Since this post is about teaching teenagers in Spain, I’d like to start it by complaining:
Why are teenager classes so exhausting and typically scheduled at siesta time in this country???
In Spain, teenagers generally start school at 8.30am and finish sometime between 2.30 and 2.45pm, eat lunch quickly and go straight to their 4pm English class.
By the time they manage to take out their books they’re already yawning and whining openly. I find this draining, so I decided to explore ways to reduce it. Unmotivated teenagers also tend to misbehave in class. Letting them choose and making them aware of what’s expected from them generally works.
Here are the classroom management tools that prove most effective in my classes:
Give them a student’s whinging journal and set some time aside for students to write down their complaints and discuss them.
In every class, they all get 5 minutes to complain in writing.
Twice a month/Once a week they get 5 extra minutes to discuss what’s bothering them and whine in class (keep track of time: it has to finish on time).
They know they’ll get another chance in a fortnight during “Whinging Time”.
Having to work on finding things to complain about reduces the whining because most teens don’t want to do any extra work—they just want to complain. From now on, when they whinge, you can ask them to write their complaints in their journals.
They’re also working on their writing and speaking production in English.
Rules in contracts
This is a tip I got from Fari Greenaway (YLs and Teens Coordinator, IH Cordoba) at an Aceia Conference in Seville in 2014. I was teaching a group of very disruptive 15-year-olds and her advice was really helpful.
The idea is to write a contract with your teenagers. The aim is basically to clarify rules and expectations in class, so students are aware of what’s expected from them.
Why do you want to learn English?
Because my parents want me to learn it.
Because I’d like to travel and meet people abroad.
Because English is necessary if you want to find a good job in the future.
Why do you have to speak English in class?
Why do you need to do homework?
What happens when you don’t do your homework?
What does your teacher expect from you?
What do you expect from your teacher?
What is good behaviour?
What is respect?
Once they’ve finished, as a class they decide on the final best 2 or 3 answers. I then give them a handout with the questions previously typed and they write their name and the answers. We both sign it as an agreement. At the end of each term, we have a look at the contract and revise how good their behaviour has been. You might want them to take it home for their parents to sign it too and use it as an end-of-term report.
I believe this is an excellent way to start a course. Most times we’re expecting teenagers to behave in a certain way but none of those rules have been explicitly stated. In this case, teachers and students are collaboratively working on classroom management and students are actively involved in their own learning environment. We’re also helping them realise why they want to learn English, and providing opportunities for them to make choices: teenagers love deciding!
Attending English class isn’t really a teenager’s choice. They’d rather be in the park hanging out with friends or playing video games.
Coursebooks don’t help much with engaging either. Not only because the topics differ radically from your students’ interest, but basically because coursebooks are essentially language driven. Actually, as Claire Potter (Teacher Trainer, Clic IH, Seville) pointed out in her really helpful and practical session “Tips for Teaching the Tiny Teens” Aceia 2014:
Kids aren’t motivated by language, they’re motivated by activities, so plan lessons with activities that clearly act as a vehicle for the use of English.
And… what can we do to plan for teenagers?
1. Find out about their interests by using questionnaires and open class discussions. Listen carefully and make them feel that you care about them by designing interesting activities which allow them to bring their knowledge of the world into the classroom.
2. Once you’ve established your managerial role, let them start a class conversation spontaneously. Sometimes we feel guilty for not covering the language point in the curriculum, but there’s nothing wrong with spending 15 minutes listening to them chatting away in English: it boosts their confidence, promotes fluency and is truly relevant to their communicative needs. In fact, It’s an excellent opportunity to react to their actual language needs and teach.
3. I’ve added one word to the title Chris Roland used for his fantastic session on Younger Learners (Teacher Trainer, ELI Seville) in ACEIA 2016:
I’m STILL a young learner: Give me something to do!
Keep an eye on disruptive teens: they might just want some more. Challenge them: Teenagers can get bored very quickly when they’re not working. This is another reason for teachers to embrace Jim Scrivener and Adrian Underhill’s approach and demand high. Teenagers are generally capable of a lot. Give them projects to work on. Efficient planning to keep them focused on activities will make your class less tiring: the students should be doing all the hard work!