Teenagers can be the most demanding group of students to teach but with their mix of enthusiasm and ability to learn quickly, they can also be the most rewarding.
1. Setting Ground Rules
In the very first class, it’s worth laying down the rules that both you and your students have to adhere to during your classes. You can do this by agreeing them with the students and then displaying them in your classroom. Think about making rules that will help you teach and students learn more effectively, such as arrive on time, only speak English, bring a pen and a notebook, try hard in class, do your homework, respect other students and the teacher. You might also have institutional rules that you have to follow such as a dress code, not wearing hats in class or chewing gum. Explaining these, and making boundaries clear will help students know what they can and can’t do in class. If your institution has a disciplinary policy, it might be worth explaining this to students so they know what will happen to them if they continually break the rules. Be firm but fair – you don’t want students to break the rules because you want them to learn English, which is the reason they are in your class.
2. Seating Tips
Your classroom is a place where you teach, and your students learn, so feel free to arrange where students sit. In mixed nationality classes, ask students who speak the same language not to sit next to each other - it just means they will speak their own language even if they say they will not! Be friendly but firm on this rule. Split up students who are friends or enemies, there’s enough time out of class for them to chat or fight.
3. Varying Activities
Doing different types of activities will help keep student interested and motivated. Use a broad mix of activities including quiet, working alone tasks and worksheets, pair work, group work as well as whole group work. Unless you’re doing project work, try to vary activates every twenty minutes to half an hour. Every activity doesn’t have to be spectacular, as long as it’s different.
4. Avoiding Problems
Avoid Long Explanations - students get bored when they just listen and don’t have anything to do. Generally, people like to do things and so keep explanations to a minimum. Get students to explain grammar to each other or work it out from examples if possible.
Avoid childish or embarrassing tasks – teenagers can already feel vulnerable so be careful what you ask them to do. If students aren’t happy to do something they will tell you, why not ask them if there’s anything they would like to do?
Don’t expect students to enjoy just watching a film. Most students can watch films in English anytime, so watching one in class isn’t so exciting. If you do use video, keep it short and give students a task to do while they are watching, like some questions to answer or something to notice.
Life experience and opinions – unlike adults, teenagers often don’t have opinions to share either because they are embarrassed, they just haven’t thought about something or they have no experience of it. If you do get students to share their opinion – which they can love – make sure it’s about something they will know about!
Confrontation – if possible, don’t take anyone on head to head in front of the class. Remain calm and explain the rules you gave at the start of the course again. If you need to talk to a student, take them outside or wait till the end of the class. Let them talk to you and explain why they acted the way they did.
Plan your lesson – of course it goes without saying that you will plan your lessons, but with teenagers, it’s always good to spend a bit of extra time preparing an extra worksheet or activity that you can use if something goes wrong.
5. Playing Competitive Games
Play games in teams and expect teenagers to commit fully to winning – and make a lot of noise. Make sure you make a big deal of the competitive element to these games and this will motivate your students.
Teenagers love winning. Prizes don’t have to be good – I like to wrap prizes up and write the word winner in big letters on the side, inside the package is often something rubbish like a tea-bag, an apple or a plastic fork, anything I can find really. I tell the students the prizes is really, really good and they enjoy finding out what it is. You also don’t have to award the prize to the winner, I like to give weekly prizes to a student who has done well, and because you pick out the criteria you can make sure that everyone in the class is in with a change of winning – not just the brightest student. Award prizes for work, behaviour, helping others, improvement or anything else that you can think of. Prizes and awards are a tool that you can use to motivate and help and they often have much better results than discipline and punishment.
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