So you´re back to work and getting into the swing of things nicely after the festive break. And then you´re asked to teach a new teens class from next week. Your heart sinks, and you can feel the tension rising in the pit of your stomach. You want to cry out, “I´m not a teens teacher, anything but them!” But you surpress these feelings (you want to look good in front of the DoS) and say, “Sure, where and when?”
What next, then? Here are a few pointers which have helped me to get the best out of teens; often the most challenging of ELT teaching groups.
1 Think back to when you were a teen- after all, we all were one once! Just remember how difficult and confusing it was. What did you face as a teenager? What were your challenges, hopes, fears and dreams? Tapping into this experience can sometimes help you connect with “the enemy”!
2 In your first class/classes with them, find out what the teens in your particular class are into. Make it into a quiz or something fun. Start off classes with interesting winners like sports, music, travel and going out/ hobbies.
3 Once started, think about your group. Do you know your teens? i mean really know them? In adult classes, it would be unheard of to get to the end of term without knwoing what jobs or study your students are doing. Or if they like travelling. Or their hobbies. But often, with teens, we just make assumptions about their lives without getting to know them. Make it into a class through lesson planning. Get them to find out about each other rather than you asking them. Get them to ask you questions (you can always say which questions are not ok, if you want to watch boundary management) Teens like having boundaries set by the teacher- it makes them feel emotionally safer (remember back to your teens when you experienced 10 emotions all in one day!) and it gives them “permission” to take risks, both with language and learning, from a position of safety.
4 Teens like trying out new things and taking risks, once they feel it is safe to do so within their group. English classes are no different. Boundary management issues such as general behaviour, mobile phone use (or not), speaking in L1 etc need to be discussed and ironed out as soon as possible- if everyone is clear on expectations and responisbilities, then everyone (including you) will enjoy the class more.
5 In some groups it´s a good idea to draw up a “Learning Contract / Contract” where everyone contributes to the shared norms and “rules” of the class/ group. You may well be surprised at the fact that many students enjoy doing this- again, make it part of lesson planning and weave this into the lesson- So it could be lexically-driven, teaching the modals “must, have to, should, can/could” etc. Really make it a discussion and get students practising listening and speaking in English. Maybe get them in pairs first to start their contracts, and then get the class together to compare and contrast ideas and spark debate. They are then `practising brainstorming and debating/discussion skills in English- all grist to the mill for learning a new language. I always put myself in the group when drawing up contracts- it seems to work better if you do it from a base of the class as community rather than the teacher versus the students.
6 Try not to lose your temper or call the teens names you wouldn`t like to be called yourself. Afer all, would you do this in an adult class? If you catch yourself getting angry, try and reflect on why- and as soon as you can, try to write a few notes on your own process – being able to really reflect on what is going on for you when you lose your patience with your teens will help you both reflect on your own development in teaching in general and with teens in particular. Once you start hating your teens class, it´s hard to come back!
7 Try different methodologies with your teens classes to see what works for them. Do project work. Get them working together and achieving a project aim. Or try Task-based Learning (TBL) – Read Jim Scrivener´s great book on teaching English to give you more ideas on methodology and how different methods work in practice.
8 My coursebook is terrible! In terms of language, use the course book as a guide but don`t always feel tied to the content. If you have some flexibility in your teaching, follow the language, lexis and grammar points to give you an outline but use other materials and the teens´own materials and ideas to get more interesting learning moments going.The more you use their material/ ideas and creativity the more you will all get out of class and learning process.
9 Make it as a visual as possible! Use the internet, film clips, Youtube etc to make your classes teen-centred. But don´t be afraid to use their own artwork and visual resources (making their own videos, drwaings, sketches etc ) to be visual- using teens´own work and ideas as much as possible will enhance their involvment and interest and therefore their engagement in the classes
10 Review grammar and lexis every class, as far as possible. Recycle grammar and vocabulary so they get chance to enjoy using the new language in different ways. Teens do like writing, too. Get them to do it for homework- as a follow-up task from an intergrated lesson plan. Again, ask them. “What would be useful to you to write in English?” An email to a friend? A university application? A recipe?
11 Like all classes, the more you lesson plan and carefully think about the learning needs of your teens (as with all classes) and weave these into your lessons, the more you´ll enjoy them. If you don`t like your classes, it´s almost certain the teens won`t either!
12 If it´s all still a nightmare, try to find someone who can mentor you through or give you advice. Or approach a colleague who you feel might be able to help. Or go on a training course, either online or face-to-face.
Melody Philip CELTA DipTESOL (parts 1,2 and 3)
If you want any help or advice, feel free to email me at