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The most important thing, the very first step, when you need to teach someone to use a computer, is to establish exactly what they want to use the computer for.

Next, make a list of the things they need the computer to do for them and get them sorted in order of importance. For example:

1. email

2. Facebook

3. Web searching

4. Word processing

5. Banking and paying bills

6. Playing games

...or whatever their main needs are. Then, let them sit at the computer - preferably their own computer* - and talk them through startup, opening the application they need, getting started, and so on.

Open their word processor right at the start and have them create a file for notes, screen captures, and so on, as you go along; have them save that file so they can refer to it whenever they need to. They can split it into subfolders as they learn more. Include lists of help-websites, other reference sources, and phone numbers they might need (like yours, and especially their ISP's, so they can ring if their connection goes down).

Things they aren't going to do frequently can be just skipped through; they'll forget it anyway: it's the everyday stuff they need to know.

They won't remember much at all if they're reallyunfamiliar with computers, so just let them achieve their basic aims at first, and let them try by themselves when they can. If possible, leave them alone for a bit and let them call out if they need you.

Teach them the really important stuff - dangerous sites and emails, what NOT to do with the computer, and so on - and reassure them there's no need to be scared; the computer won't usually break because of something they've done, but they should check when they're not sure of anything.

One useful thing you can do for a new computer user is find out whether they're more comfortable with double-clicking or single-clicking the mouse. Older people and people with limited mobility in their hands frequently find double-clicking a bit fiddly, at least to start with, so set the mouse to single-click for them. They don't need to learn how to do this first up; keep screen captures in the document you've created, for future reference.

Teach them keyboard shortcuts, too: you can look up a set of commands on the web and paste them into your student's 'help' file.

Once you've covered the basics, just be available for them to ask questions and let them know not to be afraid to ask anything, even if they worry you'll think they're stupid. We all have to begin somewhere, tell them, and once - a long time ago - we all had to ask, or be taught, what two plus two equals.

Always remember, when you're teaching anything to anyone, the important thing is for them to learn. Don't be tempted to show off how smart you are (we all know teachers who'd rather do that than really teach, and we don't like them much, do we?)! And, like all other kinds of learning, once they have the basics, they'll automatically improve their skills as they work at it.

*If they haven't yet bought their computer, just show them very basic stuff until they get one.

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Q: How do you teach someone about computers?
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