How To Motivate ESL Students: The 10 Best Ways to Increase Teenage Student Motivation
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How To Motivate ESL Students: The 10 Best Ways to Increase Teenage Student Motivation

How To Motivate ESL Students: The 10 Best Ways to Increase Teenage Student Motivation

Ah, the joys of teaching! Young learners are so full of energy that most activities you propose are met with loads of enthusiasm. Adult learners are focused on meeting their language goals and have a wealth of skills and knowledge to contribute to the class.

However, things are not as simple with teens. Most are very clever and insightful kids, but this is not exactly the most talkative age group. Have you ever faced a class full of blank stares where most of the replies you hear are “Yes”, “No”, or “It depends”? Have you ever felt frustrated by their lack of interest?

Here are some strategies that should get your teens a bit more motivated.

How To Motivate ESL Students

Use as many references to pop culture as you can

Consider your teens’ interests. Imagine you want to discuss last week’s events to practice the past simple tense. Will they be more interested in what President Obama did last week, or which outrageous outfit Lady Gaga wore to an awards show? If you’re not willing to discuss Eminem’s latest album, or any of the Twilight books or films, then you won't connect with your teen students.

Give them a little friendly competition

Little kids like to compete, and teens are no different. Whether they play sports or games on the Wii, they always try to out best each other. Why not introduce some friendly competition into the ESL classroom? Games are easy ways to do this, but you can also have them compete in any activity.

  • Give them 60 seconds to write down as many words as they can related to a topic, like “clothes” or “foods”.
  • Tell them that whoever finishes a written exercise first or has the most correct answers, gets to choose a video to watch or a song to listen to in class.

Cater to their skills and exploit their talents

Most teens are talented at one thing or another. Take your time to get to know them and discover what these talents are.

  • Students who are artistically-inclined may draw pictures, sketches or cartoons of a story you read out loud to the class.
  • Do you have a student who plays the guitar? Ask him or her to bring it to class and play a song while the class sings the lyrics in English.

Use pen pals to motivate writing

If your students are not enthused about writing assignments, give them pen pals to write to. At ESL Teachers Board, or any other message board for ESL teachers, you can post a request for pen pals for your students, and find another teacher with whom you can trade email addresses. Writing to pen pals is a great introduction to what they may have to master later in life: business emails.

Make reading age appropriate

To get students excited about a reading assignment, make sure you choose material that will pique their interest. Naturally, books or stories about teens are sure to work, but you can also include celebrity biographies, anything sports-related, or any topic that may interest them, but is also up to their reading level.

Play songs to improve listening comprehension

If you play any of the audio that typically comes with course materials, your teens will most likely tune out and not hear a word. The best way to motivate them to listen is by playing songs. But you should also choose songs they like, or can relate to.

  • This worksheet for Photograph by Nickelback provides a great warm up exercise and a post-listening activity.
  • Listen to So Sick by Ne-Yo and ask your students to complete the tasks set forth in this worksheet.

Have video lessons

Videos have great potential in the ESL class. Thanks to recent advances in technology, we no longer need to have a TV and DVD player in the classroom to teach a video lesson. A laptop will do for a small class, and a speedy Internet connection is great, but not entirely necessary, as you can have video files already downloaded to your computer. To keep teens focused on the task, choose short interviews, movie trailers, music videos, or how to videos on YouTube.

Integrate technology into the classroom

In the previous point, we mention how easy it is to show videos on a laptop, but you can integrate technology in so many other ways. Most teens have excellent Web surfing skills, so why not assign them a WebQuest? A WebQuest is an online, inquiry-based activity where students are required to search for specific information within links provided by the teacher, and then produce a report or a PowerPoint presentation. Here are some great examples of WebQuests for teens, but you can also design your own to suit your students’ level.

Play games

ESL games motivate any learner whether they are 5 or 50 years old. But with teens, it’s important to choose games that will challenge them, give them the right competitive feel, and help them effectively practice an ESL item. A guessing game or any type of quiz show game should get them motivated.

Use realia in the classroom

The use of real life objects is also a great way to motivate students of all ages. But it is particularly effective with teens who are already lacking in enthusiasm.

  • Giving directions: Choose places that teens frequently visit like malls, concert venues, or sports stadiums. Use anything from real city maps to brochures of these locations to practice giving directions.
  • Tell me about yourself: Instead of just telling the class about themselves, ask your teens to bring photos, as well as some of their favorite things, like books, CDs, a skateboard, or anything that represents them.

Make sure that at the beginning of the course you discuss what their learning goals are. They may not have thought of this earlier, but they may come to realize that they need English to surf the Internet, understand their favorite band's songs, or chat with foreign friends. And talking about the things that interest teens is a great way to establish rapport. Once you connect with them, you won’t find any more blank stares. You'll see a room full of eager, smiling faces!

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