Teaching Teens: Do’s and Don’ts

By Neil Root
Neil Root is a writer and London based English Language teacher with 10 years experience.

Teen students

By Tgyeltshen (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Most TEFL summer schools involve teaching groups of teenagers, and it can be a very rewarding experience. Younger students often show quick progress and the enthusiasm and energy in the classroom can be infectious. But class management and maintaining control can be tricky and the following are a few tips about what to do and not do to have a successful summer school EFL teaching experience.

The age range is likely to between 13 and 18, but I have taught students in summer school as young as nine. Most schools will try to keep classes within an age range spread of perhaps two years, for example aged 13-15 in one class. However, I have worked in one school where classes were defined by language ability and not age – and this led to 9 and 10 year olds learning with 16 and 17 year olds. This can sometimes work, but is not ideal: the students may have comparable language ability, but their emotional and intellectual development is of course at very different stages, and this makes planning activities and delivery of the target language more challenging. But summer schools are always hectic, and whilst you can approach your boss to have your class made more even in regards to age, this is not always possible due to numbers! Flexibility is necessary in TEFL, and never more so than in a summer school setting…

Focused learning environment

Create a relaxed yet focused learning environment. You need to be attentive and approachable to young learners, and this is why teaching teenagers isn’t easy for some teachers. If you have a very teacher-centred approach, it is more difficult, as teen students require a very collaborative and immersive technique. Close monitoring is vital and a tight rein must be kept on this. Teenagers also get through much more material than older learners – they work fast (sometimes too fast!) and they have a shorter attention span. Fifteen to thirty minute activity segments are ideal, with a five minute game at the start and end of sessions. Grammar and vocabulary should be offered in a simple, visual style, board work and hand-outs are very important. Use your personality and most teens will respond.

Keep control of the class

But you also have to take and keep control of the class. It only takes a student with a strong character and a difficult attitude to derail your class and take half the class with them. Start firm, and gradually loosen up as you get to know them – they must know their boundaries and that you can mean business if pushed. Don’t shout as this only alienates you from the class more: building rapport is always the aim: if they don’t follow instructions, take their game segments away from them, and make sure you signpost this clearly. Control is imperative, and power is nothing without control. The majority of students will respond well to a calm and kind teacher who can be firm when needed. Don’t let late arrivals and overlong breaks become normal – you will soon have a harder job to cover your prepared material.

Good luck!


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