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Texas ISD School Guide
Texas ISD School Guide

Articles for Teachers

Making ESL Teaching Relevant to Teen Learners
By:Dr. Robert W. F. Taylor

If you are able to make your teaching materials interesting for your students, their grades should take a strong leap upwards. Easier said than done, you say?

Do you teach teenagers? What interests them? Don't be afraid to ask them how you can make your lessons more interesting and relevant. They may be able to make some good suggestions. Teens are generally interested in music, pop and movie stars, the opposite sex and their friends.

So, build at least some of your English lessons around those topics.

- Transcribing a song from a CD is a challenge at the best of times but you can use this activity to encourage listening, teach word and sentence stress, intonation, vocabulary and colloquial/slang expressions. You can then analyze the song and have the class sing it. Why not? Many songs are difficult so it is a good idea to get hold of a songbook that has the lyrics before you attempt this activity. Try to choose a song that is easy to understand, or better yet, let our students select an English song they would like the words to.

Although ESL is my area, I was head teacher for a number of years and was always asking my math teacher to try to make that subject relevant by giving practical examples of why and how formulae were used in real life. Many math teachers just spout formulae all day and bore their students to tears. No wonder most students by the age of 15 find the subject dreadfully boring and do not understand why they should have to learn algebra, trigonometry and calculus. 98% of them will never use these skills.

Back to English...the Internet has opened up opportunities for teens to chat. Some care has to be taken but English for the Internet is something relevant that you could work into a series of lessons. In fact, there is a textbook out called Email English. You can demonstrate the differences between writing genres - formal writing, writing to friends, chatting with e-pals or writing quick notes.

Pick a teen situation and write some short two, three or four-part dialogues you can use in class. Ask students to write some as well and perform them in class.

English idioms and mannerisms are topics of interest. There are many good websites with long lists of English idioms. I like a text called: Idioms for Everyday Use by Milada Broukal. It is broken into 20 units and about 230 idioms with examples and exercises. I have also used this book with Business English classes. Amazon has it if you can't find it locally. There is a teacher's manual for it as well with answer key, follow-up activities and unit-by-unit guidelines.

What's in the news that interests your students? 'Global warming' is a (pun intended) hot topic. So are 'Caring for the Environment' and 'Recycling'. A creative teacher can easily think of ways to develop ESL lessons around these topics. Not feeling terrible creative? The Net is full of activities you can use to engage your students. Start with any of the many ESL websites, ESL Gold, ESL Printables, ESL Raven, Bogglesworld, TeacherView, ESLGames, ESLHQ and Randall's Listening Lab. These are just a few. Class research, essay writing and/or debates on these topics are relevant activities.

What do your students watch on TV? Have a student tape an episode and bring it in. The class can watch and then discuss it.

For a change of pace, throw in a Mr. Bean video. Have students write a summary, discuss what is happening or make a list of verbs/actions that they see happen during the episode. Mr. Bean has been around now for a long time but it is still one of the funniest series ever and great for ESL classes of all ages.

The main thing with teaching is to make your lessons as relevant as you can and this especially holds true for teenager learners. Some are keen to learn but others may be taking your English class because they have to - it could be a prescribed course in which they have little interest. But that's the subject for another article.

If you would like a copy of my ebook "Introduction to Teaching Overseas", contact me at rwftaylor@gmail.com

Dr. Robert W. F. Taylor

Dr. Robert Taylor has been teaching English in Thailand for close to ten years.

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