The concept of needs analysis has become quite popular recently. Needs analysis is a combination of tools, procedures and materials which are used to find out about learners’ needs. It makes a student the centre in the learning process as it helps teachers to adapt and create courses with this student in mind.
This article will present some ideas of using needs analysis with teenagers.
Most adult students have a clear understanding of why they are learning a foreign language. However, it’s not so easy to figure out with teens. Some of them are not able to analyse their needs without proper assistance. Others just go like ‘My parents took me here’ or ‘I dunno, everybody’s learning that’. Needs analysis with teens is great for building learner awareness and autonomy. It can motivate teenagers and make them start thinking about their own goals and responsibilities. What’s more, classroom environment where every opinion is heard and taken into account will have a positive influence on group dynamics and teacher-learners relationships.
There are different ways of analysing the learners’ needs. Probably, the most popular ones are questionnaires, interviews, observations or their combinations. The choice depends a lot on a certain group of teens you are working with. For example, you can ask the shier ones to write a short paragraph about what they like or find challenging about learning English. Low-level students might be given questionnaires or interviewed in their mother tongue. Below you will find some activities which will help you with collecting data:
- Filling in the questionnaire
This is the most traditional and the safest way. You can use a form which has been done for you or create something special for your teens. Check the form here.
This technique works especially well with individual students. Not only will it give you the information about a learner’s needs, but also it will let you assess their level of English. In groups, students can work in pairs interviewing each other. Check some question ideas here.
Ask teens to give a presentation about their own goals, needs for English, learning experience, and English studies.
Let them write! Assign a topic, for instance, ‘English. My _______ story’ where students have to choose the adjective themselves. It can be done as an essay or a short paragraph, in English or in L1, in class or as part of homework.
Do all the job yourself. It’s the most time-consuming way of gathering data, but it’s totally worth it. An attentive teacher can spot tons of things, from learning style to reaction to correcting. Keep a journal to write down topics your teens seem to like, interaction patterns they enjoy or their reaction to musical, physical, analytical and other kinds of activities.
A needs analysis questionnaire can cover a number of questions. The most popular among them are:
Reasons for learning English
Understanding true reasons will help the teacher create a tailor-made course or just adapt a current one a bit. As teens are not likely to analyse their motivation deeply, you can provide them with a multiple-choice question here. Some of the possible options are:
e.g. I’m learning English to
- be able to study abroad
- read and listen to things I like in English
- get an ‘A’ at school
- be understood by those guys from the Instagram/online game
- watch manga/series with English subtitles when it is not translated into Russian
Previous learning experience
Finding out about teens’ previous learning experience might be also of great use. This way you can detect activities which they haven’t enjoyed much or things that worked well.
e.g. What was your most memorable English lesson? Write 5-6 sentences.
Expectations from the teacher
Ask students how they see the role of a teacher. Some teens hate being corrected while speaking while others need long detailed feedback on their writing tasks. If you know it beforehand, your cooperation with students will be much more fruitful.
Have you noticed that even within a small group all teenagers enjoy different kinds of activities? Some are ready to die for a song-based lesson, some just can’t sit still and keep fidgeting or touching things all the time, some enjoy contemplating. A few questions about learning styles or multiple intelligences can help you approach teens and provide them with activities they love.
e.g. Tick the ideas that are true for you:
- I need to move around or stretch during the lesson.
- I focus better when it’s quiet.
- I’m not into music or singing.
- I don’t like touching some objects or realia.
A tailor-made questionnaire is a useful tool to fine-tune the course to the needs of students you’ve been teaching for some time. This way you can base the questions on something you already know about them and make the studying process even more productive. Ready-made ones can be a real time-saver at the beginning of a school year or when a new student unexpectedly shows up.
Devoting some part of a class to working with needs analysis can mark the beginning of a new studying year. It is beneficial if you are taking a new group or student. However, teenagers you’ve known for years can also surprise you with some new ambitions.
Another option is to use bits of needs analysis throughout the whole year. It can be used to:
- plan the next lesson or month
- get students’ evaluation of the course and learning activities
- vote for the topics from the coursebook to be enlarged or excluded
- find out more about learning styles and preferences of each other
- collect the feedback about the usefulness of a lesson or some of its parts
Teenagers don’t always have strong motivation or perseverance. And, let’s be honest, they aren’t often asked about their preferences at school. A well-designed needs analysis and some proper work with the collected data afterwards can help students be heard. This, in its turn, will help you establish rapport and improve their performance.
What are your ways of conducting needs analysis?