Teaching teens English is hard work. They’re a flaky, temperamental, hormone-filled species with the attention spans of moths. One minute they’re this way, next minute they’re that. It’s hard to come up with activities they can get into. It’s even harder to keep track of what they’re into and what they’re not, but those who are successfully teaching teens English have one thing in common:
They find ways to connect to teens’ wants and interests.
Great teachers know what music their teen students are listening to, what movies they’re watching and what Youtube channels they’re following. Can you name a teen vlogger? A video game that everyone is playing?
Keeping up with trends and fads may seem, well, for teens, but students take notice when teachers take an interest. It helps build rapport and more importantly, respect. It’s almost cloyingly sentimental to say, but every student’s favorite teacher is the one who cares.
Here’s the best part:
You don’t have to actually share these interests with your students, although it certainly doesn’t hurt if you do. Awareness is enough. You merely have to find a few ways of engaging those interests.
It’s not enough to just have a teacher-student chat about hobbies and interests. The trick (and goal) for teaching teens English is creating activities which are current and relevant to their lives that get students talking to each other.
What is one thing we have in common with teens?
One thing we certainly share with them is that we’re information junkies. Sure, the content we’re looking at may be different, but the ways it’s delivered to us remain the same. Have you ever read an article because the clickbait was just too enticing too ignore? So have your students.
What’s awesome about this is that teens should instantly recognize that this isn’t some tedious exercise that only exists in a moldy textbook. This is real-world application. Play it up. Everyone has dealt with clickbait. We see it every day.
Lets mine those elements of clickbait for some teaching activities your teens can get into. You decide the delivery, they decide the content.
1. Clickbait Headlines
There’s nothing quite like clickbait. I confess to spending countless hours diving deep into the wormholes of the Internet because of it, clicking on videos or the next article just to see what’s next. For instance:
The lion eats the man? I certainly hope so, and I’m damn sure clicking on that link to find out. That’s the hook that the clickbait dangles from — I’ve got to know what happens next.
Show your students a few examples of clickbait headlines. In pairs or groups of 3, they can make some predictions. What do they think happens next? Does the lion eat the man? Hell, let the manga nerd draw a picture of it.
Next, naturally, is for students in pairs or small groups to make their own headline. 5 minutes should be enough to write one. When they’ve finished they’ll rotate their papers. With the headline they now have, they’ll again make predictions about what they think the story would be about. They discuss it for 2 minutes and then rotate papers again and so on.
2. Top 5 Lists
Humans love lists. Our brains are wired for them — creating order out of chaos, sifting an overload of information into parsable chunks fit for digestion. ‘Parsable chunks’ — that’s band name material.
Name your top five bands, movies, foods. We all come into these categories with opinions. What topics would catch your teens’ interest? Make it it clickbaity:
Top 5 Ways Students Cheat
In teams of two or three, students have 5 minutes to write their top 5 cheating methods. The timing is important. Don’t let them dawdle. While they’re working, jot down your own top 5.
Once students have finished, pencils down. Now you, the teacher, read out your top 5 ways students cheat. Take a tally after each one. Teams that also wrote down the same method get a point. Most points wins.
As a variation or extension, you can also play the reverse. Now tell students they’ll be awarded points for uniqueness. You can have them do the same topic (e.g. Top 5 Ways Students Cheat) to stretch their creativity. Here, students read out their top 5 and points are tallied after each group presents their list.
‘99% of People Will Not Get This Grammar Question Right’; ‘Most Doctors Recommend This for Immortality’; ‘5 Out Of 6 People Say Russian Roulette is Perfectly Safe’. Nothing uses surveys better than clickbait.
Surveys are standard fare in the EFL classroom, but they are rarely adapted into something the students want to talk about. Why not let them choose a topic they’re interested in, a controversial question they want answered?
Give them 10 minutes to interview as many people as they can. When they’re finished they compile their data and compose a clickbait headline summing up the findings. “3 Out Of 4 Students Cheated Last Week. You’ll Never Guess How.” They can present the results to the class or another group.
Teaching teens English is challenging mostly because we struggle for ways to connect and relate to them. By staying current with our approaches and content, we have more opportunities for engaging them on their own terms.