If you teach high school groups or if you are considering to work with teenagers at school, then you must know that this requires some particular skills from us. Teenagers are very passionate, curious, and typical. If you leave a good first impression and make them admire you, they will just fall in love with you and your lessons. But how can we do that?

This post provides some of my tips to teach high school groups and develop strategies to help them speak more in English during lessons and feel more confident as they learn.

We all know the challenges English teachers face in a high school classroom: the groups are large; students have different backgrounds and proficiency levels; classes are short; in some cases, there is no material enough (especially, in public schools); lack of motivation may be a reality; each group requires different approaches, and so on. Keeping all this in mind, it becomes essential that we reflect: how can we teach them efficiently?

Here are some of my strategies to teach my students at a public school in the state of Rio de Janeiro. I hope they are useful for you:

Help them recognize how important it is to learn English!

On the first day of class, in the beginning of the year, elicit with students some reasons why they think it might be important to study English nowadays, take a text (or a video) to discuss about this with the whole group (it may be yours or another ELT professional’s), and then ask them to write a short text talking about their opinions on the topic (if they can write it in English, that is perfect, but if they can’t, there is no problem writing it in Portuguese at all). Hopefully, this will broaden what they think about studying English and maybe make them recognize its importance in their lives.

Help them appreciate the language!

Speak in English as much as possible during lessons. Every time you meet must be an exercise for you and the students. For that, here are some important steps you can follow:

  • greet them;
  • create a context for the lesson (and use it!);
  • give the commands;
  • introduce new grammar/vocabulary items;
  • ask and answer questions;
  • say good bye.

What I strongly recommend during the activities is to make good use of gestures and images, speak slow, and when you ask questions, choose students who you know that can answer in English, so they help you and inspire others to start.

Also, prioritize functions in your class plans (asking information, giving/receiving advice, expressing preferences etc.). By doing it, students will understand why they are learning the language. When you clearly show the purpose of learning something, it becomes much easier to keep students concentrated in the tasks you propose. The more they find out how to use the language, the more they get interested in it!

Don’t think your students will understand everything you say in English at the first time. It will be like a baby’s work: a little each class, until they will get used to it and understand that it is the way you work.

Make learning interesting!

How many of us like to be in a boring class? I don’t! I believe it is the same with our students. To me, a boring class is the one in which I do nothing different or relevant. So, don’t allow yourself to do the same things the same way every lesson.

In order to avoid sleeping, annoying conversations, and other situations that may make you lose the control of the group, it is essential to keep students working. For years (and it does still happen today), teachers had in mind that the best way to keep students working was assigning a lot of grammar exercises on the board, so they had to copy all of them, what would take them a long time. I cannot say it didn’t work, but we are living other times today. Obviously, what worked for me when I was a high school student will never work for my students nowadays.

Here are some suggestions:

  • use warm-ups, games, songs and apps;
  • teach current topics;
  • connect learning to students’ everyday lives;
  • share life experiences (for instance, when you started learning English, how you used to study, what you do to learn new things – phonemes, vocabulary etc.);
  • take humour to your lessons (By humour, I don’t mean that you should behave like a joker, but that it is always good when the teacher comes in the classroom with a happy face, smiles, and turns the classroom a brighter place.).

Encourage interaction and sharing!

A great way to motivate interaction and sharing is to use pair and group work. Also, if you have a student who can communicate in English, pick him/her as a monitor in class. This way, he/she will help you in group activities, concerning some organization issues.

Another good point is to get students aware that making mistakes is part of learning. In my experience as a teacher, I have seen that many students are afraid of making mistakes, so they prefer not reading aloud, talking or participating in group activities to avoid laughs. Remember the baby’s work I’ve mentioned before?

Finally, but not exhausting the subject, try to make your students feel more confident as they learn. Learning is about establishing little goals that can be reached each class. When they understand this, learning English may become a lighter thing for them.

Joyce Fettermann
Joyce Fettermann has been an English teacher for about 10 years now. She has experience working with kids, teens and adults in different proficiency levels at language and public schools. Currently, she is a PhD student and holds an MA in Cognition and Language from UENF. She received her BA in Languages (English and Portuguese) and a specialization in English Language teaching from UniFSJ. She is also a writer of articles on the use of technologies in English teaching and learning, and organizer of the book Ensino de Línguas e Novas Tecnologias: diálogos interdisciplinares, launched in 2016, by Brasil Multicultural press. Her interests include the use of technologies in language teaching and learning, teacher education and educational resources design. She blogs at: https://joycefettermann.wordpress.com/