Season Workers TEFL Guide - Teaching Teenagers

Junk Boat

"Is John Lennon the one from Queen who died?"

I remember being a teenager, it doesn't seem that long ago. However, the cultural references and general ideas from my English students make it seem like I'm from the dark ages. They have no idea about Take That, The Spice Girls, shell suits or walkmans. Now it's One Direction and mobile phones that do everything (except play tapes).

Unfortunately, it's not just these generational differences that show in the TEFL classroom, but also differences between what English teachers want to do in the classroom (work) and what teenagers want to do (anything except work).

I've had some terrible classes, where it feels like the only person listening to me is me and students have left the classroom with one scrappy page of work which they then throw in the bin on their way out.

At first, I took this as a reflection on myself and my English teaching abilities. I then thought about it and decided that classes are a two way thing. Teenagers have their own problems. They're at a horrible time in life where they're trying to come to terms with themselves, physically and mentally. And we all remember the feeling of always wanting to do the opposite of what we were told to do, just because we were told to do it and we didn't decide it for ourselves. This can come across as a complete lack of respect, but I think it's just the way teenagers are. I think that looking bored, chatting to their friends, chewing gum, texting and being rude to the teacher are just ways that teenagers try to express themselves.

So what can English teachers do to take this into account while also getting through the work that needs to be covered in class? I think that the first thing is not to be too authoritarian. As soon as you talk down to teenagers, they will react against it. Work at their level, show an interest in their lives and opinions.

This links into my next piece of advice, which is to try and have student generated lessons when possible. A lot of the topics in coursebooks are a bit dry and try to force discussions on subjects which teenagers don't really want to talk about. I remember one lesson where the aim was to get the class to write a report on banning cars from city centres. The class didn't have much interest in this (none of them were even old enough to drive), so I got them to vote on their favourite TV programme which turned out to be the Simpsons. We brainstormed the good and bad points of the programme and used this as the basis of a report titled "Is The Simpsons a Good Influence on Teenagers Today?" Working with their interests in mind generated some really good reports.

Thirdly, teenagers love to be challenged. Give them more work than normal and make it at a slightly harder level. It does mean more work for you at the planning stage, but it means that the students won't get bored or distracted as easily.

If things are still really tough, ask the students what they want from the class. Chances are if you are frustrated with the class then the students will be feeling the same way. Talk to them as adults, ask them why they are there and what they want from the lessons. Try to come up with some sort of contract that combines both your and the students' ideas. If students feel that they have a say in how classes are, then they will probably co-operate more during lessons. Any decent TEFL course should teach you that.

In conclusion, students have an amazing amount of energy and imagination which can cause problems in the classroom. If you manage to channel this energy in a positive way though, you will have some of the most rewarding lessons, for both you and the students. I've found that tricking the students into thinking that things were their idea always works (as with The Simpsons report). And if things get really tough tell them stories about yourself, teenagers always seem to pay attention to these. Tell them who John Lennon is while you're at it.

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