Teaching English to Teenagers.
You may believe that teaching ESL to teens is more challenging than teaching English to children or adults. Common preconceptions are that because they are going through changes in their life they are less willing to learn.
However, as an experienced EFL teacher of kids and teens, and adults in Vietnam, I don’t believe this to be true. Yes, you may have to work harder to gain the attention of pupils this age, but it is not hard work.
In this article, I’ll provide you with tips on how to teach teens ESL that have worked for me. Including unique teaching strategies, engagement methods, and much more, that will keep your students focused on learning throughout the year.
And, yes, It works in public schools as well where you may get 50 plus students to a class. You will not win them all over, but you can get the others involved to a degree that they want to learn and will keep the uninterested students quiet.
Before we dive into the tips, let’s get a bit of perspective on what is happening inside the teenage brain and how it might affect their learning processes.
Restructuring and remodeling the brain.
When children are young, their brains go through a major growth surge. Their brains are roughly 90-95 percent of adult size by the time they’re six. Although the early years are crucial for brain development, the brain still requires extensive restructuring before it can operate as an adult brain.
During adolescence, your child’s brain undergoes extensive restructuring, which lasts until they are in their mid-20s. Age, experience, and puberty hormone changes all influence brain development.
Inside the brain of a teenager
Adolescence is a time of enormous growth and development and restructuring of the teenage brain. New connections are being made and those less used are being pared away.
So the unused connections in your child’s thinking and processing region of the brain are ‘trimmed’ away. Other interconnections are strengthened at the same time. Based on the ‘use it or lose it’ premise, this is the brain’s approach to becoming more efficient.
Think of it like the brain turning several roads going to the same place as the brain restructures the roads to become one faster “superhighway”.
How does this affect learning behavior?
Because the prefrontal cortex is still developing in teenagers they are more likely than adults to rely on the amygdala to make decisions and solve issues. Emotions, impulses, hostility, and instinctual behavior are all linked to the amygdala.
Have you noticed that your student’s thinking and behavior appear to be quite mature at times, but then they act or think in irrational, impulsive, or emotional ways at other times?
These shifts and alterations are explained by the brain’s back-to-front growth, teenagers are functioning with brains that are still developing.
The Impact on learning.
The mix of your student’s developing brain and culture has an impact on how he or she acts, thinks, and feels. Your students’ favorite activities and skills, for example, may become ‘hard-wired’ in the brain.
So consider the variety of activities and experiences your student enjoys, such as music, sports, study, languages, and video games. And build them into your lessons.
Now let’s Dive in with some tips.
Learn as much as you can about your students.
Getting to know your teenage students on a more personal level will pay off in your classroom. When you initially meet your pupils, take the time to learn about their interests, hobbies, abilities, and even dislikes.
Then use this knowledge by incorporating it into your teaching. Students are considerably more likely to be interested in a lesson that is relevant to them than in one that is irrelevant to them.
You can begin with an introduction lesson, in which you introduce yourself and the topic you want your pupils to discuss. Name, age, family, hobbies, and sports, for example. Keep things light and breezy at this stage.
Try to remember the student’s name. In large classes it is difficult, but if you get your students to write on a sticker you can then save it and apply it to a desk layout of the classroom. Asking someone by name is always better than saying ” Can you tell me..”
Set Rules and Routines.
You want a lively classroom, but your kids must understand the rules. Teenagers will test the limits, but if you have established ground rules, you can help your class return to a more productive state.
Also, give your students a predictable and pleasant learning environment, as well as a natural “flow” to your session.
Your session should follow the same format, whether it is a warm-up, homework review, new subject presentation, or lesson practice. It is your decision how you want to format your classroom activities, but keep it lively and interesting.
Allowing students to build routines will assist them in understanding what is going on during a class and maintaining their focus during learning.
However, occasionally shake things up and break away from the routine by introducing a fun new exercise or activity.
Teach to the Students Level.
However much you will complain to the staff or owner, your class will have students at different levels of learning. Some will be faster and some will be slower.
Please don’t think this means the slower students are less intelligent, it may mean your teaching style is not correct for them.
Remember that pupils, especially teens, will work at varying levels of difficulty. When you give a group of teens identical work, some will find it challenging, while others will become bored due to how simple it is.
As a result, it’s critical to vary your approach so that everyone in the class may learn to their full potential. Also, you may need to prepare different types of lessons for the same class.
This does not necessarily mean a lot of extra work, it might just mean asking a different complexity of questions.
Make use of the amygdala.
Obviously, your pupils will not be able to pick and choose what they learn in each class. However, incorporating choice into their learning can help teenagers become more engaged students.
Give your students a few options to pick from if you assign a speaking task. This empowers teenagers to take control of their work.
And if it is a listening task, you can liven it up by including the students’ names in listening exercises. Don’t your ears perk up when you hear your name?
Some of my best lessons for listening are when I totally change the script and include “funny references” to eating or going to school etc. And including the students’ names. Just be careful it is culturally appropriate.
Writing tasks are exactly the same, just don’t forget the sequence for learning different English skills
Who doesn’t like to be rewarded for a job well done, your students are no exception.
Using rewards are a great way to enforce both the classroom rules and encourage your teenage students to learn.
While younger children might like to be rewarded by helping the teacher and receiving a smiley-face sticker, you’ll need a different approach when teaching young adults.
I have done things like taking the students out for pizza or ordering in if they have completed certain tasks. In a public school, you can still use the same idea as long as you do it in the classroom.
Bring snacks, throw a party and play music. You will capture the love of your student if you go above and beyond most of the other ESL teachers out there.
When selecting classroom games and activities for teaching ESL to teenagers, it’s critical to select advanced games so that the teens don’t feel like you are treating them like a child.
The following are a couple of fun games I play and you can use with your adolescent students to make your lessons enjoyable.
The Directions game.
This game is great for teaching directions, as well as prepositions of place and movement, and it’s a fun lesson supplement. To play, arrive a few minutes early to reorganize the classroom furnishings into a maze.
Students work in couples to guide their blindfolded teammates through the maze. Clear directions must be given by the guides.
The guides can say things like “turn left”, “crouch”, “crawl” and so much more. Be inventive and make it fun, but not too difficult for the skill level of your class.
Not only is it informative it is a lot of fun that will have your students laughing while learning.
Reverse charades is a popular guessing game that may be played in a school of any size. To win a point the teams must act out the phrase or word on the board. If the selected team member gets the word or phrase correct that team wins the point.
This is a more classroom-inclusive way of playing the traditional charades game. i love this game because it involves everyone.
I have found in Asia, pitting the boys against the girls works extremely well. Remember the puberty changes, they are all trying to impress both their friends and the opposite sex.
An easy way to set this up and still have control of the activity is by putting 2 chairs with the backs facing the board and the rest of the team members standing in front of them trying to explain with body language what is written on the board.
The teacher is the ultimate arbiter of all disputes arising, or points will be discounted.
You can find more games for teenagers at ESL Kids Games For Teens.
Remember to use materials that are relevant to the students’ lives, develop individual bonds with students, design active and engaging lessons, and allow time for fun when teaching teens ESL in Asia, online, or anywhere else in the world.
Keep in mind where adolescent ESL students are in their mental and academic development. They need to be academically challenged and appreciated as individuals to develop their love of learning. Be the teacher you loved as a student.
Who Am I?
My name is Stephen and I have been teaching EFL in Vietnam for over 15 years and have my own school. I am also the author of this article and owner of this website.
Any or all links on this site may be affiliate links, and if you purchase something through those links I will make a small commission on them.
There will be no extra cost to you and at times due to my affiliation, you could actually save money.
You can read our full affiliate disclosure here.