with teenagers is a challenge teachers face every day
either in English courses or regular schools. Discipline
problems, lack of motivation, changes in their mood
are examples of aspects that make teaching this age
group demanding. For these reasons, I've always been
interested in how to make this stressful situation
better - both for teachers and students.
In order to understand the situation, the first conclusion
I got was that I should conduct a survey, to know our
students better and to have data to base myself on.
Almost all the books we can find in ELT which focus
on discipline do not fit our students: Brazilian students
have their own characteristics, and we should pay attention
to them so that everyone can profit from the classroom
experience. Who are our students? What are their likes
and dislikes? Only after checking the results could
I think about possibilities to improve not only rapport
in the classroom, but also their enthusiasm. By working
on the results, I could reflect on some aspects of
my own teaching , and consequently, I would be able
to help other teachers work on their own.
1. Observing physical changes:
It's worth going through some biological factors and
changes that happen in this interesting period of life,
so that we can understand some of their reactions in
class. They're trying to make sense of themselves,
so they feel confused and disorganized but , at the
same time, powerful and self-sufficient.
By the time girls are 10, estrogen starts working
in their bodies, and not only do their bodies start
changing(e.g. getting their first period) , but also
their moods (Girls tend to become more sensitive).
When boys are 13, they have the highest level of testosterone
in the blood system, which makes them more aggressive.
Also, it's a time when they are very insecure, for
their voices are changing, and so are their bodies.
that teachers, as facilitators, help students through
this phase, especially because teenagers
won't tell you they need any help- we need to get this "between
the lines". They don't like to be treated as kids,
and their individuality should be respected. In addition,
friends and music are more central than parents or
school. It's a period in which relationships are strengthened,
and our job as teachers is not to be a "buddy" (they
already have many), but to be someone who can set limits
and who they can count on. Fostering social values
will be of utmost importance, since they are exposed
to lots of opportunities for trouble, such as drugs,
2. Observing your students
Knowing your students' preferences helps a lot when
dealing with them. The first day of classes should
be a moment for the teacher to observe some aspects
such as: age group, educational background, level of
motivation. Having ice-breaking activities in which
they can express their feelings would be a good idea.
When I received an Advanced group of 11 students,
I imagined they would be interested in talking and
discussing subjects, since they were probably fluent.
I have to say that I was shocked at the lack of enthusiasm
I encountered. They were between the ages of 15 and
18, they came to class systematically late the following
weeks, and discussions would take about one minute
( instead of usual 10 to 15 minutes). The positive
aspect of the situation was that they had good language
A survey was conducted to check aspects that could
be worked on, and I could find out that most of them
really enjoyed working in groups, followed by work
in pairs and discussions. Half of the class felt that
oral reports would be nice. Based on those results,
planning a lesson should contain some of those aspects,
and some activities provided by the book adopted had
to be slightly or sometimes drastically changed. Below,
the activities considered the most interesting ones
2.1. Oral Reports
They were asked
to choose a topic to present orally and start a discussion.
Classes were assigned, and
the topics were free. The only recommendation was that
they read something in English. There was a variety
of issues, from "Rock bands" to "Crocodiles
in Africa". The other students were free to ask
questions, and the student presenting the topic wouldn't
necessarily have to know the answer. This was a good
point, because it made their affective filter lower
(Krashen) , knowing they didn't need to be experts
on the subject chosen.
There was a unit about important inventions, so the
focus of the unit was changed- students had to invent
something they believed was still missing on Earth.
They were also supposed to create an ad for it. Then,
we had an election to choose the most creative one.
Having a sort of competition made them more enthusiastic
about completing the exercise. Also, they were able
to use their imagination and create something that
made sense to them.
2.3. Definite Articles
Transforming some grammar exercises in game-like activities
(Penny Ur) also helps them participate and learn. When
working on the Use of Definite Articles (Geographic
names), the exercise was made into a Game Show. By
answering the questions they were using the Definite
Article, and making it more meaningful.
Students were supposed to create dialogues making
polite complaints. The book provided four options,
but they were not used. The group was separated into
2 : A and B. B's were asked to leave the room. A's
received the situation in a card (e.g.: your soup is
cold; the T-shirt you bought shrank; you ordered coffee
and got tea; your neighbor is playing music too loud),
and the instruction was that they wouldn't agree with
the solution given by their partners. Outside the classroom,
B's received the same situations, and the same instruction.
It was a very profitable activity, because they had
to politely refuse a solution and think of other possibilities.
The solutions found were really intelligent; for example,
in the situation about the cold soup, the student who
was the waiter refused to take the soup back, because
cold soup is much more sophisticated than hot soup!
Students were asked to write comments at the end of
the semester. Some of the excerpts are mentioned below,
without any correction:
like to read articles and discuss in class, it's
a little boring, but I could understand
that it is important because it can improve our reading
" We interact a lot with the activities and give our
opinion about the topics that are discussed. There's
a lot of participation among the students."
" I feel very motivated with our class, especially because
we do a lot of activities that make our class less
Their behavior changed throughout the semester: they
stopped being late, and stayed after class , to talk
about subjects that were not related to the topics
discussed. Another big change was the interest they
started having in correcting their compositions. They
asked to rewrite their texts , while in the beginning
of the term it was hard for me to get even the first
draft. I believe that it happened because of the contact
they had with authentic texts, and then it made them
think about their own written production.
upon their comments, I didn't take anything personally,
especially when they use the words "less
boring" , which was found in most of their comments.
If we read these words in an adult's point of view,
we may get offended. One day, after class, I asked
them why they had chosen those specific words, and
they were surprised at my question, because that was
, in their point of view, a compliment.
The limits established in the beginning were followed
throughout the semester, so it was a disciplined classroom,
in the sense that they were cooperative, aiming at
the same objective (Penny Ur). It means that when working
with them we have to be consistent, not lenient, to
get their respect. Using English all the time , respecting
each other in the class (including the teacher, of
course) and deadlines for homework and compositions
were rules set and kept until the end of the semester.
Working with teenagers can be a rewarding experience
if you give them some room for sharing ideas, talking
about their likes and dislikes, listening to what they
have to say. If you do so, they will make you understand
that being a teenager nowadays is hard, but you, as
a teacher, can be part of it and will probably make
a difference in their lives.
I would like to thank my Advanced 3 students for their
participation and willingness to help me conduct the
Puchta,H. & Schratz,
M. (1993). Teaching Teenagers. London. Longman.
Revell, J. & Norman, S. (1997). In Your Hands.
London. Saffire Press.
Tiba,I. (1996). Disciplina- O limite na medida certa.
São Paulo.Editora Gente.
______.(1998). Ensinar Aprendendo. São Paulo.Editora
Ur, P. (1996). A Course in Language Teaching. Great
Zagury, T. (2000). Limites Sem Trauma. Rio de Janeiro.