When I was a fairly new TEFL teacher, I remember walking into a new teen class full of confidence. The students were older than my young learners class, so I assumed it was going to be easier to teach. As soon as I entered the room, one boy, presumably the alpha of the group, stood up and shouted, “Hey teacher, are you gonna be my b*&!*?”
Needless to say, I was not prepared for this moment and found that many of my activities I had planned were not going to work. Oddly enough, this class eventually became one of my favorites. Over the years I’ve picked up a few tips on teaching teens TEFL. Read on for ten tips that have helped me manage my Teen classes.
Or, if you’re just looking for some activities you can do with your teens, I recommend music gap fills. Click on the download button below for five pre-made gap fills with their corresponding target language and level appropriateness.
Ten Tips For Managing a TEFL Teen Class
1. Learn their names
This is important for any class, but especially for teens who are undergoing an identity crisis. The first step to building a relationship with your teen classes is to take enough time out of your day to memorize their names.
“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language” -Dale Carnegie
If you’re like me, remembering names isn’t always so easy, especially when they are names that are foreign to you. What I always do with a new class is to have the students write their names on a piece of scrap paper, line them up and then take their photo. Yes, it’s a bit like a prison line up, but it’s easy and effective.
Another thing that I’ve tried, with some success, has been to incorporate these names into the lesson. Have them write their name and the answer to two questions about themselves. Then, have them mingle with other students who try to guess the questions. For example, if I have written “pizza” on my card, the question might be “What is your favorite food?” The more advanced the students, the more complex you can make this activity.
2. Make them feel comfortable
There are a lot of DO NOTs that are involved in this category. For example, do not keep singling out one student, or do not force the class to do an activity that makes them feel embarrassed. Rather than think of what not to do, I find the most useful thing is to remember to try and make them feel comfortable.
I used to be a lot more rigid with teens, trying to get them to do exactly what I said. I would get annoyed every time a student would crack a joke in class; I’d feel that it was distracting from precious class time. Eventually, I came to realize that much of the language they are practicing when joking around is just as valuable as the strict lesson plan I had in place.
As long as they are respectful of you and each other, and as long as you achieve the aims of your lesson (I always have these on the board and check them off with the students), I don’t think that keeping the class fun and casual is a problem. You’ll have to decide for yourself what your limits are, but for me, building trust and relationships with the students is the key to success in a teen class.
3. Listen to your students
This brings me to my next point. In my experience, teens often feel, and rightly so, that authority figures don’t respect them. If I want my teens to be respectful of me and each other in the classroom, it needs to start with me. Listen to what they are trying to say to you, show some empathy and be respectful of them.
Likewise, if an argument ever does break out or someone’s feelings are hurt, which is inevitable, make sure that you get to the bottom of it. Don’t make accusations before you understand a situation. There are two sides to every situation and it’s up to you to get to the bottom of it.
4. Use group work
Remember when you were a teen? All you probably wanted to do was talk and hang out with your friends. Well, the advantage of being a language teacher is that you get to encourage just that (in English).
Make sure that at least once in the lesson they are talking with their peers in English. This can be done in the form of role plays, creating challenges for other teams, or working on a project, brainstorming, etc. (just to name a few). I always have a lot more success in my classes when I keep the focus on the students and not myself. Remember, the main goal of a TEFL teacher is to get students using the language. Group work is the best way to do that.
5. Monitor their work
That said, they are teens and two things commonly happen when I assign group work 1) they try to revert to L1 (their native tongue) 2) they start talking about other things. While they are working in pairs, I always walk about the room to make sure they are keeping on task, helping where needed and jotting down mistakes that I hear them making.
Later on in the lesson, or right before I let them go, I will write the mistakes they’ve made on the board. Then, as a class, we will go over the mistakes and make sure they understand correct usage.
Another important thing is to make sure that they understand the task that you’ve given them and that there is a time limit. If you are walking around monitoring students and notice that many of them don’t seem to understand what you want them to do, stop the activity and go over the directions one more time. Ask instructional checking questions to make sure that they understand.
6. Spice it up
Don’t let the lesson become too commonplace or you will soon find the teens coming into your class with slumped shoulders and heavy sighs of dread. It’s not the same as a young learners class, teens will quickly become bored if you are doing the same sticky ball game over and over again. Keep activities varied from lesson to lesson.
In fact, one thing that I’ve had a lot of success with is letting my teens create their own activities. For example, let’s say that I want to do a role play where one student is going to a restaurant to buy something and the other student is the server. Make it more interesting for the students by having them decide what type of restaurant it is (e.g. Dracula’s castle, a Disney cruise ship, etc.) and who the diner is (e.g. Justin Bieber, a zombie, etc.).
7. Make them collaborators in their learning process
Metacognition is a term that describes not only having a student do an activity but also understanding why they are doing it. Next time you get to a listening activity and you are asking them to close their books and just listen for the main idea, first, ask them why you are doing this.
I sometimes ask questions like: “Do you think you’re going to understand everything in this listening the first time?”, “Do you always understand everything I say?”, “If you don’t understand everything, are you able to guess what it might be about? How?”
8. Find out what they like
Another way to get them to be collaborators in their own learning is to ask them what they are interested in. In a previous post, I mentioned that I often give my teen classes a survey every few months to see what movies, music, tv shows, etc. they are interested in. Then, I try to incorporate these things into the lesson.
Click the link below for the survey I use in my teen classes.
9. Don’t lose your cool
“A quick temper will make a fool of you soon enough.” -Bruce Lee
There will be times when these classes push you over the edge. No matter what they say, don’t lose your cool. Often they are testing their boundaries and trying to get a reaction from you.
I’ve lost my temper several times over the years in my teen classes. Let me tell you, that it took a long time to get things back to a comfortable and fun learning environment. One way to save yourself from losing your temper is to have a plan for how you will react to certain situations before they occur.
For example, will you ask them to go to the headmaster’s office? Will you ask them to stay after class? Will you send a note to their parents? Will you have a three strike policy and simply let them know that their behavior is inappropriate? Will you simply ignore it? These aren’t easy decisions to make. I recommend thinking about it and talking to your line manager about the company policy.
10. Don’t force it
There is nothing more painful to watch than a forty-something-year-old teacher trying to pretend he’s just like a teenager. I’ve several times had the unfortunate experience of observing a teacher doing this. If it’s not real, if you are trying too hard to be cool, teens will pick up on it.
Some teachers simply are cool, and all the students want to be like them. If you find that this isn’t the case with you, don’t pretend. Again, if the focus of the lesson is on the students and not personality driven, you will be fine. Be professional. Try to keep the classroom environment comfortable. Find out what activities they like to do. Be yourself.