I have recently started a new course with a small group of 17-18-year-olds in a school. The course is aimed at supporting the work their classroom teacher is doing, with a possible outcome being to then prepare the students for a certification.
I had my first lesson last week, and as usual I prepared a short getting-to-know-each-other activity, as well as some speaking activities related to the topic of the day (family and relationships, and expressing feelings). I knew from their entry tests that some students would have been stronger and others weaker, so I tried to gauge my lesson in between, hoping to make it easy enough for the weaker students but still challenging for the stronger ones.
Everything was going great, all the students seemed engaged, when after about 30-40 minutes I started to notice that one of them was not speaking during the speaking activities, and not collaborating at all with their partner during pairwork on new vocabulary.
At first I thought it was because the student in question was in pairs with a stronger, more chatty and dominating student. So, as I usually do, I tried to gently encourage the shy student a couple of times, asking him questions and signalling to his partner to include him in the conversation.
This didn’t work. So I went on to ask him privately if something was wrong, and if he could follow the lesson. He replied “so-so”, so I tried to ask what was not OK, or if he needed some extra help, at which point the boy completely shut off and stopped talking for the remainder of the lesson.
He then left 5 minutes earlier (as he had asked me to do at the beginning), leaving me with the feeling I will never see this student again in my class.
I have been thinking about it since then, and I still can’t figure out what went wrong. Was the vocabulary being explored in class too difficult for him? Was he put off by the fact that he felt he was the weakest student in the room? Was it because I made him (and others) change pairs at one point?
I wish I knew, so as to avoid the same mistake next time.
What do you usually do when you have shy teenager in your class? Do you use any special techniques or activities to make them feel more at ease? This is actually the second time something like this happens to me. The other time was more than a year ago, not with a teenager but with an adult. How do you take each learner’s ego into consideration in your lesson?
Thank you for reading (and for sharing any thoughts or ideas on the matter).