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7 Ways to Better Connect with Your Teenage Students

Teaching teenagers is like gravity, it’s much easier to work with them than against them. Rather than thinking teenagers are a force to be reckoned with, think of them as your companions in the collective learning journey.

The better we work together with our teenage students, the better we connect with them and make the learning experience more enjoyable for everyone. Strong evidence has shown that teenagers who feel a strong connection with their teachers will be more engaged in class. 

Do you want to build stronger connections with your teenage students? Take a look at these seven tips!

1) Don’t pretend that you know everything. 

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Show your human side and let your students know that you don’t have all the answers. If a student asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, honestly let them know you don’t know but you will find out the answer for them. Better yet, teach them how to research and discover the answers for themselves. You may think you lose credibility when you do this, but it actually makes you more relatable and real.

Sometimes your teenage students may know more about a certain subject than you. Be humble and let them teach you. Teenagers love to show off what they know and if you give them the permission to be the expert at times, this will raise their self-esteem and make them overall more connected to you and engaged in the classroom. Teaching is a two way street, you may learn just as much from your students as they learn from you.

2) Give your students the same respect you expect from them.

Teenagers hate it when adults flaunt their authority or put on an air of “I’m older and wiser than you, so you must listen to me”. If you expect teenagers to respect you, offer them the same respect first. Treat them like an individual and level with them. At times you’ll have to put on your authoritative hat, but in most cases, if teenagers genuinely feel respect from adults, they will mirror that.

Respecting teenagers means listening to what they have to say and valuing their ideas and opinions. If they say something you don’t agree with and you feel the need to correct them, respectfully communicate your view and explain why you don’t agree. Also allow them to disagree with you. Much of this comes down to open communication and having an open mind. The more you’re willing to hear from your teenage students, the more they’ll be willing to hear from you.

3) Get to know your students and ask them how they’re doing. 

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Teenagers sometimes just need someone to ask about their day or how they’re doing because they like to feel cared for and they may not have that kind of support at home. A simple “How was your weekend?” before a conversation about the topic can get students to loosen up and feel more comfortable in your class.

Try to find out early on what your students are interested in, and if you can incorporate some of that into your lessons, even better. When students feel comfortable sharing about their life with you, that’ll certainly create a deeper connection. The more you can connect your subject to them directly or how it will affect them, the easier it will be to get them involved in the process.

4) Use games whenever you can.

Teenagers may think they’re too cool for games, but in reality they love to play and have fun. If you can teach them through games and give them more opportunities to be active, they’ll associate your classes with fun while also retaining information faster. Get them to move around the classroom or even take them outside for some activities. 

Not all games have to involve body movement or going outside. Even using a game show style PowerPoint to review for a test or online platforms like Kahoot can get students excited. Students love to compete with one another and win little prizes. Offering some candy or other rewards will get students more pumped up for these games. 

5) Vary the way you teach. 

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Try to use different teaching styles and techniques to spice up the class. Rather than only showing PowerPoints and asking students to copy down notes, you can incorporate videos, songs, guest speakers, projects, student presentations, field trips, etc. to change things up. This may seem like a lot more work, but your students will recognize your efforts in making the class more interesting and they will have a better learning experience. 

Some other teaching styles you can try is using a flipped classroom. This means students watch videos or read some texts for homework to learn the material and then during class, you do activities and practice questions to reinforce the material. You can also get your students to teach their classmates by assigning them different topics while you facilitate the process.

6) Give them more autonomy.

Teenagers want to feel like they’re in control and have a sense of individuality. By building autonomy into your classes, your students will feel more empowered and therefore be more committed to the task. Just make sure the amount of autonomy you provide is within reason. Sometimes too much freedom may lead to procrastination or straying off topic.

Some examples of providing autonomy to students is to give them a choice of the type of project they want to do or who to work with. They can choose the style of their presentation or what to hand in for their final project. All of this will have to be approved by you first before they get started and you also want to make sure the amount of work required is fair across all students.

7) Challenge them. 

Teenagers like to feel challenged. If a class is too easy for them, they disengage mentally and stop participating. The best way to challenge students is to get them to try new things and to build and create something. Have them use their skills in problem solving, creativity, collaboration and communication, the four C’s of 21st century skills. 

Other ways to challenge your students is to have them perform more for their classmates and do more public speaking. Although some students may feel uncomfortable, they will see how these challenges increased their self-esteem and pushed them to expand their comfort zones. 

We hope these suggestions will help you better connect with your teenage students. If you have other strategies for connecting with your teenage students, share them in the comments below! 

Ellier Leng
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