“How old are you?”
It’s one of the first questions my students ask me. It doesn’t help that I have the face of a high schooler, or that I graduated from university less than a year ago. With a room full of 16 to to 18-year-olds, I have to make a clear effort to identify myself as teacher rather than peer. I should also add that I gave up on the dress pants and blouse ensemble early on, resorting to sneakers and jeans in an exaggerated gringa fashion. (I figured that there was no point in trying to blend in; I stand out in a crowd of Colombians like the frowning white witch with a messy ponytail.)
In this classroom, I feel at ease—totally relaxed. Whereas working with children makes me anxious, and I’m never sure how to respond when adult students compare me to their children, teaching teens feels fun.
High school is challenging enough. So for students who attend extra English classes outside of their school day, don't bore them with fill-in-the-blank worksheets.
But when I scan the Internet for EFL activities for teens, most of them make me cringe. Whereas most adults grasp the basics of connecting with children—interactive games, music and dancing, arts and crafts—it seems it’s easier to forget how to connect with teenagers. It may help that I’m only 22, and still relive the horrors of high school in my nightmares.
Teenagers already have a host of problems to deal with: navigating relationships with parents, applying to universities, fighting with friends, and for one of my students, breaking up with her novio every other week. High school is challenging enough. So for students who attend extra English classes outside of their nine-hour school day, I would hate to bore them with more fill-in-the-blank worksheets and rehearsed group presentations than are minimally required.
Every digression from the textbook is learning opportunity. Grammar is something we want to “get over with.” Don’t know what “get over with” means? Great, let’s “move on” and talk about phrasal verbs.
Since my two-hour-long teens’ class is the only interaction they have with a native speaker—let alone the limited time they have to actively speak English—I like to cover the course material efficiently to leave time to chat. Tell me about your boyfriend. Can you describe his personality? What do you like to do together on the weekends? Here’s another phrasal verb: Do you know what it means to “break up” with someone? What’s the worst way to break up with someone? (“Over Whatsapp, obviously.”) The best way? (“Just say, ‘It’s not you, it’s me.’”) The main classroom challenge is to get teens to start talking. But once they begin, they won’t want to stop.
Give your teens’ classroom atmosphere a boost. Here are a few tips to help:
Encourage natural classroom conversation by treating your students like friends.
This is typically a no-go in terms of classroom management. But I’ve found that if I share a little bit about myself, they do so in return.
Don’t operate around strict or even vague conversation topics or starters.
Stay away from "tell me about your favourite vacation" or "share a funny childhood memory." Instead, aim for controversy. Have you ever told a white lie? Have you ever been robbed? Do you think gay marriage should be legal in your country? Do you trust the media?
When the overall energy is low and your usual tactics aren’t working, succumb to TV.
It’s okay; we all have those days when going to work or class seems like the worst thing in the world. So while devoting a full class to a full-length movie isn’t the most effective use of class time, a short TV series serves as a reward, a mental break, and a lesson in listening all at once.
My intermediate-level students love Extra English. The series is developed by the BBC for English learners and available on YouTube. The actors speak a little slower, the story line is simple and funny (following two London flatmates and their visitor from Argentina), and it includes subtitles in English. My students feel excited when they understand the show, and they let out a few laughs in the process.
Chocolate always helps.
Whereas “break time” for children resembles an explosion of cookies and soda that results in a disastrous sugar high, a small offering of candy can boost the mood of an entire class of teens (and adults, if we’re being honest).
I like to give my students a scenario, and ask them to share a story. “Tell me about a time when...” and they receive a treat in return. Never underestimate the power of sugar to get your class talking.Add this article to your reading list