The Tutoring Cycle


Tutoring versus Teaching

Although tutors teach students about course content and academic skills, tutoring is an acquired form of assistance that provides a specialized type of learning. An important item to remember when tutoring is that you are supporting an instructor in his facilitation of learning; not replacing her or him. Tutors should be careful to help students according to instructors’ expectations and guidelines, and avoid criticizing instructors or acting as a “mini-professor.”

Peer Tutoring . . .

  • Promotes inquiry and independence in learning
  • Personalizes instruction
  • Facilitates student insights into learning and learning processes
  • Provides another student perspective on learning and academic success
  • Respects diversity and individual differences

Most people have the inclination to “tutor” by telling students how to solve problems or by naming off facts tutees are missing. While this will be important at times, facilitating active learning is the ultimate goal of SARC peer tutoring. Below are two of the most well-known tutoring approaches that you are encouraged to utilize while tutoring for SARC. It will take a while to feel comfortable and become effective utilizing these techniques. Sometimes you can even blend aspects of several approaches, or develop your own. Regardless of the method you choose, structure is critical when it comes to tutoring. Just as a sports team faces each opponent with a set game plan, tutors should face each tutee with a plan for a structured tutoring session.

Socratic Method

Much has been written about this method of learning. Feel free to look into this more on your own for ideas on implementation. Tutors use the Socratic Method when they ask questions rather than just giving instructions. Socratic dialogs are active discussions between the tutor and students that require the students to formulate and express her or his thoughts. This interactive exchange requires the student to become involved or to simply be left out. Any passive behaviors are shut down with this method of active learning and immediate feedback.

The Tutor Cycle

This method of tutoring requires students to solve their own problems under the supervision of a tutor who acts as a coach, guide, facilitator or a more experienced student, rather than an editor or instructor. During each session, students engage in a series of tasks related to their latest course assignment, reading or concepts. While tutors shape these tasks and advise students in the midst of them, it is the students who read, write, perform board work, etc.

The Tutor Cycle – Step by Step


Step 1: Greeting
  • Greet student(s) by name.
  • Display friendliness--smile, gesture, small talk, etc.
  • Provide efficient seating arrangements (next to, not across from each other.)
  • Encourage tutee(s) to initiate the first task: to open books and notes, etc.

Step 2: Identifying Task
  • Provide opportunity for tutee(s) to take control and determine focus of session.
  • Use questions to clarify tutees’ immediate concerns. (“What is the hardest part for you?”)
  • Restate tutees’ problems to help tutee understand what was needed and to focus activities for session. If you need to refocus session, explain why.
  • Use empathetic statements to help tutee(s) define the problem ("That part can be hard.")

Step 3: Setting Agenda
  • Involve tutee(s) in setting the agenda (i.e. "We have ___ minutes today. How should we use them?" "What should we work on today?”)
  • Require tutee(s) to state agenda explicitly to help him/her play active role in allocating time on each task. Jot down an informal plan for the session.
  • Readjust agenda when necessary, keep track of time.

Step 4: Breaking Task into Parts
  • Ask tutee(s) to break task or problems into steps. (“Show me how you did this in class;” “How do you begin?”
  • Restate steps mentioned. Have the tutee take notes, if appropriate.
  • Ask tutee(s) to explain the steps to confirm understanding ("OK, so now you tell me what we have to do for this kind of problem")

Step 5: Identifying Thought Process Involved in Task
  • Ask the tutee(s) to explain the general approach learned in class for this type of problem or concept.
  • Help tutee(s) understand the textbook/lecture notes and how these resources were used to understand the process. Encourage using resources (text and class notes) next time around.
  • Help tutee understand other sources of information (i.e. notes, handouts, workbooks, classmates, etc.) for solving problems. Tutor should not be only source of information.
  • Ask tutee(s) to explain the approach learned to ensure tutees’ understanding for doing similar tasks when studying alone.

Step 6 : Addressing Task
  • Encourage tutee(s) to address task without overly directing him/her (i.e. "What do we do next?")
  • Respond appropriately, but do not interrupt tutees’ thinking. Show attention without taking over. Pencil and paper should remain in front of tutee, not tutor.
  • Encourage tutee(s) to do most of the talking/learning. Did not over explain or take control.
  • Allow sufficient wait time (“10 Second Rule”) for tutee to do act, speak, or learn before you take over and explain.

Step 7: Tutee Summary of Content
  • Encourage tutee(s) to summarize what has just been learned (i.e. "OK, let's review for a minute. Show me what we just talked about.")
  • Wait for tutee’s explanation to run its course without interrupting or correcting. Give tutee opportunity to self-correct by asking questions, then waiting.
  • Use tutees’ explanations to determine if he or she really understands.
  • If understanding is incomplete, return to addressing the task.

Step 8: Tutee Summary of Process
  • Have tutee(s) summarize process for addressing the task ("So, how do you do this again?")
  • Wait for tutee summary to run its course. (“10 Second Rule”)
  • Determine if tutees’ understanding would allow the completion of similar task independent of tutoring.
  • If understanding is incomplete, return to addressing the task.

Step 9: Confirming and Reinforcing Confidence
  • After tutee(s) explains content and process, offer positive reinforcement, and confirm that tutee really did understand or improve.
  • Congratulate tutee(s) for working hard and not giving up.
  • Reassure tutee(s) that he/she can now do similar tasks independently.

Step 10: Looking Ahead
  • Help tutee(s) anticipate what he/she will learn next that might connect to current task.
  • Help tutee(s) understand how information from class, tutoring, and resources is connected.
  • Ask future-oriented questions like "What is the next concept you will learn in class? How will what we did today help you?"

Step 11: Planning next session
  • Allow tutee(s) to make decision about whether to return for another session and what to do during the session (i.e. "Are you coming again this week? What will you have done to prepare before then?”)

Step 12: Evaluating Session/Closing
  • Evaluate progress on agenda (i.e. "We got a lot done," or "We got off track.") Ask what helped most and what could be improved.
  • Thank tutee(s) for contributions (i.e. "You really came prepared. That helped.") If necessary, make suggestions for next time ("Be sure to come prepared, bring your books, read the chapter, and do your homework for the next session!").
  • End session on a positive note ("You made a lot of progress!" or "Even though we got off track, we learned what to do for next time.")

Sources for Reference

Material above was adapted from: