Teaching high-level teens

Teaching high-level teens

While teaching teenagers, we quite often meet with lots of challenges. Grammar struggle, lack of desire to speak English in class, no homework done, extremely short writings…you name it. Teachers know dozens of tricks and techniques for each problematic situation. But then comes the first day of an advanced class and you realize that…there is no problem at all. They can speak fluently, build strong arguments and give presentations. Their grammar seems impeccable, they joke in English, read in English…think in English? ‘What’s the point, guys? You know everything!’ – one might think. However, teaching high-level teenagers is a special pleasure. Today’s article will share some tips on how to do it for mutual benefit.

Expand vocab

This piece of advice seems to be the most obvious. While grammar is somehow limited, lexis is totally limitless. Tailor the choice of vocabulary to their interests or find something universally useful. Probably, some of the students will need academic vocabulary for their further studies, while others will be happy to know scientific or medical English. Take that into account. Also, there are thousands of collocations, sayings and idioms, not to mention slang, which your teens will definitely enjoy. ‘English Collocations in Use’ and ‘English Idioms in Use’ by Felicity O’Dell and Michael McCarthy can be a good choice to start with, as well as UsingEnglish.com with its selection of idioms and idiomatic expressions.  

Go authentic

If you are lucky to have a group of high-level teens, it’s time to go authentic. The first reason is that they have probably done a number of coursebooks and are a bit of sick and tired of the same structure behind most courses. The whole world of songs, short films, series, and articles is waiting for them. Sometimes bringing a real magazine to class or inviting teenagers to research a news website can spice up your class. You can ask students to come up with materials for the lesson themselves. They can bring in a song or choose a video if you provide them with the topic of your next lesson. This way, teens will improve their vocabulary and definitely get a sense of achievement.

Master pronunciation

Pronunciation aspects are sometimes neglected for the sake of grammar and vocabulary. The world of ‘Englishes’ is so vast that accents, speaking peculiarities or even slight mistakes are not considered to be that worth discussing anymore. However, there is always room for improvement. With advanced teens, you can work on sentence stress using jazz chants, practise shadowing or just pay more attention to individual pronunciation glitches. Ask teens to record themselves while speaking. Then, work on picking out common pronunciation problems that arise. Add a bit of phonetics to each lesson with the help of ‘Timesaver Pronunciation Activities’ by Bill Bowler or funny dialogues from ‘How Now Brown Cow?’ by Mimi Ponsonby.

Exploit real-life tasks

Traditional one-page workbook homework stops working with high-level teenagers. It is not challenging as they can do it in 10 minutes, it is not that interesting as it replicates the coursebook topic. Why don’t you think of something else? For example, as part of their homework, teenagers might:

  • record a short how-to video
  • post a film, book or product review on a thematic website or Amazon
  • contribute to a group blog
  • run a studygram with learning tips
  • do research on grants offered by universities 
  • plan and calculate a trip using booking websites

The list is endless and only you know what can fit into your lesson plan. The more real-life tasks you teens do, the more ready they are to use English outside the classroom. Isn’t it the goal every teacher is pursuing?

Comply with the standard

We are sometimes scared of taking a group of advanced teens. ‘What if they ask something I have no idea about?’ Well, one day they will. To be ready for that, always be one step ahead. Now there are many ways for an English teacher to keep developing professionally. Boost your English with proficiency grammar references and language guides. ‘About Language’ by Scott Thornbury will develop a teacher’s language awareness, while ‘Practical English Usage’ by Martin Swan will clarify every teeny tiny piece of grammar for you. Find a native speaker to talk to or have classes with. Take a methodology course. Or just start easy and dig a little deeper into the teacher’s book and the unit before going to class. You can spot an unexpected turn of phrase or a new collocation and, if you plan your lessons in advance, be absolutely ready for that in class.

All in all, the recipe for teaching high-level teens contains a number of ingredients. Real-life tasks, a proper level of challenge, fine-tuning pronunciation, non-stop vocabulary work, more independence and freedom – and voila! You’ve done it!

Do you enjoy working with advanced teenagers? What are your tips and tricks?

Надежда Попова

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