When we think of teaching and learning, as well as education in general, it often conjures up images of classrooms and playgrounds packed with kids. With the exception of university, most formal education involves teaching children and this is especially the case when it comes to teaching English as a foreign language.
Nevertheless, there are opportunities to teach adults in this industry, and when and if you do, you will want to be prepared. While the subject remains the same, the approach to teaching it can differ with regard to the lesson objectives and how to achieve them.
You should ensure that your lessons are highly practical and to the point. In general, adults will be a lot more interested in applying their skills and knowledge to real-world situations they are likely to encounter on a daily basis.
Before delving into the specifics of how to plan adult lessons, it is worth understanding the ways in which adult lessons may differ from teaching young learners as this will also influence the approach you need to take.
Adults will very often have past experience with the English language. While this is also true of young learners, it is often not to the same degree. Very often, adults who are taking English lessons are more focused on improving their English skills rather than learning the language from scratch.
Another key difference worth keeping in mind is classroom/behaviour management. By the time adulthood is reached, most people have learned to control themselves and behave appropriately in each other’s company. As such, discipline will not be a major factor in your classroom.
In line with the idea of less behaviour management, is less attention management. In the same way that adults can control their behaviour and conduct themselves appropriately in a public setting, they also have a lot more control over their attention, as well as a greater ability to focus when things get challenging. As a teacher, you will therefore waste less time on encouraging your students to engage with the lesson and more time actually engaging with the lesson.
There are many reasons why adults take English lessons but very often their reasons are a lot more defined than younger learners. Indeed, many young learners often don’t have motivations of their own when it comes to learning a language simply because they don’t choose to do it. English is a part of many, if not most, school curricula, and as such young learners haven’t necessarily chosen to be in your classroom.
Adults, on the other hand, have usually chosen to take your class, and they have done so for a reason. Very often, their drive to learn or improve their English is motivated by professional concerns. Many adults will need a certain level of English to attain a promotion at work. In some cases, companies actually pay for English programs for their employees, especially companies working in an international setting.
Another professional motivation for adults is to increase their employability. In the same way that earning a promotion might require a certain level of English, actually getting a job may require knowledge of the language too. English is spoken around the world, and while it may not be the main language in many countries, it is a language that is often required.
Lastly, adults may be motivated to improve their English for personal reasons. Some may be interested in travelling and want to improve their English in order to feel more comfortable communicating abroad.
Others may want to learn English to broaden their knowledge of the world- think of the information we consume on a daily basis- the news, academic papers, books, magazines. Very often they are created in English first, with the translated versions being created at a later stage. Having a strong grasp of English allows one to access information more readily.
Below are some of the main ideas to keep in mind when planning your adult lessons. Remember that while these ideas are generally applicable you should always take the time to understand your students’ specific motivations and tailor your approach accordingly.
Think back to the reasons your students may be learning English at their age. Whether the motivation is professional or personal, note how conversation is a core component of all of the reasons adults learn English. As such, you will often need to focus your lessons on speaking (and listening) a lot more than with other classes.
Think about how you can use your student’s reasons for learning English as a source of topics to plan your lessons around. If your students travel a lot and are learning English for this purpose, consider planning lessons around topics like checking in at an airport, checking in at a hotel, asking for directions, asking for help, making travel plans etc. Think about the situations your students will be using English in and plan your lessons accordingly.
As the main focus will often be on speaking, you should endeavour to plan your lessons around topics the students are likely to use in their lives. For example, if one of your students is learning English in order to earn a promotion at work, it may be worth finding out exactly how English will be used in his or her workplace.
Perhaps your student will need to use English to negotiate on behalf of the company. You can plan a number of lessons on negotiating and the language skills and vocabulary it requires. Vocabulary may include words and phrases like compromise, settle, bargain, debate, that seems reasonable, would you be willing to meet us halfway?
In terms of language skills, the student will need to know how to use language to be firm as well as how to “soften” one’s language in order to be polite. You can create a number of activities where students practice discerning polite from impolite language as well as changing sentences from impolite to polite.
While adult classes can often be more focused and more serious, it is important to ensure your students are having fun. They may be more intrinsically motivated than young learners and the topics they focus on may be less “playful” but adults like to have fun too.
The easiest way to make your classes fun is through the activities you plan. Speaking activities are particularly good for incorporating fun into the classroom while allowing controlled and freer practice of the target language. Role plays, debates, “ask your partner”, “find someone who…” are all great examples of activities that can be fun for all ages.
If your topic is negotiating, you can easily plan a pair activity whereby students have to negotiate a business deal. Adults will also have a lot more knowledge of current affairs, so planning a group debate where one team has to argue for a point and another team has to argue against it will also likely engage your students too.
As you may have noticed, adult classes are far more goal orientated in the sense that adult students often take language classes for particular reasons. As such, the best piece of advice is to find out as much about your students’ learning goals as possible and orientate your lessons around serving those goals while also keeping things fun and enjoyable.
While adults can appear far more serious than younger students, remember that everyone likes to have fun and enjoy themselves and adult learners are no exception.