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How do you motivate ESL students?

When it comes to motivation, younger learners are usually no problem as any activity can often be met with great enthusiasm. Equally, adult learners are often keen and motivated because they have chosen to be in your class and they have a clear goal to achieve for work, study, or personal reasons. However, if you have a class of teenagers to deal with it can be a very different experience. At this age young learners are typically reluctant to talk in class for fear of making a mistake or being shown up in front of their peers. Self consciousness can also hold back students from getting properly involved in class activities. Here are a few straightforward ideas for getting teenagers motivated and active in your ESL classroom.

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Use plenty of pop culture

Use a little competition

Play to their strengths

Use pen pals to encourage writing skills

Only use age appropriate reading material

Use popular songs for listening activities

Utilize videos

Play lots of games

Use realia

Use plenty of pop culture

Although your students might not be that interested in learning English, you can guarantee they have some interest in popular culture such as music, film, TV, books, etc. Combining these with your lessons can be a great way to get teenagers learning without necessarily knowing it. For this to work you really need to get to know your students in order to decide what things to utilize. For example, if a certain singer or pop group is popular in the class, try using their lyrics for a listening and writing activity. What a famous actor wore to last night's Oscar ceremony is always likely to be a better subject for a past simple tense lesson than anything suggested in the class text book.

Use a little competition

Students of any age like to be competitive amongst each other and teens are usually no different. By introducing some friendly competition into your lessons you can really up the motivation of students who might otherwise hang back. Obviously, there are plenty of games you can use to achieve some competition, but you can also introduce competition in many other activities. For example, when completing a written exercise, allow the first to finish or the student with the most correct answers to choose a video to watch or a song to listen to.

Play to their strengths

They say that everyone has a talent, so why not encourage your students to use theirs? Once again, you need to get to know your individual students and then identify what each person's strengths are. If you have any musicians you could incorporate that into an activity involving songs they can play. Talented artists could utilize their drawing skills, etc.

Use pen pals to encourage writing skills

Many teenage young learners are reluctant to practice their English writing skills, however, by introducing pen pals you can really change their attitude. If you visit any of the dozens of online message boards aimed at ESL teachers you can send out a request to other teachers who might want to set up a pen pal exchange. Writing to a real person gives actual meaning to writing exercises and gives the students practice in the most underused skill in most ESL classrooms.

Only use age appropriate reading material

Like writing, English reading skills are often given less attention in ESL classrooms than they should. To make reading exercises more interesting ensure that you choose source material that will interest the members of your class. There are hundreds of great books aimed at teens that can be used, or alternatively you could use other types of reading material such as celebrity biographies, sports reports, concert reviews, etc. Just make sure that the material is suitable for their reading level.

Use popular songs for listening activities

Unfortunately, the audio material that is included with most textbooks is unlikely to provoke much interest in a room full of teenagers. As with any kind of textbook material it is fine to replace the set music files with music that you know the group can relate to. Just ensure that the content is suitable for the classroom as expletive laden music could cause a few problems.

Utilize videos

These days it is no longer necessary to wheel in a large TV and DVD player everytime you want to use a video in a lesson. With today's technology it is quick and easy to download the videos you need onto a laptop or other device so they are ready to go whenever you need them. To keep the interest of the whole group it is best to use short videos such as celebrity interviews, movie trailers, music videos, etc.

Play lots of games

Whatever age group you are teaching, games are an important part of the lesson when it comes to motivation. With teen learners it is vital that you choose the right games that will encourage a bit of competitiveness, provide a challenge, and ensure they are actually practicing the lesson point. Guessing type games and quiz show formats are both tried and tested winners at this age.

Use realia

Using real life objects rather than just drawings or pictures is a great way to motivate any age group and this is certainly true with teen students. This can be as simple as bringing in your own items from home to highlight the lesson point or to use in explaining concepts. You can also use real items in activities such as maps and brochures when discussing directions or get the students to bring in their own realia when talking about their lives outside of the classroom.


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