Teaching teens

Last week, we asked our followers on social media whether they thought classes with adolescents should be serious and structured or spontaneous and entertaining. Here's the feedback and some ideas for both approaches.
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Our readers’ thoughts

Most people agreed that it would be impossible to be at one end of the scale or the other, highlighting the need for variety in our classes. A couple of people also mentioned that different approaches might work better at different times: for example, earlier in the week it might be easier to have a more structured outline for the lesson, whereas as the week progresses, and energy levels slump, teens might need a more dynamic lesson.

Teachers also pointed out that you’ll know what works best with which group, as some teen classes respond well to structure and clearly defined lesson aims, whilst others require a less structured approach to the lesson. A key idea is that of flexibility – being able to adapt what you have planned according to your learners’ needs on that day and appreciating that the dynamic of a group can change from one lesson to the next, so something that worked well one day may not have such positive outcomes the next time you try it. Similarly, the fact is that lessons will often have an element of spontaneity when things don’t go to plan.

One of our graduates, Steve, gave a great list of his thoughts on teaching teens. You can follow him on Twitter and also on Instagram. People agreed that point #10 was particularly important – remember that they may spend just two or three hours a week with us in their extra-currciular English lessons, whilst studying around ten other subjects, dealing with the stress of exams, peer pressure, hormones, family life and more. Simon added the importance of empathy in the adolescent classroom too.

Classroom ideas

Negotiating lesson outcomes

So often on our training courses, we’re told that our lessons should be a holistic event, set up with a context and activities which segue meaningfully from one to the next. Whilst this is definitely true, many of our adolescent students are preparing for official exams which will throw them from one context to another with no engaging warmer or communicative event to build towards. We can use this to our advantage by preparing exam-style activities we want our students to practise and then allowing them to choose the order they do them in, thereby giving them some responsibility for the flow of the lesson.

Emergent language

This is at the heart of unstructured learning and it is particularly important to allow space for it in the lesson as it’s the language our learners want and need. Think as well about what happens with the language at the end of the lesson – do all students need to write down all the words which came up during the lesson? Should each student choose their top three and put each into a sentence on a Padlet before they leave? Is one student responsible each lesson for creating a set of Quizlet cards with the new language?

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