerful manner will show them that this isn’t going to be a stuffy corporate class.  It’s always better to be a little over-prepared and slightly over-dressed than under-prepared and under-dressed. You should be good to go in some smart casual separates and a short (1, 2 minutes tops) spiel about your teaching methods.


Whether you’re going full autonomo and providing receipts or whether this is your first time doing a private course, remember that it’s still a job and to take it seriously as such. Although your students ultimately have the responsibility of studying and putting the work in, in and outside of class, you are captain of the ship.

Your students are paying you to help them prepare for something that is more likely than not an integral step towards achieving a study, career or life goal. Make sure you take time to plan your lessons and to correct assignments. If this sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it is. However, if you’ve been thinking of one day trying to make the switch from auxiliar to autonomo, then this is a great opportunity to see if being your own boss is for you! 

Whatever the end result, you’ll learn a lot in a relatively short amount of time. Other benefits include: getting to set your own schedule, setting your own rates, continuing to live your life and not having to live at work.

Have you run your own intensive course in the past? How was the experience? Comment or contact us if you’ve got ideas that we missed!

Good luck!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s