You walk into your new class, to be faced by ten young teens (12-15 year olds) who are just back from their holidays. Naturally, they are chatting away to each other…but in their own language. You go through the hellos and the introductions, although you notice a few whispers going on. Right, you think, let’s use this to our advantage and turn the whispers into snippets of English which they have to process and produce. ‘Two teams’ you shout, all in a line, facing the board. Time to put into practice some of the activities that you learned in the Young Learner’s sessions on your CELTA TEFL course. And here goes:

Whispering grass:

The two students at the back of the queue receive your input ‘The best thing about my holiday was…’ Whisper and complete you tell them, from one to the next, to the next

With five in the queue, you end up with ‘the best thing about my holiday was the beach, sleep, the disco, the pool….’ which the final student has to remember and write up onto the board. Points can be awarded based on speed, accuracy, original answers, as you decide – though I recommend making the rules clear at the start, you don’t want those teens voicing their feelings of injustice!

Building rapport with your teen group is a must, and that applies to them as a group as well. I am a firm believer in the teacher being willing to share the type of personal information with their students which we expect them to share with us. There are plenty of ‘getting to know you’ activities out there, one which I feel works well encourages them to make predictions about the teacher, and then later about each other, hopefully finding out interesting facts which will aid engagement and build rapport:

5            11          7          6

Figure it out:

You write up five different figures with a clue for each on the board, i.e.

31 (job)          =     years teaching English

7 (family)      =    number of nieces and nephews

29 (place)      = number of years in Spain

10 (sport)      = number of Kms I can run

4 (music)        = number of concerts I have been to this year

The students ask you questions to try to discover what each number could mean,

 i.e. Have you worked at Clic 31 years? No I haven’t    

Have you lived in Spain for 29 years? Yes I have!

They could make the predictions in writing, and then get points for correct answers (in red above).

Finding out more about each other and have in common is a great way to build bridges rather than barriers with students who would not necessarily be in the same friends’ group. Typical activities can include ‘Find somebody who….’ But I like to use stickers to do the following activity:

Who, What, Where, When’?            


Rachel                                                              My passport


  Claire



Prague                                                               25th July 1999      

The students stand up and mix and mingle, showing each other their stickers and the who/what/where/when information in each corner, and can either try to guess the importance of each thing, i.e.  ‘Did you go to Prague on holiday?’, or they can just swap information, i.e. My passport is a very important possession because….’

There is always the danger that the teens will slip into their native language, completing activities quickly to get the end result, rather than recognising the importance of the ‘process’ of doing the activities in English to develop their skills. Therefore, using activities which include ‘an information gap’, like the ones above, can reduce this temptation. With younger teens. I use typical games which they have played as children; this example is taken from the Heinemann Reward resource Pack series

Talking papers:

Making the talking paper involves the students listening to the instructions in English, although many of them do have prior knowledge. This can be used in different ways – some prefer to call the activity ‘fortune tellers’ and they use different categories to make predictions about each other (as in the example above). Alternatively, they write questions to ask each other, which can be used to practise a particularly structure, i.e present perfect ‘Have you ever….?’, or can be free, to allow for more personalisation i.e. What’s your favourite emoji?

Sharing photos and information about them can be engaging, and act as a model for them to do the same. These days most students will have their mobile phones with them, and photos on them, and allowing access to their phones for this activity adds to the level of motivation – as long as you make it clear what they should be using them for!

Tell me about…

The teacher provides an example of what he/she wants the students to, showing or projecting a photo from their mobile so that all students can see it.

The students think of questions to ask the teacher about the photo. The teacher then explains when and where the photo was taken, who is in it, what they were doing, feeling, etc, with the students asking their questions to prompt the teacher to provide more information. The students then get out their mobile phones and find a photo that they would like to share with their classmates The teacher highlights useful phrases to help them complete the task:

i.e

  • This photo was taken in (place) (time)
  • This photo is of (person)
  • I was feeling ____ because_______
  • I was_____ing with_____________

So make it fun, personable, purposeful, and memorable to get your teens engaged, involved and interacting, helping them to practise and develop their speaking skills, and starting the year off on the right foot!