The TEFL Life: A TEFL blog

a story about bad grammar and non-existent punctuation and my TEFL adventures

the old guard vs the new guard: dealing with the generation gap

So let’s stay on the topic of teaching adults for a while, since this is where I’m most comfortable. That’s not to say that teaching adults is all fun and games; quite the opposite, actually. One thing that can be an issue in the classroom is the age differences between the different students. In most EFL situations, an adult is defined as someone 16 and over. Now if I think back to when I was 16, I shudder at the thought of anyone giving me the responsibility of being an adult. And yet, that’s just how it is.

Imagine the situation: Denise, a 60-year old grandmother from Switzerland, sitting next to 16-year old Ersin from Turkey. Both very polite and nice and whatever, but when the time comes for pairwork, there’s not a whole lot going on. Ersin is probably terrified of speaking to Denise and Denise probably feels like she has nothing interesting to say to Ersin, and round and round we go.

What to do? As with all possible situations in the EFL classroom, this is something that needs to be anticipated (oh how they love that word on lesson plans) and thought about before the class. This situation actually stresses the importance of students getting to know each other in the classroom situation. It’s not easy being in a room full of strangers speaking in a funny language (not easy for Denise of Ersin) and as the teacher, the common link, it is your responsibility to make the connections. Many teachers are not fond of ice breakers or getting-to-know-you exercises, but how can you expect perfect strangers probably from different sides of the planet to have a meaningful conversation about what they’d do if they won a million dollars, if they can barely remember their partner’s name? In fact, nothing meaningful at all will happen if students do not feel comfortable enough to be themselves, mistakes and all, during the lessons. If there is nothing meaningful, there can be no magic, and without magic, why bother?

Then, it’s appropriate to think about the topic and the learning situation before you decide on groups. Use the age gap to your advantage. If you’re looking at advances in technology, this would be a great time for Ersin to explain just how far technology has come*, while if you’re talking about childhood it’s going to be interesting to compare their experiences.  There might be other topics, though, when you feel it’s more appropriate to group students with similar ages together.

The bottom line? Use it to your advantage. Your class should feel like a team and should be able to work in as many different configurations as is mathematically possible. They should get to know each other enough that they want to talk to each other even during the breaks. They should not only be classmates but teammates…

I couldn’t actually finish that sentence because everything came out unbelievably cheesy, but that’s kinda the way it should be. So I’ll leave it at that. Creating camaraderie in the classroom is a cheesefest, and it’s necessary, but I’m sure you’ve got the point so I won’t subject you to it any longer: There’s no need to have to deal with other people’s cheese.

* Denise is fictional, so we’re going to pretend she’s stereotypically not very tech-savvy while Ersin stereotypically is.

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2 comments on “the old guard vs the new guard: dealing with the generation gap

  1. elainecanham
    September 6, 2015

    Ice breakers are brilliant ways of warming up a class. I used to think they were a bit cheesy, but I’ve found students really respond to them, especially if you can link them to the topic.

    • Kirsten C
      September 8, 2015

      Absolutely, and a great way for the students to get to know each other over time as well. I think many teachers underestimate the importance of a good classroom environment and good relationships between the learners.

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This entry was posted on July 15, 2015 by in General TEFL and tagged , , , .

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