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10 Top Tips for Motivating Teens – by Oxford House Director of Studies Dan Shepherd

Director of Studies Barcelona

Teaching teenagers can be very challenging, rewarding and lots of fun! One of the challenges many teachers face is how to motivate their students in the classroom. With this handy blog post, Oxford House Director Studies in Barcelona, Dan Shepherd, shares his top ten tips to help you motivate your teens!


  1. Arouse their curiosity

Teens are extremely curious creatures. Try to build anticipation by asking them interesting and relevant questions. The internet is full of photos and videos which will help capture their imagination. If they are curious about a topic, text, photo etc. you are much more likely to get them engaged in the following activities.

  1. Make it relevant

No matter how much you shop around, English language coursebooks aimed at adolescents tend to be dull. You have to remember they are written by people who haven’t been in their teens for at least 2 or 3 decades and therefore tend to be a bit out of touch with what is actually relevant to generation Z. Find out what your students are interested in and then incorporate current events into your lessons.

  1. Embrace technology

Don’t have an interactive whiteboard, a computer lab or access to 15 tablets? That shouldn’t stop you. The majority of your students come to class with a mini-computer in their bags or pockets. Get them out in class. Mobiles can be used for a number of things, from checking tricky words in the dictionary and doing research for a class project to making mini videos and taking interesting photos which can then be used in speaking activities. Worried about them checking their social media or whatsapping their friends during the lesson? Why not give them a short digital break every 15 – 30 minutes.

  1. Don’t be afraid of the L1

If you are teaching a predominantly monolingual class, use it to your advantage. Whether you are checking vocabulary or highlighting differences between the two languages, the students’ L1 is a fantastic tool which should be exploited. It also makes classroom management much easier and can be useful for talking to students about learning, especially at lower levels. You should also make it clear to students exactly when you expect them to only speak English, such as during a communicative activity. Don’t forget to give them the support that they need to be able to do it. 

  1. Challenge them

Nothing motivates people more than trying to overcome a challenge. Make activities difficult. If they know all the answers, they will soon switch off. You obviously don’t want to make it so difficult that they completely give up, but a simple running dictation or memory game to introduce a topic or text could be just what you need to keep them engaged.

  1. Turn activities into competitions

Similar to point 5, teens are extremely competitive and will do anything to win. By getting them to compete against each other, they have a reason to do the activity and to do it well. Competitions generally work better in teams, especially due to the social nature of teenagers. It also means you aren’t singling anyone out as the winner or loser, which can occasionally have a negative impact. Reward your students with lots of praise and maybe have a reward up your sleeve such as a homework pass. Avoid giving them things like sweets and other prizes as they will soon come to expect it and you’ll end up having to bribe them even to get their pencil cases out of their bags.

  1. Explain WHY?

Want your teens to do something? Then tell them why it’s relevant/important. Is the activity going to be needed later on in the lesson? Is it important for an exam that they are going to take? Is it going to make their homework easier? Whatever it is, let them know. There is nothing worse than thinking you are doing something just for the sake of doing it or to pass the time.

  1. Let them make their own decisions

Everyone likes having a say in what they do, especially young people. At school, students are often told what they have to do and this will generally make them want to do the complete opposite. Avoid this by getting them involved in the decision making process. Give them choices. Would they rather read the text in class or at home? Would they rather do it by themselves or in groups? If you want them to work on argumentative language, get them to come up with the topic to debate. That way, if they start complaining that they are bored, you can easily point out that they were the ones to decide what to talk about.

  1. Keep your classes varied

Keep them on their toes. Change the interaction patterns in class. Go from individual and pair work to group work and mingling activities. Don’t be afraid of changing the layout of the tables or where your students sit. Keep the activities short and varied. Don’t give them time to be bored.

  1. Integrate music into the class

We all know teenagers love music. Something as simple as letting them choose a song if they finish their work first can be extremely motivating. Play background music to help avoid awkward silences and help lower their affective filters when working in groups. Set fun homework, like a song from lyrics training (www.lyricstraining.com) or even get them to write their own lyrics to a song they all know well.

Further reading


If you would like to take an accredited TEFL certificate and become a teacher, learn more about our Trinity CertTESOL course or apply here. If you would like to develop your skills to teach young learners, read more about our online Teaching Young Learners course here.

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