Spicy Tooth

ESOL – Literacy – Numeracy

Book review: Understanding Teenagers in the ELT Classroom

I have to admit that I don’t always enjoy teaching teenagers. They are unpredictable and often there are one or two students in the class whose behavioural issues spoil what would otherwise be a good class. Too often I find myself focusing my attention on bad behaviour at the expense of the rest of the class.

Anyone who has ever taught English (EFL or ESOL) to teenagers will know that it is very different to teaching adults. Teaching teenagers comes with its unique challenges and Chris Roland’s book, Understanding Teenagers in the ELT Classroom, not only identifies many of the challenges, but offers practical solutions for you to try with learners.

There is no shortage of teaching materials that are aimed at teenagers, including coursebooks and websites such as the British Council and OneStopEnglish. However, there is a shortage of publications that deal with the practicalities of how to teach teenagers.

Of course, behaviour is an issue that is often mentioned when referring to teaching teenagers. Chris doesn’t ignore this, but suggests that we tend to focus on extremes which means that the class is probably not doing as badly (nor as well) as we think. He goes on to offer some useful strategies for dealing with behavioural issues as well as for building a good rapport with learners which would hopefully reduce issues relating to behaviour from arising in the first place.

What I particularly like about Chris’ book is that he has successfully used the ideas he mentions with his learners and he includes some commentary on why he thinks they work. As I was reading the book, I found that I had already tried some similar ideas to his at one time or another, but Chris explains why these ideas work with teenagers. Take the following example of what typically happens when going over an exercise in class (Roland 2018, pp.45-8):

Teacher:              ‘Dima, number four.’

Dima:                    ‘Get dressed.’

Teacher:              ‘That’s right. Alex?’

Alex:                      ‘Get dressed.’

Teacher:              ‘Number five.’

Alex:                      ‘Sorry. Have breakfast.’

Teacher:              ‘That’s great. Thank you. Next, anyone?’

Polina:                  ‘Yes, me teacher.’

Teacher:              ‘Okay, Polina?’

Polina:                  ‘Go to work.’

Teacher:              ‘Correct.’

That was the extent of Polina’s spoken interaction in the space of 25 minutes in the class.

Roland suggests providing learners with a framework for learners to discuss answers in pairs:

A:          ‘What did you think number 1 was?’

B:          ‘I thought it was ___________.’

A:          either:  ‘Yes, me too’ or

‘Oh, I didn’t. I thought it was ________.’

B:          either : ‘Okay, yeah. I see what you mean.’ or

‘Mmmm. Let’s ask the teacher.’

Roland explains that this not only gives learners a greater opportunity to practise their English, but the type of interaction also mirrors the transactional exchanges that occurs everyday:

A:          ‘What did you think of the movie?’

B:          ‘I thought it was ___________.’

A:          either:  ‘Yes, me too’ or

‘Oh, I didn’t. I thought it was ________.’

B:          either : ‘Okay, yeah. I see what you mean.’ or

‘Mmmm. Let’s grab a drink.’

I have found that I need to be more explicit when it comes to telling teenage learners what I want them to do, such as during feedback, whereas adult learners will often feedback with a partner with minimal encouragement and direction.

Using video clips in the classroom

I’m sure that many teachers, like me, have used video clips with a class of teenagers. They can be a great teaching resource. However, I’m also willing to bet that, like me, you have had students make requests for videos to be played. In chapter 18 of his book, Chris offers a great idea on how to respond to such requests – he gives them a request form to fill in.

The video clip request form is useful because:

  • student petitions for clips can sometimes be distracting or overwhelming
  • it helps students see that a clip in English class has to fulfil various functions, not just be entertaining
  • it invites the student suggesting the clip to engage with its content more fully
  • it may serve as a lead in to a lesson phase where that student has an increased role, taking ownership and responsibility for overseeing the comprehension questions they have put together.

Follow up by having learners write about what they have seen. The clip does not have to be in English, but the follow-up task is.

The clip may be silly, but the writing task is serious and the practice is real.

The above is just a couple of snippets from Chris’ book, Understanding Teenagers in the ELT Classroom by Chris Roland. I highly recommend it to any ELT professional who teaches teenagers.


spicytoothadmin • May 7, 2019

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