TEACHING TEENAGERS (Daniel in the lions' den)
“We’d like you to take over teens’ class EM12 as of next week.”“Huh? Why?”
“Well, their current teacher is having a nervous breakdown, the one before him resigned overnight, and the one before that got fired for clipping two of the students over the ear.”
The above conversation, or something like it, took place in Korea, and I asked if I could have extra money for teaching the bunch of unmanageable little beasts. The manageress, bless her heart, said yes. “We’ll call it ‘combat pay’,” she said. Not every school is as accommodating. They’ll usually just throw you into a teenagers’ class without explanation or apology, rather like Christians got thrown to the lions in Roman days.
So, how do you manage an unruly, hell-raising teen class when they have no interest in English, and no intention of studying? I wish I could impart a general strategy guaranteed to capture their interest and whole-hearted cooperation, but I haven’t discovered it yet. Instead I’ll just give you some hints about what has worked for me from time to time.
In the Korean class I mentioned above, I told them a joke one day (Man wakes up in hospital and the doctor says: “I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is we’ve had to amputate both your legs. The good news is that the man in the next bed has offered to buy your shoes.”) I then assigned two of the students to do a role-play of the story. What ensued was one of the most hilarious fifteen minutes I’ve ever had in any class, anywhere.
I’ve also had some success in telling teenagers stories. It’s a good move to adopt the pre-school teachers’ technique of repositioning the students nearer to you – perhaps sitting on the floor around you – before telling them the story. This, for some reason, quietens them down and makes them more receptive. I usually tell them a fairy-tale; one that they’re familiar with in their own language, for example Little Red Riding Hood. I have a few blown-up pictures of Little Red, Grandma, and the wolf, and I also have a cardboard replica of the wood-cutter’s axe. Like I say, this is usually successful. If the students are confident enough, you can get them to role-play the story afterwards.
Bringing in realia from home is also a useful ploy. I took my remote-controlled toy helicopter into one particularly nightmarish class once, and it captured their attention for all of fifteen minutes. It didn’t elicit much English, but in a teenagers’ class, who cares? As long as you can shut them up for a period of time, you’ve done well. And no student is going to go home and complain “We didn’t study much English. We just played with a toy helicopter!”
Another thing that has worked for me. Magic tricks. I do a few simple magic tricks, then teach the class how to do them. In fact this has worked almost too well. In subsequent lessons, their constant demand has been “More magic!” You’ll also find that some of the kids can do tricks of their own, and are only too willing to demonstrate them to the class.
Well that’s it. A joke and a role-play, a story and a role-play, realia, and magic. Not much, is it? A pretty poor offering from someone who’s been 40 years in the classroom. Ok, ok, I’ll admit it, but then teenage classes are a species outside the normal parameters. But anyway, why do these particular four activities work with teenagers? The answer, I think, is the one thing that the four activities all have in common. They’re mostly student-centered rather than teacher-centered. Wow! I may have just stumbled upon the one general strategy guaranteed to capture teenage students’ interest and whole-hearted cooperation! Gee, I’m good! And you read it here first!!!