There’s a huge myth that circulates in the ESL world that goes something like this …..
"Teaching teenagers is scary and difficult and just not that much fun. It’s easier to teach young children instead!"
It’s often said that teenagers are apathetic and too cool for activities and games in the classroom. They just want to spend all their time on social media. They already have too much schoolwork on their plate or are just not that interested in learning English.
In my personal experience, I’ve found that this certainly doesn't apply to ALL teenagers or even most of them. While they can be challenging at times and demand a different approach than what we are used to using with younger students, teenagers can also be the most rewarding and enjoyable age group to teach.
Here’s a few pro tips to make sure you, and your teenaged students, are getting along as best you can!
Get to Know Your Students
This is key with students of any age, but especially with teenagers. Find out all about their hobbies, talents, interests, likes and dislikes. If you’re lucky, they may even share some of your own hobbies or passions and this shared interest can lead to a great teacher-student working relationship.
Once you have an idea of what your student is interested in, you can use this information to plan the classes you teach. Teenagers are much more likely to engage with class material that directly relates to something that interests them than material that they cannot relate to at all.
By the time a student reaches their teenage years, they may have already been studying English for many years. In some countries, students start learning English at four or five years of age, so you may find that many of your teenaged students already have quite advanced English language skills.
Your task is to challenge them to expand and further deepen their understanding of the language. Alongside teaching more advanced grammar and vocabulary, you might challenge teenagers with tasks such as creative writing, debating or interpreting or writing poetry. Where possible, relate these advanced tasks back to areas that are of interest to the student to pique their interest and get them engaged with the lesson.
Have A Routine and Stick To It …. But Know When to Break It Too
Set your teenagers up for success by creating a comfortable and predictable learning environment. Include similar elements in each lesson (ie. a warm up, review of any homework, present new material, practice new skills, cool down activity) so that students know what to expect during each class. The flow and predictability of the lesson will take away any surprises and allow them to focus solely on the material being taught that lesson.
But, having said all that, be prepared to break away from routine and include fun and surprising activities in class when you feel it could be beneficial to your student.
Treat Your Teenaged Students Like Adults
OK, so maybe teenagers are not quite adults, but in my opinion, at least when it comes to language learning, they are closer to adults than children and should be treated that way.
Techniques, props and activities that work well with younger students simply won’t be as effective with many teenagers. For example, bright and colorful props and reward systems are probably not going to excite your teenaged student. If necessary, use real life photos or objects as props. And, instead of using a traditional reward system more suited to young students, consider just taking a break and talking with your student about a topic that interests them for a few minutes.
Teaching English to teenagers online does not have to be intimidating or difficult. Some of my most rewarding (and memorable) teaching moments have been thanks to my older teenaged students.
Mutual respect, a willingness to challenge them and a sincere interest in their life and English language development will get you a long way!
Do you love teaching teenagers? Do you avoid it at all costs? I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.