Published 1st August 2021
If there is one age group that can strike fear into the heart of even the most experienced teacher, it must be teenagers. The teenage years are tricky to navigate for the teens themselves, which can make them challenging to deal with both inside and outside the classroom. Of course, all teachers have their own preference for which age group they like (and don’t like!) to teach, but generally speaking, teenagers have a bit of a bad reputation.
Truthfully, when you imagine a class of teenagers you probably picture a group of eye-rolling, sarcastic, mean young adults whose bark seems equally as bad as their bite. Thankfully, there is more to our teenagers than meets the eye.
While teens are emotional, they are, at the same time, enthusiastic and energetic. They are opinionated and though sometimes shy, they are passionate. They also have the most amazing capacity for learning, if we give them the right tools and the right learning space.
So, let’s look at a few tips and tricks we can use to help us teach teens without losing our marbles.
Keep it real
The first trick is the easiest: be authentic. Teens can spot a rat a mile off and they don’t take kindly to deception or dishonesty. Don’t try to be someone you are not just to try and make friends with your students. Don’t pretend to be the biggest Tay Tay fan if you’re not. Be your authentic self and your teens will get to know you. They will learn to trust you and this will help you create a good rapport with your learners.
Make it relevant
The key to teaching teens is keeping their attention. Teens get distracted very easily. They need to be engaged in your lesson every step of the way or else they will be disruptive or zone out. As a teacher, you need to relate to your students to ensure your lessons are relevant for your learners. The key to this is getting to know your students and understanding what appeals to them and will hold their interest.
Have a laugh
Keep it light-hearted. Teens need to feel comfortable in order to learn (as we all do) and maintaining a relaxed classroom atmosphere helps this. While it may seem like teens have nothing to worry about, this age is actually a stressful time. Don’t underestimate the anxiety your students may be feeling. This is especially apparent when it comes to speaking a language and making mistakes in front of their peers. Help them relax by making a joke every now and again, but remember that there’s a fine line between being genuinely funny and trying too hard.
Adolescence is a very selfish time. Teens are naturally very self-centred, which means their thoughts and actions relate directly to themselves. Take the time to get to know your students, their likes and interests – even if you do this through a very informal chat with them at the beginning of your lessons. This will help you plan lessons that are appropriate, relevant and, most important of all, interesting to your learners. You never know, you might find out that you have more in common with your teens than you thought!
Mix it up
When planning your lessons, make sure your lessons are not same-y. Be sure to use a range of different activities in your lessons so that your learners stay interested. While there is nothing wrong with a routine, with teens it’s a better idea to do the unexpected and keep them guessing. This way they won’t know what to expect from your lessons and will look forward to finding out what you have in store for them.
There’s no doubt that wherever you are your teens are likely to be very tech-savvy. There are many different ways you can utilise technology to maximise learning opportunities and your teens will enjoy bringing this knowledge into the classroom. Videos, apps, websites, WebQuests – the possibilities are endless!
The teenage years are a great time for learning. Teens should be pushed out of their comfort zone and challenged in order to optimise learning. The more cognitive effort they put into learning, the deeper their understanding will be, and the greater their learning. Plan lessons that are not too easy and with just the right amount of challenge. Have extra ideas in mind in case you misjudge the level of the lesson in relation to your students.
Create a safe space
At the same time, it is up to you to create an environment in which your students feel comfortable enough to make mistakes. We learn by making mistakes, especially when it comes to language. So we need to make sure our students won’t feel embarrassed when they make mistakes. If they do, they won’t be as willing to participate in the lessons. It is up to you to create a safe space in which there is no fear of criticism or embarrassment when speaking up in class.
Read more: Encouraging Mistakes in the TEFL Classroom
Let them talk
Teens love to chat, even when they’re in the classroom. This can lead to some of your learners being quite disruptive during your lessons. One way to avoid this is to give them plenty of opportunities to talk during your lesson. Be sure to include lots of pairwork and group work activities, and activities which include talking, debate and discussions. If you structure your lesson well, your students won’t have the opportunity for idle chitchat but will speak in order to accomplish the aims of your lesson.
Whatever you do, don’t be condescending. They might not be adults yet, but they’re certainly not children anymore. Treat your teen learners with respect and they will respect you back. On a practical level, this means including them in decision-making and listening to their opinions.
Don’t let the thought of teaching teens freak you out. Teaching teen learners might not be your idea of a good time, but once you have established a relationship with them you will open a door to the most magical lessons you never expected.