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Teachers who have tried working with teenage groups at least once in their life know that this task is beyond challenging: your students are not kids anymore but aren’t adults as well.
The question here is how to survive teaching to teenagers. What problems can you face? And most importantly how can you solve them? Let’s see.
Statistics prove that an average human’s attention span decreased by nearly 25% between 2000 and 2015.
Studies also show that with a 17-percent-increase of screen time over the last two years, the average attention span of a 14-year-old teenager is 28–42 minutes. This information is important in order to understand how to appropriately build your lesson.
It turns out that even highly interactive lessons may become a total flop with such an inability to focus on the material.
Here are some ideas on what you can do to cope with this situation:
Teenagers are not kids and they probably won’t do something just because you say so.
You need to remember that you are dealing with young adults who only start developing their personal hierarchies of the people they respect and obey. And frankly speaking, parents and teachers are the ones who usually feel the rebellious atmosphere on their own skin.
So, before giving instructions and expecting unquestionable obedience, talk to your students. Explain to them what and why you are going to discuss, and present them a course you intend to go through together.
Moreover, try to create a narrative rather than a lesson. Students have to face questions they have no answers to at the beginning of the lesson and leave the classroom with the answers at the end.
Ask questions, encourage real-life examples, interact, and make your teenage students feel that they get something valuable and helpful, something that they can practically use.
The time of lecturing will never come back and low attention span is something we need to deal with and adapt to.
The more you are interested, the longer you may focus.
Yes, the attention span is shrinking but it doesn’t mean that we can’t binge watch the whole season of a TV show in a day. That is why it is crucial to implement your teenage students’ interest into studying, and build a context around the topics, people and cultural phenomena that they are interested in.
What it really means is that you have to follow the newest trends, download TikTok or even watch that viral TV show that they are crazy about. Believe me, it is worth trying! Not only do modern TV shows raise awareness about important social issues, they are also extremely interesting to discuss.
Moreover, your students will feel that their interests really matter to you which will positively affect the atmosphere in the classroom.
So, next time you think about the appropriate context for the new grammar topic, why don’t you do a “Barbie” worksheet or teach Past Simple using Olivia Rodrigo's new song?
More ideas how to spark motivation!
It’s absolutely OK to take breaks if you see that students are not focused and can do nothing about it.
Prepare a two-minute game or video to watch, or ask them to share their recent favorite English-speaking TikTok and give them an opportunity to explain why they like it. Ask about the plans for the weekend or the most exciting thing they did during their last Sunday.
There are countless ideas on how to recharge during a small break. But the main thing here is that it really helps students to become more focused after.
The topic of attention span is really related to another problem in the teenage classroom – distractions.
They are everywhere from the smartphone to the best friend who has a new portion of gossip or impressions they need to share immediately.
That’s true that it’s impossible to fully get rid of all the distractions, however, here are some ideas on how an EFL teacher may reduce the impact of distractions on their lessons:
Rules are extremely important in every sphere, however, when it comes to communicating with teenage students rules are crucial.
Don’t be afraid to demand to follow these rules: it doesn’t mean that you are boring or unfair. It means that students have agreed with certain things and this is how your common space works.
Try voting for the rules and making the list altogether. In this way, students will know they have agreed not to use smartphones during the lesson, and that it is something they really promised to do.
This approach gives students a sense of responsibility which is much more effective than just imposing your own limits without discussing them.
Promote emotional intelligence at your lessons!
Another key point here is that you, as a teacher, also agree with these rules which means that you set an example by strictly following them too.
If you agree that you don’t get distracted by your phone, you can’t use it during the lesson as well (even for a second).
If you tell your students not to talk to their friends during the lesson, you can't have a small chat with your coworker while students are completing their tests.
By not following your own rules, you make the situation look unfair and this is something that teenagers hate the most.
It’s also a great idea to set a system of rewards for students who follow all the rules.
For example, if everybody hasn’t been distracted or has completed their homework throughout the week, you may appreciate your students’ effort and make something pleasant for them.
How about having a lesson outside? Or what if you conduct a lesson devoted to their favorite movies or plan a short trip during the holidays? The system of rewards depends on your ideas and your fantasy.
But one thing is for sure: your teenage students will love being seen and appreciated.
Wondering how to keep students disciplined online?
All people are different: they have different behavior, ways of expressing their emotions, levels of general engagement in what is going on in the classroom.
This is especially true for teenagers as they often struggle with controlling emotions, self-expressing, etc.
Some teens tend to be over-energetic attention-seekers while others prefer being a black sheep.
Either way, you have to deal with these traits of character and here are some ideas to note if you find yourself struggling to effectively organize the work of such students:
It is important to set boundaries right from the beginning not to face possible unpleasant situations later.
You may also discuss them with your students and write down the results of your discussion in your list of rules.
The main thing here is to emphasize on the importance of respect to each other and the possibility to talk about anything instead of offending mates or teachers.
Over-energetic students often struggle with focusing on the topic and tend to have a bad influence on the general discipline in the classroom.
Games are a very nice solution for over-enthusiastic students and no, playing games is not something only kinds enjoy.
If you have difficulties dealing with too talkative or too silent students, prepare some games in which they will have to participate in.
In this way, both categories of students will be involved and encouraged to work as actively as they can.
Also, if you are worried that only the loudest teenagers get all the attention while silent students are too shy to speak out, practice project-based learning where students will have to work on the assigned problems together, discuss their ideas and contribute to the common project.
This is always a chance for all the students to be equally included in the process.
Teach prepositions by playing games!
Students who can’t behave are one of the most important, most irritating and at the same time unavoidable problems of all.
What can teachers do to reduce the level of misbehavior as much as possible?
Spoilers: arguments and punishment don’t help.
A form of feedback known as a "feedback sandwich" uses good feedback to balance harsh feedback.
It means that instead of being angry about certain incidents and telling that straightaway, you may consider “packing” negative feedback into positive and encouraging comments.
Again, this kind of feedback makes teenage students feel appreciated even when they have to be punished.
Frankly speaking, the majority of misbehaving cases happen due to emotional struggles and the inability to attract enough attention to them.
That is why praising your students no matter what will definitely reduce the number of unpleasant incidents in the classroom.
To sum up, there are no problems that can’t be solved with open-hearted conversation and support. And the truth is that teachers need support as well.
So, if you feel like you can’t build rapport with your teenage students, don't be afraid to compare your experiences with the experiences of other teachers. Teaching teenagers may be hard but there is nothing a true professional can’t deal with!
What will reduce the number of unpleasant situations in the classroom?
When is project-based learning helpful?
Topics for communication in English with young learners