Many English teachers would probably agree that teenagers are the most difficult age group to teach. Sometimes our teenage students do not want to be in class in the first place and often their minds can be on other things when we are giving an English lesson.

Keeping teens interested - methodology article
Kevin Thomson

However, teen classes can also be fun and very rewarding for both the teacher and students. I believe that the materials that the teacher uses in the classroom are a crucial factor in deciding if a teens class is successful or not.

  • A story from the classroom
  • A lesson learnt
  • Practical ideas
  • Conclusion

A story from the classroom

Some years ago in Barcelona I was trying to start a lesson with a class of fifteen year olds but two of the girls were having a noisy conversation in Catalan and it was proving very difficult to get the students' attention.
Finally, I said to these two girls that if their conversation was really so interesting they should tell the rest of the students, in English, what they were talking about. One of the girls proceeded to tell the class about a girl at her school who was causing trouble by telling lies about people and generally being very destructive. The rest of the students listened with good attention then asked questions, made suggestions and the conversation developed for the next twenty minutes or so. Taking advantage of the unusually good attention being shown, I asked the students how they felt about the activities we did in class. We then had a really frank discussion.

  • One thing that came across very clearly was that the students felt that a lot of the speaking activities we did were a waste of time. I explained the theory that students need to develop fluency by speaking in pairs or
    small groups and that during the present discussion some of the class hadn't spoken. "Yes, but look how much listening we've done today!", somebody said. After we had finished, one student came up to me and congratulated me on a brilliant lesson and several students asked me if we could do this kind of speaking activity again.

A lesson learnt

Clearly, the students in my class in the anecdote above participated in the lesson much better than usual because they were very interested in what their classmates were saying. My previous attempts at getting the same students to speak and listen had been much less successful because they had not found the materials so stimulating. It seems obvious that lessons with teens will always be more interesting for the students if the teacher tries to find materials that the students can connect with instead of imposing materials that leave the students cold.

Practical ideas

Whole-class speaking activities

If class size permits this, the teacher can help develop the students' fluency by organising the class into a large circle. Rules should be clearly established that only one person is allowed to speak at a time and all communication must be in English. There are many possibilities as regards the subject to be discussed. One option is that students take turns asking any other student or the teacher a question. Another possibility is giving students the opportunity to suggest a list of topics that can be discussed as a whole class. The teacher can act as a chairperson and take notes of common errors then deal with these on the board after the discussion has finished. Students could try to correct sentences containing common errors.

Students' lives as a useful resource in the classroom

Students can be given practice in forming questions by writing then asking questions to each other. It is usually a good idea for the teacher to give an example of an interesting question before the students start writing their questions.

  • For example, a question such as "Would you like to have children?" is better than a question where the student probably already knows the answer (for example, "Do you speak Russian?"). After the teacher has helped the students to write their questions individually, the students can ask and answer the questions in small groups. This activity allows the students to decide what they are going to talk about instead of the teacher deciding.

Importance of personalisation

When we present new language to our teenage students, it is important to give them an opportunity to use this language to say something interesting about themselves.

  • For example, if the teacher has just presented the second conditional, a way of practising this structure would be to give the students a small piece of paper with sentence stems on them as follows:

    "If I won the lottery, I would………",
    "If I could be somewhere else just now, I would be…………"
    and "If I could meet somebody famous,…..…………..".

    The students complete the sentences then fold the piece of paper and give it to the teacher. In turn, students are given a piece of paper then they read the sentences aloud. The students should then guess which of their classmates wrote the sentences.

Class surveys or learner diaries

These can be used to allow students to express their opinions about classroom activities. These can be done periodically throughout the academic year with sentence stems to be completed such as:

"The activities that have helped me learn so far this term have been……………………………",
"The activities that I have not enjoyed so far this year have been…………..",
"I prefer speaking in small groups/the whole class…." etc.


It seems clear that it is important to provide lessons which keep our teenage students interested. If the students are not interested in the material we are using, it is probable that both students and teacher will end up bored and frustrated. While many of us may be obliged to use certain course books and other material that may not always stimulate our students, it is important to adapt this material or supplement it with activities that bring the students to life and encourage them to express themselves. If the teacher shows that she is interested in her students' opinions and is prepared to adapt her lessons after listening to these opinions, this can have a very positive effect on the atmosphere in the classroom.

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