getting teens to talk


Emily Hudson

One of the most frustrating groups to teach within EF can be Frontrunners (ages 13-18). Some of the classes are great; you have students who will happily engage in conversation, answer your questions and absorb themselves in the teaching materials. On the other hand, you can have silent classes, the classes where when you ask for a volunteer, no one looks up, silence descends and the wait for you to pick someone to answer stretches out before you. These classes can cause problems not only in that you can sometimes never be completely sure they have understood the material because they never ask questions, but it will often cut down the amount of the time the lesson takes and as such you end up with a lot of free time once all the teaching is done. So, I have tried to compile a list of things that I have found helpful in getting quiet groups to open up. Not all of them work for all classes, but sometimes you just have to try them out.

1. Quantity over quality. Encourage all forms of language production, even if the grammar is not right and save the corrections until the end of the lesson/activity. Especially for low level classes, there is a tendency to be self-conscious and not want to get things wrong. If they do get the grammar mixed up or some pronunciation wrong, wait until they have finished so as not to break up the flow and try and avoid making the corrections a big talking point. Instead, just make sure you use the word with correct pronunciation yourself or model the grammar point in speech or write it on the board.

2. Find some fun bonus activities. If the lesson does finish early, then find something different and interesting for the class to do. A current favourite of mine is to give them 20 pieces of paper, a roll of Sellotape and a pair of scissors and challenge them to make something that can standing on its own; tallest structure wins. Making the classroom more fun and less rigid can help with natural language production and it forces them to work together towards an achievable goal.

3. Break away from the scary/dominating teacher narrative. In Indonesia, I have found that students hold lot more respect for teachers than back in the UK, which is not always a bad thing, but it can also lead to them being somewhat scared of teachers. Since these EF lessons are additional to their regular schooling, I want my students to have fun and enjoy their lessons. As much as student participation as possible, avoiding standing at the board and talking at the students and not being afraid to laugh or make a fool of yourself creates a more relaxed atmosphere. Fear of the teacher is gone, and so questions or errors are not as daunting.

4. Don't panic. If the class is particularly quiet, try not to overcompensate by over-talking. Wait for answers to a question for a short time and if no one answers, start choosing people. I also give everyone in the class a number and use a random number generator at times. Don't give them the answer or they will start expecting this for every question. The students will start answering the questions they know rather than risk being picked for one they don't have an answer for.

5. Mix up the group work. Students will without fail always go with their friends when it come to group work. This can be good as they probably feel more confident talking to their friends but it can also result in less work for chatting. By mixing the groups up from time to time you create new dynamics, can put confident students without some who are less confident and make sure there is more focus on the task at hand.

As I said earlier, not all of these will work for every class but navigating that is part of teaching. Just remember that being a quiet class can mean any number of things but with some encouragement and support most classes will start to talk more in no time.

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