Getting teenagers to talk

Here are some tips and three discussion ideas, all aimed at getting teenagers to speak.

Clare Lavery
  • Keep the conversation peer centred: plenty of pair or small group collaboration.
  • Avoid asking discussion questions around the class: this puts them in the spotlight and causes potential embarrassment in front of friends. You also risk dominating the talk.
  • Give them a concrete list of statements or opinions: help them to choose their own ideas. Don’t expect them to have fully formed opinions on all things teenage!
  • Keep to fairly short discussion activities (15 minutes): until you know what they like and they feel relaxed enough with you to talk freely.
  • Feedback on errors after speaking should be general: try to avoid drawing attention to individual students’ errors or they will be reluctant to speak next time.

Discussion activities

Here are some stimulating discussion topics which have worked well with teenagers. The main features of these topics are that they
a) draw on students’ personal experience
b) ask students to reflect on their own culture and attitudes
c) give students a concrete decision to make with their peers.

Teenage time capsule

Each group of students is going to bury a box in the ground for future generations to find. This box will contain 5 photos (or objects) which will tell young people in the future about life at the start of the third millennium in their country and/or school.

Students must choose their objects/photos together and each member of the group describes it to the rest of the class or another group. Explain why it is important and what it tells of life today.

Let the punishment fit the crime

Prepare a short description on cards (or board) of all the possible punishments in a UK school e.g. writing lines, detention, exclusion and ask students in pairs or groups to add any more that are used in their own country.

Then give each group a list of wrongdoings (5 or 6) and ask them to order each act according to how bad they think it is e.g. swearing at a teacher, not completing homework for 3 weeks running, fighting in the corridor, smoking in the toilet. Now each group can also discuss which type of punishment might suit the crime!

This generates lots of discussion on what exactly constitutes unacceptable behaviour but also what the students and their schools think is acceptable punishment.

The 10-day trip

A group of English teenagers are coming to stay in the country or region. They have only got 10 days to find out about your students’ culture and see what is on offer.

Each group of students must plan an itinerary. It does not have to include all the tourist sights, they could go to a concert to hear local music or have a meal with a family or visit a school. Each must agree on the best introduction to their country and region, bearing in mind the age of the visitors.

Stress that students do not have to plan anything they would find boring.

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