Teen Troubles? 6 Strategies to Engage and Motivate Teenaged Students

Teen Troubles? 6 Strategies to Engage and Motivate Teenaged Students

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 27,929 views

When most people picture teenagers, they imagine sullen, uncooperative kids who want nothing to do with school.

Your class most likely isn’t like that, but there is something special to teaching teenagers. They can lack motivation or focus, so it’s always great to have a few motivating strategies in your back pocket when teens walk into your classroom. If you are looking for ideas on how to motivate a class full of teens, try these proven strategies.

6 Strategies to Engage and Motivate Teenaged Students

  1. 1

    Include an Element of Competition

    Everybody loves a little competition, and teenagers are no exception. You can motivate your students by making their actions count in a classroom competition. Divide your class into two teams, and award points to each team based on students’ performance at certain classroom tasks. You might award points for right answers on an in class exercise, for superb class participation, or for winning a game in class. Make sure you make the points mean something, too, by awarding the winning team periodically and then switching up the makeup of each team.

  2. 2

    Use Technology

    Teens are notorious for loving and using technology, so work that to your advantage. One easy way to do this is to allow the use of smart phones in class. You don’t want your students texting throughout the entire period (unless they are writing in English and that is your goal) but there are tons of other ways to use smartphones for language learning. Have students set up a free email account if they don’t already have one. Email assignments, handouts, and other classroom materials. Not only will you save on trees, your teenaged students will appreciate getting materials electronically where there is no chance of losing them. You can also encourage students to download language learning aps to use during free learning periods and have them visit ESL websites. Many places offer free quizzes for just about every aspect of language learning.

  3. 3

    Bring Pop Culture into the Equation

    Who says listening activities have to be based on last week’s news program? Use a clip from a popular movie instead. Do a cloze exercise with song lyrics and then play the song in class. Comic books are great for short reading comprehension activities or as visual writing prompts. All of these pop culture inclusions will have your students engaged and eager to learn. And if you’re not knowledgeable about pop culture yourself, check out the Geek board on Pinterest. It will give you a good idea of what movies, television shows, books, and other things are popular today.

  4. 4

    Encourage Open Conversation

    When it comes to teenagers, adults have to earn the right to be heard. In other words, teens don’t care what you know until they know that you care. One way to communicate this to your students is by fostering an open atmosphere in class. Encourage students to share their opinions, and don’t overcorrect their mistakes. Of course, as the teacher you are responsible in part for your students’ success. But molding successful students doesn’t mean correcting their every little mistake. Focus on the language aspects you are teaching or have taught, and don’t act on the impulse to correct language rules your students haven’t learned yet. Also, focus more on communicating and less on perfect language use. In the real world, if a person can get their thoughts and opinions across, even if they use incorrect grammar to do it, they have successfully communicated. Try to take this approach when your students talk in class. If they have successfully communicated their ideas, they have used English well. Finally, encourage students to ask questions. You can do this by setting aside a specific time of the day or the week to answer questions. Consider giving each student one or more index cards and having them write one question on each card. Collect and shuffle the cards and then read them to the class before answering them. This will avoid putting any one student on the spot causing them embarrassment. And don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know the answer to one of their questions. Admit it and promise to find the answer. Then get back to them. Nothing will discourage students from asking questions like clearly fabricated answers or failure to follow through finding an answer on the teacher’s behalf.

  5. 5

    Consider Why Students Are Learning English

    Why are your students learning English? Are they public school students in an English speaking community? Do they speak another language at home? Have they travelled overseas to see a little bit of the world before starting their real studies at home? Are they studying English so they can gain admission to a dream college or university? Think about what internal and external motivations your students have, and then make your language instruction as applicable to their goals as possible. For example, if your students are planning on attending college after their language studies, emphasize the language skills they will need to be successful such as note taking, reading text books, and writing essays. If your students are more interested in travel and adventure, teach them to read nontext items such as maps, train schedules, and brochures. Encourage students to talk about the places they want to travel and how they will use English getting there and during their trips.

  6. 6

    Respect Your Students as Equals

    Teenagers may be younger than you, but they are no less individuals with opinions and values. Respect them. Don’t talk down to them or treat them like children. Teenagers want to be seen as adults, and you should interact with them that way. Don’t disparage their generation’s likes and dislikes. Talk to them like you would another adult. Don’t yell at them or laugh at their opinions. And as always, respect their home cultures in and out of the classroom.

    If you do, you will find that your students not only respect you in return but also have the motivation it takes to succeed.

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