Published 19th March 2018

As a teacher teaching English as a Foreign Language, you never know who you might be teaching. It could be children as young as four or mature learners as young as 65. If you have done a TEFL course you will know it is aimed at teaching English as a Foreign Language to adults but you will probably find yourself teaching learners of different ages throughout your career. Today we are taking a look at some conversation topics for teenagers.

Conversation Topics for Teenagers

Indeed, many TEFL teachers start out teaching English to Young Learners, possibly because of the mistaken belief that teaching children is easier than teaching adults – spoiler alert: it isn’t! This also may be because many TEFL teachers look for jobs teaching English abroad, usually in a kindergarten, primary or high school. If this sounds like something you will do, then you need to be prepared to teach pre-schoolers, primary school learners and the dreaded high school learners. 

Read more: 6 Differences Between Teaching Adults and Young Learners

Teenagers have quite a reputation in the classroom, and not only in the English as a Foreign Language classroom. Teenagers are notorious for either being loud and unruly or sullen and non-communicative; no matter what they do they have a bad reputation as students. In the classroom the attitudes of teenagers can translate into refusing to speak English during your lessons, chatting to their friends during activities, and generally not being interested in your lesson. 

conversation topics for teenagers

Of course, there are many factors which contribute to their behaviour in class – peer pressure, identity issues, social awkwardness – but many times if you are able to connect with them they can be the best students you’ve ever had the pleasure of teaching. And we’re not even kidding!

Because teenagers are going through a challenging time of their lives both physically and emotionally, it is essential that we understand our teen learners in order to be able to understand them, connect with them and, ultimately, teach them. Once we know our learners we can identify appropriate and relevant language topics and lesson ideas which will get the best results for everyone. This means planning relevant lessons.

Read more: Top Tips for Effective Lesson Planning

The first thing you need in order to be able to do this is to identify good topics for your lessons. If you centre your lessons around themes and topics which interest your students, they will be genuinely interested in the lesson and actively participate in the lesson activities. To be sure which topics are relevant for your class you will need to do a needs analysis and get to know them on a personal level. 

A needs analysis is important for any class you have but with teens it should be tweaked to be sure to include reference to their personalities, interests, and free time activities. A needs analysis will inform you of the level of your students and therefore what language is suitable for them to learn, as well as which activities they would enjoy doing in class, and ways you can make your lessons more engaging for them. 

Read more: How to Make a Needs Analysis Questionnaire for ESL Students

One important factor to consider is the topics of your lessons. There is no quicker way to make your students UNinterested in your lesson than by incorporating outdated or irrelevant people or themes in your lesson activities. However, there are a few topics which are guaranteed to have your students chatting in no time:

The future

Teenagers are at a very exciting time in their lives. They will finish school soon and join the big, wide world of independent living. Though they may be a bit anxious about the future, they should also be enthusiastic and excited. This can translate into passion and energy in the classroom. Tune into these feelings by speaking about the future on an individual level or a more global level. Activities can include making predictions about the future, finding out about jobs they may be interested in, and making time capsules to represent their generation.

Be careful of not imposing your views on your students and rather encouraging their creativity and freedom of expression. If an idea is outlandish or improbable, your EFL lesson is not the time to focus on that. Your lesson is a time for your students to feel comfortable enough to express their ideas and opinions without fear of judgement or embarrassment. 

Technology

It’s no revelation that even our youngest students these days are exposed to technology and incorporate technology into their everyday lives. Though traditional teachers may try to limit the use of technology in the classroom, there is no reason not to take advantage of their knowledge of and interest in the subject as a discussion point. You can have a debate on the use of smartphones in the classroom, discuss the future role of technology in the workplace, and do research webquests.

While generally we might frown on our students using their mobile phones, tablets or laptops in the classroom, this can be an opportunity for our students to use their technology for English projects. Asking them to do research online is exposing them to English everywhere they look. Even asking them to put together a Powerpoint presentation in pairs or groups will mean they will need to discuss and execute the project in English, which will actually end up being a very authentic exercise.

Relationships

Teenagers are usually caught up in a whirlwind of relationships, so talking about them is a natural option. Bear in mind you don’t have to discuss only romantic relationships; friendships and family are also relevant. In class you can talk about the order of relationships in different cultures, give advice for problematic relationships agony aunt-style, and do an unromantic version of speed-dating. If you have a very good relationship with your students and find they are very open-minded and communicative, you can even touch on more controversial practices like arranged marriages or dating shows on reality TV.

Of course, we shouldn’t have to say it but we will, please make sure you are not dealing with a topic that is inappropriate in any way for your students. They are at a sensitive and impressionable age and it is your responsibility to ensure they never feel uncomfortable in your class. You need to be especially aware of cultural issues of wherever you may be.

Read more: Should We Be Talking About PARSNIPS in The EFL Classroom?

Teaching teenagers can be challenging but don’t be put off if you find yourself faced with a class of unimpressed teens. Think carefully about what interests them – both in terms of topics and activities – and make sure you consider your lesson plan carefully. If you put in the work to build a relationship with your students and take time to plan lessons that will really resonate with them, you could find yourself having the time of your life in the classroom.