[PART 1] How To Run A Tutoring Session For Maximum Results: Jill's P.O.P. METHOD

P.O.P. doesn’t stand for quizzes anymore.

In fact, as a former teacher, I really never liked POP Quizzes. They seemed to be sneaky things meant to make sure one did one’s work. And not really a method to determine true understanding or mastery of knowledge.

I mean really, is there a boss out there (if I’m preparing students for the real world, a boss is what they will encounter) who will give a POP Quiz?

I think not.

In fact, for a boss, the assumption is simple. Assignment, task or duty is given. Work is completed. There’s never a question of ‘will the employee actually do the work’.

And if there is, I’m sure it rather quickly ends in a Donald Trump-like moment of “You’re fired!” not a “Go to the President's office, Tommy!

So back to why I preferred talking with students instead of a sneak attack method.

My students quickly learned that it was so much more interesting to partake in our roundtable discussions, with rectangular desks, than it was to duck down and not know what was being discussed.

It became clear, as a teacher, through trial and error, that at some point I would hit on a question that engaged the interest of a few. Then a response or two would engage those I had yet to reach and soon, bam!, everyone was alert, responsive and actively participating in engaged learning.

I run my tutoring sessions pretty much the same way. Open round table discussions (no matter what shape the table) based on:

The P.O.P. Method  

This is just a cute-as-a-button term I coined. Steal away just say my name, say my name… (sorry had a Destiny’s Child moment).

Here is an inside look at how to run a tutoring session for maximum results using my Fabulous POP Method.

And no, you don’t need to be an English teacher or a high school student to get this. And teachers, yes you may implement it in your classroom.

Homeschoolers, don't feel left out. This works for you too, oh isolated one!

P.O.P. stands for




It’s a simple method I have used over and over during each tutoring session whether it’s with one student at a time or a group of kids.

Using the P.O.P. Method of tutoring gives me guaranteed results for the student and ultimately happy parents who end up booking more sessions.

The Simple Step-By-Step Process
to Using the P.O.P. Method to Have
a Student Who Loves Coming to Tutoring
and a Parent Happy to Pay for More

STEP 1: Dig for one thing about the PERSON in your tutoring space that makes their eyes light up.

Hint: It probably won’t be the subject you’re working on with him or her.

STEP 2: Discover what other OPPORTUNITY you have to share knowledge during this specific tutoring hour and do it.

Hint: It probably won’t have anything to do with the subject you are working on together.

STEP 3: Uncover the real PURPOSE or motivation behind why the student is coming to see you.

Hint: It probably won’t just be the subject you are working on with the student.

Let’s Dive In…

STEP 1: Dig for one thing about the PERSON in your tutoring space that makes their eyes light up.

Hint: It probably won’t be the subject you’re working on with him or her.

What is one thing about the PERSON that you didn’t previously know, that really gets him or her excited?

If you’re thinking “What in the world does this have to do with tutoring Algebra or reading skills or biology?” - good.

Really listen up because when you start doing this your tutoring business is going to explode.

Tutoring is not JUST about the subject.

First and foremost it is about the little (or big) person in the chair beside you. Your student.

In fact, it is ALL about him.

The subject is SECONDARY. Important but not as important as he or she, the PERSON, is.

(And that is what our educational system has forgotten, in my opinion.)

It is your goal, in the first few minutes of each session to:

a. determine the student’s mood

b. break the ice

c. learn something about the individual person before you

And there’s a goat study about smiling. Why? I’m not sure. But it’s still super cool. Even goats respond to a smile! ‘nough said...

It is scientifically proven that when someone is smiling and having fun, they are more receptive, open and engaged to the process of learning.[1]

And there's a goat study about smiling. Why? I’m not sure. But it’s still super cool. Researchers put pics of smiling human faces on one side of the goat pen and pics of frowning people on the other side. Goats hung out with the smiling faces. No joke. [2]

It is also very common for children and teenagers (anyone, really) to want to feel seen, heard and understood.

So when you really SEE the person walking into your space for tutoring, you win. And so do they.

When you greet the student by name, you are breaking the ice. You win. And so do they.

When you smile and make eye contact with the student first, even before you greet the parent (if they are present too), you win. And so do they.

With a smile, you can determine the student’s mood. No return smile, you’ve got some work to do. A smile, great. The student is more open, more receptive already and will likely learn faster and retain what was taught.

The last piece of this step is to learn something about this student every time you see him or her.


In asking about a student’s interest in sports, other subjects, animals, summer vacation or the dance last Friday, you allow them to be HEARD.

This is huge for kids who often go unseen and unheard. For real.

And it gives you a topic to chat on for 30 seconds when her eyes glaze over 30 minutes into sin-cos-tan. (Uh, that’s math-speak.)

If you’re thinking “Good grief, I won’t have any time to tutor!” [insert annoying buzzer sound]


This all happens in the first two minutes of a session. Let me break it down for you with a sweet example. Examples are our friends!

Sarah is in 9th grade and she’s in Algebra.

She’s a good student and just needs help.

I smile at her, notice the dance clothes and the dark circles under her eyes. Right away I can deduct that she’s either coming from or going to dance class. I can also see that she’s tired and hasn’t been sleeping enough.

That can be a bad thing for tutoring (or not). But it’s good to know.

Seeing this takes me all of three seconds.

I smile in greeting. She smiles in return.

I can safely say she’s in a good mood even if she is tired. Literally a second to determine.

She gets her books out and homework open. She KNOWS to do this because I’ve trained her to come prepared and get whatever she wants to work on out immediately.

Given the time, I can also assume she’s going to dance AFTER our session but I can ask to be sure. Ah, conversation! About something important to her!

“How’s dance going? Do you have class after tutoring?”

“Good. We had a competition last weekend in Orlando. My class is at 5:15 so mom might get me a few minutes early. Sorry.”

I smile back as she’s getting her pencil and calculator. I’m already looking over her homework but meet her eye when I say, “No worries. We’ll get right to work. Is this your homework for tomorrow?”

“Yes, I don’t get about half of it. We had a sub today.”

“Ah,” I nod and look over the homework, seeing what she’s done and what’s left. “Did she explain it well? The sub?”

Subs often get a really bad rap yet they often find themselves subbing in a subject they have little-to-no clue about.

“No, she just kinda said ‘figure it out’.”

We laugh together. (Breaking the ice. That’s the worst thing for a kid to be told to figure it out. Especially in a subject like math.)

“So, dance competition, huh? How was it?”

She’s already set to go and has paper out and is writing down her first problem. I’m opening pages of her book to familiarize myself with the concept she needs help on.

(Again this is all seconds.)

She looks up and smiles bright – eyes light up. “It was so much fun. We got second place and qualified for another competition next month. It’s awesome.”

“And exhausting?”

“Yes,” she laughs and starts her problem with my help.

That conversation took all of 60 seconds, 90 max.

And she was doing something, as was I.

Now she knows the routine, so this is familiar to her. A new student won’t be doing anything the first time you do this. Or maybe that student will be getting materials out because you’ll request that by saying, “What homework do you have today?” or “What did you want to work on?”

Taking the time to have this chat has allowed Sarah a few minutes to decompress, regroup and relax. She got to share something important to her that she enjoyed (the competition results of second place) and something that’s coming up (they qualified for another competition).

She also agreed that she was tired.

I know that a tired student’s attention span may be shorter than normal. I also know that her ability to absorb too many concepts (and remember them) may be impaired because she’s tired.

So right there I know that even if she needs to learn three things to complete her homework, it’s much better for her to master and completely understand two, than it is to sort of know all three. If she only sort of knows, she will forget them by the time dance class is over later that night and she’s finally sitting down (still tired) to complete the rest of this homework that might not be finished (because of our shortened session).

Ignoring this, the easy signs to read and the simple, quick conversation, could have led to frustration on both our parts. And from the sound of it, she got more than a fair share of frustration from the substitute teacher.

Subs often get a really bad rap yet they are often subbing in a subject they have little to no clue about. And that is a wasted moment, class period, if left at figure it out or do your best. If you’re a sub, you could pick up some tips on this site, in this very post, of what to teach (do) even when you have no clue.

In part three of this series, we’ll take a peek into Step 2 and Step 3 and see just how to apply it in your next tutoring session with more super-sweet examples. And still a no to any pop quizzes.

Allow P.O.P. to now be a method you put to use. You’ve just discovered how to focus on the PERSON. Next we’ll roll into the OPPORTUNITY.

But before you head over to Part 2, drop a comment below.

If you’re a homeschooler, a teacher in the classroom, a retiree or simply someone interested in education here’s your thought provoking assignment.

  • What’s your take on POP Quizzes - love them or hate them?

  • And are you surprised that the three steps of my P.O.P. Method seem to have nothing at all to do with the subject matter at hand?

  • Can you see any benefit to using the first one - by focusing on the Person?

Share your thoughts below and be sure to learn something today so you can share it with someone (on Facebook perhaps) tomorrow.

Sources Used

[1] How Laughing Leads to Learning: Research suggests that humor produces psychological and physiological benefits that help students learn. By Zak Stambor. The American Psychological Association [APA], June 2006, Vol 37, No. 6.

[2] Goats Might Prefer a Smile to a Frown, Study Says. By Marc Silver. National Public Radio [NPR]. August 29, 2018.

Education Lady | Jill Stevens

Educator. Writer. Life Long Learner. Jill has a passion to help the next generation and improve learning across the board. She’s here to change the world, one mind at a time. Right now she does that through words with purpose and by training up remarkable, rockstar tutors.