Motivating Teen Learners to Learn

Currently, I’m teaching Summer School and a lot of the talk with my colleagues has been how to deal with teen students. It’s often a tricky age group, but it is one that can be really rewarding when you break through and crack them!

I’ve found that it’s really important to find out their interests. This may seem pretty basic, but so many teachers seem scared of teens or think that the best way is to impose their beliefs on their students and crack down on them. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t generally work and results in sullen teens who are bored in class, and teachers who can’t understand why their students are misbehaving and bored. So how do you find out their interests and engage your teens?

  1. Survey their interests: Ask your students what they like. Listen to them and try to incorporate their interests when you can. If they like sport, movies or technology then try to incorporate these into lessons. Music is often popular and I often have a class DJ who is responsible for music during downtimes in a lesson. This is usually negotiated to ensure it’s not offensive, but students take turns to share their music interests.
  2. Negotiate and give students choices. Teens are becoming young adults and need to learn how to make choices and be responsible for them. They also don’t like to feel they have to conform all of the time, so when they feel that they have a say in their learning they are more likely to be positive and enjoy their learning, as well as being pleasant to be around.
  3. Mix it up: It is often tempting to stick to the familiar and to keep teaching tried and trusted activities. However, there is a risk that this will become boring. With the current generations used to variety and playing with technology, we need to mix things up in the classroom to keep things interesting. Don’t be afraid to use technology, but at the same time don’t be afraid to go old school and use paper and pens as well.
  4. Keep activities challenging but achievable. Along with variety, we also need to challenge our students. It is important to develop thinking skills and HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) such as graphic organisers, problem solving and creativity.
  5. Awareness of outside factors: Being aware of outside factors such as important exams can help build learner trust and rapport. During times of exams or higher stress, it could be a good time to build in some extra fun activities and lessen homework to support your learners. Talking with your students is a key ingredient. Find out about their lives and any potential issues that may be impacting their learning. You can then help them deal with issues, or at least take it into consideration.
  6. Vary interactions: This sounds basic but it goes back to mixing things up. Have a mix of pair, group and individual work. Collaborative projects always work well as they encourage variety. Mixing up seating and where everyone sits can help keep it fresh too. Whilst it’s nice for students to sit with their friends, it is a good idea for them to work with other students at time as well.
  7. Stories, role-plays, drama and songs: These are all types of activities that add fun, movement and variety to your classes. Getting your teens to move is vital to get the oxygen in your class and students circulating, which helps improve their learning. Students who are quiet in class often come alive in these types of activities as they can perform as someone else. They can also be creative and express themselves, which teens often love to do.
  8. Give feedback: It’s important to talk to your students and let them know how they are doing. When they are struggling, consider giving them a second chance. If a student is clearly trying hard then giving them specific feedback to help them improve can make a big difference. Giving positive feedback mixed in with error correction can help learners realise that they aren’t only making mistakes, which can make the learning journey more palatable and enjoyable.
  9. Spark their curiosity: Teenagers are at a stage in life where they are expected to learn certain subjects and sit important exams. They need to be challenged with their current knowledge questioned and asked ‘what would you do?’ Using stories and historical characters can give them an opportunity to do this. Providing activities, which ask students to respond to situations or people, gives them such a platform. Using a prop or package related to the story can also spark their curiosity and help to fully engage the students.
  10. Give meaningful praise: Teens hate empty praise. Teachers can be guilty of saying ‘well done’ for many acts which may be nothing much. In the end it becomes meaningless and students block it out. Instead, keep an eye out for real examples to praise and be specific. Let your students know that you really are watching them and what they do. For example, ‘Your conclusion is spot on’, ‘Your picture looks just right’, ‘Your paragraph is well written’. Your praise must be true, or it devalues genuine praise and students can spot this a mile off!

Attention Getters For YL Classes

One of the biggest problems with a class is getting their attention. The little blighters just won’t stop talking! So what do you do when you want them to stop and listen? Here are some proven strategies to successfully get the attention of your young learners.

  1. At the front of the class quietly say, ” If you can hear clap once”. After some students clap you should have more attention the next time. “If you can hear clap twice”. You should have the full attention of the class by 4 claps, all without raising your voice. To add variety you could do finger snaps or a quiet action such as putting their hands on their head.
  2. Attention getting chants are a fun way to get the attention of students. One of my favourites is:  One, two, three eyes on me … One two eyes on you. Another fun saying is Hocus, Pocus … Everybody focus OR Hocus, Pocus … Time to focus. There are many versions of these chants and they will work in different contexts quite differently.
  3. Flick the lights off and on. This is rather simple, but also effective as a non-verbal way to attract attention with your students.
  4. Clapping a pattern – Clapping any rhythm will work. For example clapping a song such as Happy Birthday or a popular children’s rhyme. It usually gets the attention of some students and before you know it everyone stops to join in. You can also involve students in this and have class monitors take the lead on your behalf.
  5. Use a bell or a whistle to signal a transition change to something new. When the teacher uses the whistle everyone should stop and do an action. I usually ask my students to put their hands on their heads when they hear the bell. Once everyone has their hands on their heads then we are ready to move on.
  6. Playing music – this is a great attention getter. You can choose a song to signal a transition, which means when the music comes to an end everyone has to sit down and look at you. With training and practice, this is a great non-verbal cue for managing your class. A piece of classical music or a favourite song will work well. I have used such favourites as the Circle of Life (from the Lion King) and Down by the Bay. Which song you choose will depend on the age and interests of your students.
  7. Teacher counts back from 5 to 1. By the time you reach one everyone should be sitting still and looking at the front, ready to go. 5-4-3-3-1. This works best with the teacher holding up their fingers as a countdown for added emphasis, as well as a visual clue.
  8. To get students to stop in the middle of an activity can be challenging. Using actions can help to change up what they are doing. Saying Hands on Head and eyes on me often works. To complement this you need to praise those who listen and follow your instructions so that the rest of the class will follow.
  9. Making up songs to well-known tunes is always great fun in class but not all of us are talented musicians. It also takes confidence to sing in class, but your students will love it! A former colleague shared this song with me, which worked really well with my younger learners. It’s to the tune of Frere Jacques and is called the Listening Song.  It can be sung loudly, softly or in many different ways.                   Eyes are watching,
    Ears are listening,
    Lips are closed,
    Hands are still.
    Feet are very quiet,
    You should really try it,
    Listening well, Listening well
  10. Attention games can also work with classes that need a bit of action. For example, you could play a quick game of Teacher Says which will quickly have the attention of your class. Once you have played four or five turns you should be able to transition into setting up for the next stage.