How to keep teenagers motivated in TEFL: Part 2

If you enjoyed last week’s post on how to keep teenagers motivated in TEFL, then this second post should come in useful.

Worst teaching year of my life!
Don’t get swamped down with points
In my first year in Spain I used a points system: points for homework, class activities, the first finisher, and the best speaker. I also deducted points for speaking Spanish, not doing homework, insulting, and being the last to finish.

That was probably the worst year of my teaching career.

Why? Because Spanish teenagers are so competitive that everything turned into a war. They’d grass each other up and shout at me if I missed a point. They were rushing to get the work done but with loads of mistakes. During class games lots of tears were shed. Now I only use points for short activities or end of class games, but I make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.

I try to make teenagers appreciate that they are learning English for their benefit, either to help them at school, pass an exam, or improve their intelligence. That’s enough in my book; having an extra line on the whiteboard is not going to change much. (Photo by JelleS)

You might disagree? I know a lot of teachers who use points systems. I’d be interested to know what you think…

Why are they there?
It’s quite easy to suss out which students want to be in your class and which would rather be ‘out in the street with their friends’, killing zombies on their Nintendo, or at home studying for an exam (and some actually do).  

In the first couple of lessons with a new group I ask the teenagers why they are there.

“Because I like English,” (followed by giggles).

“Because is good for school,” (followed by laughter).

“Because my mum makes me,” (followed by grunts of approval).

I ask if they do everything their parents say. They sit up straight, shake their heads, and shout 'No'. I ask if the only reason they learn English is for Mummy and Daddy’s sake. A couple might say yes, but the majority want to improve their English.

When they start to play up, I remind them what they said, even if it is to keep their parents of their back, and they tend to buckle up and get on with work.

Get out of Jail free.
Apart from school, what do all teenagers hate? Homework. The same way that I am strict about homework (see part 1), I use it as a reward.

If a student has participated especially well, or been good in class (it's not just English we're teaching), then I give them a ‘NO HOMEWORK’ card. When the class huff and puff I ask why they think that student has less homework, which motivates them to be better next class. If the whole class has been good, which is quite rare, then I let them all off the homework. This motivates them for a while; or at least until the end of next class when I give double. (Photo by Mark Stroizer)

How do I fit so much in my mouth?
Using Curiosity
I always try to create fun and interesting classes to keep my students engaged. Having whiteboard technology allows me to keep the students guessing for most of the class. It’s great for showing part of a question and getting them to complete the rest, slowly revealing a photo, getting them to predict the order of texts for a reading, or getting them to guess answers to questions.

Creating curiosity takes planning, but it’s worth it. You can use it for any level and it’s great with kids too. If students are guessing, then they are on their toes, attentive, and generally paying attention because they want to know the answer.
(Photo by ankakay)

While I was at the ACEIA Conference in Seville last November I saw a great talk by Nina Lauder. Have a look at her website and a handout on creating curiosity here.

I think the most important point to remember is that if you prepare your lesson while thinking about the individual students in your class then they will notice and respect you more. So there you have some tips on how to keep your teenagers motivated while you’re teaching. Drop me a comment on which one was most useful, or useless…I can take it.

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