The 13 to 16 year-old age range can be difficult for many teachers. These students are not necessarily “kids” and they are not “adults” either. Many games and activities that you have been able to use with younger children will suddenly be considered “childish” by the teenagers in this age group. In order to efficiently teach this age group we need to create a sort of “hybrid” class mixing some aspects of our children classes with some aspects of our adult classes.
What to expect
There are many differences with this age group and younger children. This age group will certainly be much shyer and quieter as a whole. You will occasionally see students who have completely different attitudes and emotions from class to class. Some positive aspects of teaching this age group are that they most likely are already studying English in their junior high school or high schools. Most of the schools will be focusing on reading, writing and grammar skills. This can allow you to put more of your lesson plan focus on speaking and listening. Another positive aspect is that you do not have to constantly provide the students with games and activities where they are moving around all class. This means that the teacher will most likely not be expending as much energy during class and will not be as tired.
Objectives (What you will teach)
As always the objectives that you teach in your classes will vary depending on your students, your student’s goals and motivations, and your students’ level of experience. As I earlier mentioned many of your students will be focusing on grammar and reading skills during their junior high school and high school English classes. Occasionally you will have some students who are having problems in their school English classes and want you to help them. In that situation you would obviously be teaching more grammar and reading skills. But for the most part, most students will not need any extra help and you can focus on speaking, listening and conversation skills. This is great for us as English teachers because those are the most enjoyable skills to learn. Often this age group will also be taking standardized English tests. Each country is different but these tests are taken to measure a student’s English ability. Then the scores from these tests can be used when students are enrolling in various high schools or colleges. To teach these standardized English tests you will need a very different type of lesson plan and approach than you would for an English conversation class.
It is around this age where children’s English textbooks are no longer sufficient. You need to move up and find a good English textbook that is created for junior high school students or high school students. If you are unable to find any good textbooks then it is possible to use a lower level adult textbook but it is not recommended. If you do have to fall this option then I suggest you take a good amount of time before your lesson to look at the pages you plan to do and try to simplify the lesson is much as possible. Just like any other class you don’t have to follow the textbook page by page. You can skip anything that you think your students might not enjoy or simply might not need. Make sure that any textbook that you do choose has a transcript of any of the recordings, and answer booklet and hopefully a workbook that you can use to assign homework.
Even at this age you can still reuse a lot of the materials from the younger classes to play games or do any activities. Of course you have to increase the complexity of the game and activities and you have to change any vocabulary words but surprisingly many of the teenagers still find a lot of the “kid” games activities to be fun. Of course you can also use any adult game or activity materials as well you just have to simplify the activities, vocabulary and overall scope.
Students at this age group can be a mixed bag. Many students will be looking towards the future and how English can help them. That means that they might be thinking about taking some standardized English test, they may be thinking about applying to college or high school. Recently “study abroad” programs are becoming more popular and many students will want to prepare for that. But overall their motivations are turning more “adult” in nature.
Usually at this age, the parents are not forcing the children to study or do something they don’t want to do anymore. Very often with the younger students you will see this. Parents forcing their children to do some kind of hobby or study something that they believe will help the child in the future but the child simply does not want to do it or does not enjoy it. At this age the parents usually allow their children to choose.
With these classes you have students who might have completely different goals. Simply because the students are of a similar age it does not necessarily mean that they should be in the same class. If you have control then you should think about each student’s motivations and their goals and then separate them into classes based on that. If you do not have control over the members of your classes then you are going to have to be very creative in creating your lesson plans. You’re going to have to try and create lesson plans that can help each individual student with their own personal goals. You can also think about handing out different homework based on the students’ goals.
Although not common you can see two types of behavior that can be very frustrating for an English teacher. The first type of behavior is when the students simply do not want to try to speak English. They will shut down and be extremely quiet. They might respond to some your questions but they have a lot of difficulty starting a conversation or even asking basic questions. They become extremely passive. There are a number of reasons for this but probably the main one is that they do not want to feel the embarrassment of making a mistake, especially in front of other teenagers.
The second kind of behavior is the roller coaster of emotions that many teenagers have to go through. You can find a student who one day is very friendly and nice and has no problem attempting to do various activities that you have planned for in your lesson. And then the next class her personality has completely changed, now she has a bad attitude, will complain about anything she doesn’t like, and generally will be very unpleasant.
These two types of behavior can be very frustrating for teachers and many new teachers or even veteran teachers can lose control of their emotions and become angry. It is something that is easier said than done but we as professional teachers need to be able to control our emotions. Certainly it can be difficult to teach to teenagers but this is our job and we get paid good money to do it so we have to try our best.
Teaching teenagers from 13 to 16 years old can be very rewarding. At this age you can see how your teaching can help improve the lives of the students. Many of them will use what you teach them to get into better high school, college and even a job. Remember this any time one of your students gives you trouble. Take a deep breath, relax and understand that you can make a serious impact on these children’s lives for good or for bad. Take your teaching seriously and you will make a difference.