Teaching Young Learners & Teenagers (9 - 15 year olds)

Obviously, it is not only impossible but also impractical to consider a 9 year old in the same category as a 15 year old. Indeed, whereas pre-primary and primary children have many characteristics in common e.g., they still want to sit on your lap, pre-secondary (9 - 11 year olds) and secondary children (12 - 15 year olds) can be as different as night and day. By way of example, secondary students can be more difficult to manage in the classroom than either pre-secondary children or very young learners (see Classroom Management).

Given that differences exist between very young and young learners, it follows that teaching techniques should also be different. As the child becomes older, the more adult-like s/he should be treated and the more adult-like teacher expectations should be. This applies not only to behaviour in class and with peers but also to such everyday issues as doing homework. The fact that 'homework' is now becoming a real issue is indicative of the fact that as a child gets older the more concentration the teacher must place on developing the non-oral aural language skills of reading and writing. Unlike very young learners, 'show and tell' is no longer acceptable. A more adult-like approach to being at least in part responsible for their learning must be instilled in older children. With regard to this, the teacher should now be encouraging outside classroom reading and the keeping of journals. Following on from this, in order to be successful in these two endeavours, the student must start developing active grammar skills and subsequently more accurate speech and writing. If the new teacher takes away one lesson from this section, then let it be that parents expect teachers to improve their children's knowledge of English grammar and its rules.

In the previous paragraph, there was much use of the word 'adult-like'. That said, do not confused adult-like and adult. Young learners, even 15 year olds, are not adults and therefore the teacher should take every precaution to avoid the presence of 'adult' talk and/or issues in class. Teachers should actively avoid discussions of such subjects as sex, religion, drugs, etc. The teacher should also avoid divulging personal information to include your personal beliefs and value systems unless such beliefs and values are best described as conservative. Lastly, never be fooled into believing that your young learner students are your friends. They are not. To believe otherwise is to invite problems. That said, most teachers will discover that within the confines of an appropriate teacher-student relationship, they will be able to develop an extremely pleasant and satisfying rapport with their young learner classes. Likewise, teachers will discover that young learners are eager to learn about the world around them, perhaps more so than adults, and this can make for extremely interesting and enjoyable lessons.

Tips for Teaching Young Learners (9 - 15 year olds)

1) Topic-based Lessons: One of the best ways to develop classroom lessons is to exploit such popular 'topics' as holidays, travel, dating, ecology, school (and it is popular), etc.

a) Exploiting Topics: In order to plan a topic based programme of English, the teacher should,

  1. choose a topic! (food, friends, Moscow, magazines, class readers, Christmas, etc. etc;)
  2. plan the maximum time you want to give to it.
  3. work out some situations and functions that will arise from the topic.
  4. determine what vocabulary / structures / functions will naturally come out of the topic? Prioritize them.
  5. think about what activities will practice the language areas you have noted- songs/ pairwork/ role-plays/ accuracy based activities/ listening/ reading/ writing/ etc.
  6. refer to any other materials that are available e.g., coursebooks, handbooks, etc. for extra ideas or guidance.
  7. sketch out an outline of two or three lessons based on the topic.

2) Project Work: In addition to topics, children enjoy project work. Two of the best projects that young learner classes can engage in are creating class newspapers and class magazines.

a) Making a class newspaper: The idea of a class newspaper is an old one. Here are a number of thoughts that may help you make creating a class newspaper more interesting (they are not all compatible with one another):

  1. Each student becomes a reporter and tries to ferret out something unusual.
  2. The paper contains only stories about members of the class. All the stories should be newsworthy and previously unknown to fellow students.
  3. Stories that refer to members of the class should contain pseudonyms rather than real name - this adds spice to reading the paper.
  4. The newspaper should be set in the future - in the year 2100, or when everyone is 10 or 20 or 30 years older, for example.
  5. The paper should be modeled page for page on the structure of a real newspaper and displayed on the wall as it is being put together alongside the model.
  6. The paper should be a compendium of the most remarkable things the students have done.
  7. Each student should be responsible for obtaining one guest contribution from someone not in his or her class.

b) Making a class magazine: Making a class magazine can prove to be as much fun as making a class newspaper (possibly more depending upon the age of the child). The reason for this is obvious. Whereas there are few, if any, newspapers for children, the kiosks abound in magazines for kids; thus, young learners are particularly aware of both their content and relevancy to them.

Teachers should note that creating a class newspaper and/or magazine, though fun, would probably prove to be a more effective learning tool if done in conjunction with other newspaper-based activities. In fact, a class newspaper or magazine might make a better on-going project.

c) Other newspaper activities: If a local English language newspaper is available, the teacher will find it to be an invaluable source of material for fun filled classroom activities. Some of the more popular activities which students can do using newspapers are,

  1. writing and replying to small ads
  2. re-ordering jumbled paragraphs
  3. re-ordering jumbled cartoon strips
  4. completing cartoon speech bubbles
  5. matching property / job ads with student needs
  6. replying to job ads
  7. devising appropriate penalties for criminals
  8. writing and replying to letters to agony aunts
  9. predicting horoscopes for class members

For your convenience, Language Link has put together a number of newspaper-based activities for your use. If you have other ideas, please be sure to share them with other teachers.

3) Music & Song in the Classroom: Because music is so much a part of the youth culture, it is imperative that teachers find innovative and exciting ways of exploiting the use of music and song in the classroom. Of course, music should not be used as a simple diversion but rather as a tool for learning language. The following example songs and accompanying activities should demonstrate this point.

    a) Example 1: 'Torn' by Natalie Imbruglia

    b) Example 2: 'Viva Forever' by the Spice Girls

    c) Example 3: 'I know you know' by Andre Gubin

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