Things are never simple with teenage learners. Whilst young learners are so full of energy that most activities will be met with enthusiasm… and adult learners tend to be naturally focused on meeting language goals, as well as having a wealth of skills and knowledge to contribute to classes, getting it right with teenagers is a whole different story.
Although teens can be as knowledgeable and perceptive as their adult counterparts, they are not usually the most talkative of age groups. Naturally, this can leave us as teachers feeling frustrated and discouraged by their perceived lack of interest. Nevertheless, teens aren’t that different and by no means unreachable in terms of motivation. As with any other age group, it’s simply a case of finding ways to pique interest.
Here are eight simple strategies that anyone can use to increase teenage student motivation in the language classroom.
1. To develop listening comprehension, play songs
When it comes to the kinds of listening materials that typically accompany course materials, your teenage learners will most likely lose interest quickly, or, worse still, not hear a word. The easiest way to motivate such learners to listen is by playing songs. But you should also choose songs they like, or can relate to.
The best strategy: Why are you the one choosing? Set up a class rota so that each learner has the opportunity to play one of their favorite songs to the class. Get them to prepare a lyric sheet and work with them to develop a language activity from the words.
2. Have video-based lessons
Videos have huge potential in the language class. Back in the old days this would mean dragging a TV and DVD player in the classroom to teach a video lesson. A laptop will do for a small class, and a speedy Internet connection is great, but not entirely necessary, as you can have video files already downloaded to your computer. To keep teenage learners focused on the task, my advice is to choose movie trailers, music videos, short interviews, or ‘how to’ videos on YouTube. Three minutes seems to be the optimum length with teenage learners.
The best strategy: Again, why are you the one choosing? Look ahead in the course materials for upcoming subjects and assign the class with the task of finding
3. Exploit technology to get learners searching for their own answers
You can integrate technology in so many ways that it makes sense to utilize the kind of tech-based activities that your teenage learners engage in on a daily basis. Most teenage learners have excellent Web surfing skills, so why not assign them a Web Quest? Basically, Web Quests are online, inquiry-based activities in which learners are required to search for specific information within links provided by the teacher, and then produce a report or a PowerPoint / Prezi presentation.
The best strategy: Give some training in the effective use of search engines, and any software you plan to use in class. Discuss key words and how to use them when searching for sources.
4. Occasionally play games
I’ve written so much on my blog about games that I ended up collating all my posts into a e-book. You can download it for free here.
The best strategy: With teenage learners, it’s vital to choose games that will challenge them, give them the right amount of competitive feel, and help them effectively practice language. Also, make sure they understand the reason you’re playing.
5. Use ‘real’ realia in the classroom
It’s easy to forget how effective the use of real-life objects can be in motivating learners of all ages. This is a particularly effective strategy with teenage learners who are already lacking in enthusiasm. Don’t just bring in random things related to the course materials, though. Make sure whatever you use has real emotional meaning.
The best strategy: Share aspects of your life that learners can relate to, i.e. things that are also an everyday part of their lives, but which were different when you were their age (I still have my first cell phone and it always raises interest when I use it as a prop in class, for instance).
6. Incorporate as many references to pop culture as you can
Consider your teenage learners’ interests. Imagine you want to discuss last week’s events to practice the past simple tense. Will they be more interested in what the character in their course book did in their fictional journal, or what their favorite pop stars did last week? If you’re not willing to discuss their favorite songs, or any of the Maze Runner books or films, then you’ll have a harder time connecting with your teen learners.
The best strategy: Ask them what they’re listening to or watching on TV. They will be quite forthcoming, especially if they think they can educate you in some way!
7. Give them a little friendly competition
Everyone likes to compete in some way or another; teenage learners are no different. Whether they are playing sports or games on their games console or phone, they always try to outdo each other. Why not introduce some friendly competition into your classroom? Games are easy ways to do this, but you can also have them compete in any activity.
The best strategy: Make sure that you are giving everyone a level playing field. Base your friendly competition on something you know they’ve all been exposed to, rather than something, such as a particular sport, that will favor those who play or watch it. Such completion can work well in the lead up to exams, especially if you know they’ve been studying something that you can turn into a game (such as a vocab list).
8. Make reading age appropriate
If you want to get learners excited about reading, you have to make sure you choose material that will pique their interest. The current teenage generation is concerned about the future, so texts about the environment are often a winner. Books or stories about teenage learners are sure to work, but you can also include celebrity biographies, anything sports-related, or any topic that may interest them, but is also up to their reading level.
The best strategy: As mentioned in many of the other strategies here, allowing learners the opportunity to choose their own material often works well. It can even be good to get them to choose their own material related to their course book, but from a perspective that interests them.
What else do you do to motivate teenage learners? I’m keen to hear your ideas and add them to this list.