Teaching English to adolescents (11-18) and adults present challenges distinct from young children. This post examines some of the challenges and traits of both groups.
Teenagers are often seen as difficult students. Extreme changes are happening in their lives and bodies and at times learning is discounted. Despite their reputation as learners, teenagers have the capacity to acquire a language much faster than children because of their ability to think abstractly. As such, grasping grammar and identifying rules of syntax and semantics is much more natural for them. However, teenagers do have issues with pronunciation as their ability to imitate has declined.
For teenagers, the content must be highly engaging and relevant. If they miss the point they often will quickly lose interests. Keep in mind that they are often studying because they have to and thus have no personal reason for learning. This is why relevancy is so important as it replaces their lack of empowerment.
Students at this age also need opportunities to take risk. However, it needs to be risk without humiliation. So off color humor is probably best avoided during this age.
Adults are perhaps the most fun yet most challenging group of people to teach. Adults can be critical of the teacher due to their experience. Adults can also have concerns about looking bad and thus be somewhat nervous in class.
Despite this, adults have fully developed cognitive powers which mean abstract thinking is not an issue. Furthermore, adults bring life experience into the classroom that is highly enriching for everybody. Lastly, adults have a purpose for studying. Unlike teenagers who are there because they have to be. Adults have chosen to study and are driven by some sort of goal.
When teaching adults, organization is often king. A teacher needs clear activities and presentations to maintain the respect of adults. Due to their longer attention span, a teacher will probably need fewer activities that last a longer period of time compared to activities of teenagers and young children. Lastly, discussion and questions are expected when engaging most adults. They want to assist with their language experience. Therefore, a teacher-centered instructor may have challenges with this.
Teachers need to have flexible approaches for dealing with diverse students. Teenagers and adults have distinct needs when learning a language. Understanding this can help a teacher to have success in the classroom