Real-world, relevance, resonance – breathing life into language learning for secondary learners

I’m delighted to be speaking at The IATEFL Conference in Liverpool in April, and in this blog post I would like to give you an idea of what my talk, Real-world, relevance, resonance – breathing life into language learning for secondary learners is going to be all about.

I love working with secondary learners, but as with any age group, teenagers do come with their own unique set of challenges. They are not always the easiest to motivate and are much more likely to question what they are being told than other age groups, not only by their teachers but by their parents and peers too. The result? We spend a lot more time responding to statements and questions such as ‘It’s boring!’, ‘What’s the point?’ and ‘But we already know this!’.

As teachers, there are a few ways we can respond. One option is to abandon the learning activity completely. Sometimes it’s not until we’re in the classroom that we realise we’ve misjudged a task and the students are actually right – it misses the point. In this case it can be best to move on to something else entirely to make best use of the limited time we have with each group. Another option is to adapt what we are doing so that it better meets the needs of the students. Perhaps we realise it was too difficult or too easy in which case we can add some scaffolding or additional challenges. The third option is to plough on regardless. Sometimes we teachers really do know what’s best, and the students just have to get on with it. After all, learning isn’t easy and in life we constantly have to do things we don’t want to do. But too much of this approach will do nothing to establish an atmosphere conducive to learning in your classroom.

There is another option and that is to really engage with what the students are telling you. If they think the task is boring, why exactly do they think this? Is it too easy? Too challenging? Too complicated? If they can’t see the point in doing something then perhaps you need to help them see the benefits. If they tell you they already know something – great! Acknowledge their insights, praise their contributions and adapt your lesson plan to focus on the things that they don’t already know. Highlighting the gaps in their knowledge will motivate them to work hard and see the value in the time they spend in the classroom.

But what is the best way to gather this information, and at what stage of the lesson? Time for language learning is limited, and teenagers are not always the best at articulating their feelings.

In my session I’m going to share a series of lesson ideas based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The practical ideas give teenagers plenty of choice so they can take control of their learning and focus on the real-life issues that matter to them. I’ll also show how you can further enhance this by sharing learning objectives to ensure that students, as well as their teachers, are fully aware of the progress they are making and what they need to do to improve. By the end of the session you should feel confident constructing your own learning objectives, or using a tool such as the Global Scale of English’s ready-made bank of objectives.

I’m looking forward to seeing you there!


Amanda Davies

ELT Teacher Trainer and Author, Publications Editor, IATEFL YLTSIG

Amanda is an experienced teacher, teacher trainer, materials developer, author and editor, who has also worked extensively in Primary ELT academic management. She’s passionate about young learner teacher professional development and regularly presents at conferences, writes articles and blogs, and trains teachers both face to face and online. She also works as an international educational consultant advising on young learner foreign language learning programmes. She’s worked in the UK, Russia, Spain, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkmenistan, and is based in Poland. Amanda is also the publications editor for the IATEFL young learners and teenagers special interest group.

Amanda Davies