Teaching Adults vs. Teaching Kids

Teaching Adults vs. Teaching Kids

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It’s no surprise that there is a huge difference between teaching adults vs. kids. Each group has their own learning style, completely different reasons for being in your class, and a drastically different level of self-motivation and discipline.

This means that each age group requires a teaching style tailored to their needs. Here are some of the main differences you’ll encounter in teaching adults vs. kids.

Self-motivation and classroom management

Teaching in TaiwanAnyone who’s taught young learners knows the battles you have to fight and the hoops you have to jump through to get kids to pay attention and consistently do their work.  Many of them are exhausted from a full day of school already, and many don’t particularly want to be in an ESL class.

Adult learners, on the other hand, are generally taking the class because they are committed to improving their English.  This doesn’t mean classroom management is a non-thing with adults; you still have to moderate discussions, make sure that one very talkative student isn’t steamrolling others who want a chance to speak up, and that everyone understands the work and is able to do it.  It’s subtler, but still much easier and less draining than managing and motivating a classroom full of kids.

Content of the class [contextly_sidebar id=”zFYuxUFQXMm6SftqBQDQTWFJcuunRFkH”]

Kids’ lessons tend to be fairly simple in content, and geared toward the students’ ages and grade level.  Conversations, stories, and assignments often focus on simple concepts such as what they did that day or what their favorite pet is.  Even with slightly older students, the material you are teaching is pretty straight-forward.

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With adults, the content of lessons needs to be more varied and relevent to their lives in order to keep the students’ interest.  Be prepared to teach some fairly complex ideas and to answer pretty high level questions. You also have to know the students, and tailor what you are teaching so that it is useful to their goals.  Someone who is studying English to help pursue an engineering degree is going to be looking for something very different than someone who just wants to learn conversational English, so take some time to find out what your students are hoping to get out of the class.

Fun and games

Games are the heart of teaching kids.  The younger the students, the more important games are.  Games are an important tool for you as a teacher to manage the class.  They keep kids engaged, provide an outlet for their natural restlessness, and give them a chance to use what they have learned in a less controlled and more spontaneous situation.  Plus, kids will pretty quickly jump at any opportunity to get out of their seats and do something fun.

With adults, you can still incorporate games and make the class fun, but adults are generally much less energetic, and will probably be reluctant to get out of their seats and do something.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan games and activities for your adult students.  People of any age group learn better when they are engaged, having fun, and thinking creatively.  Try some conversation-based activities, card games, or activities like crossword puzzles to get your adult students using English and having fun.

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Students’ Expectations

Most kids don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what they want to get out of a class; as long as they are learning and enjoying themselves, they’ll be satisfied. Of course, its your responsibility as a teacher to give your students the best education that you can, and parents might come to you with high expectations.  But on the whole, when it comes to teaching kids, it’s pretty unlikely that one of your students will come up to you and complain that your lesson that day was sub-par, or that you haven’t really covered the past progressive tense to their satisfactions.

Adults, on the other hand, are choosing to pursue ESL as a boost to their career or studies, and they can have pretty high standards.  If they are paying for the class out-of-pocket, they are going to want to get what they are paying for. Don’t be surprised–or unprepared–when your adult students come to you with complex questions about grammar or vocabulary.  Many won’t be afraid to tell you if they are unsatisfied with some aspect of your teaching, too.  Just take it in stride, do your best as a teacher, and remember that you can’t please everyone.

Students’ enthusiasm and willingness to speak up

Kids are quick to jump on anything that lets them have fun, yell, talk, and play.  They’re a lot more willing to use language spontaneously, and a lot less afraid of making mistakes. This can lead to a lot of frustrations with kids having poor grammar or pronunciation, but most kids are pretty quick to pick up on the key part of language acquisition: communication.

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Adults, on the other hand, have spent decades in schools that focus on getting the right answers and not making mistakes.  This can be a highly cultural thing, but especially in general, you’ll find that older students–even teenagers–are much less willing to speak up and are much more afraid of making mistakes or of sounding stupid. As a teacher, you’ll have to make a special effort to get your older students to speak up regularly in class, and you’ll have to constantly work to create an environment where they feel comfortable practicing their language skills.

Your relationship to the students

With kids, it’s pretty clear that you’re the authority figure, and that you’re in charge of the class.  Most teachers have no trouble at all filling this role with younger students.  Most students, while they might challenge you and push to test where you draw the line, will recognize this fundamental separation between students and teachers.

With adults, on the other hand, you are teaching a group of people who are a similar age as you, and may be much older than you.  This can be very rewarding, as you can really get to know your students as people, form friendships with them, and learn from them.  If it’s appropriate within the culture, you can do cool stuff like plan regular conversation sessions at a local bar or restaurant.  On the flip side, teaching adults can be intimidating, especially if most of your students are much older, or are well-established professionals. It’s also easy to abandon the role of teacher and take on the role of friend.

Teaching adults and kids both have their benefits and drawbacks, but once you get used to the differences between them, you can have some very rewarding experiences regardless of what age group you are teaching.


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One Response

  1. Estella Nickson says:

    I really really liked this article but I’m not on any social media groups to share my positive review sorry. I found this helpful as I work with adult training and I have a helpful manager who is a post school teacher who keeps wanting me to adopt a classroom approach – which I know in my staff group would be patronising and un-challenging. I needed to support my views with some inpartial evidence since all my experience is adult-based. Many thanks

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