The Toughest Class You Will Ever Teach: 9 Tips for Engaging Middle School Students

The Toughest Class You Will Ever Teach: 9 Tips for Engaging Middle School Students

Teaching little kids can be fun. They have energy and a fascination with the world that only comes from the innocence of childhood. Adult students, on the other hand, have a higher cognitive ability and can understand complex concepts even if their English language skills are at a beginning level.

Nonetheless, what does a teacher do when her students are too young to think like adults but are trying their hardest to escape childhood? This is the question that faces every middle school teacher. The awkward age that ranges from around 11 until 15 is a challenge for even the best of teachers, but there is hope. Here are some teacher-tested tips for the middle school teachers out there that will help you work with your students’ strengths and minimize their struggles.

How to Engage Middle School Students

  1. 1

    Get Physical

    Kids at that difficult middle school age are often brimming with energy, even in inappropriate moments. To harness that energy in a constructive way, try using physical games that include a language element. The physical exertion will tame the middle schoolers’ energy enough so they can sit and listen and the language tie in will ensure you don’t feel like you are wasting valuable classroom time. Try games like Simon Says, which require your students to listen for directions before they move. See ‘TPR Tricks: 5 Fabulous Ways to Use Total Physical Response in the ESL Classroom’.

  2. 2

    Encourage Talking

    Talking can be a high priority for kids in the middle school age group, especially for girls. Though second language students may not be as chattery as native speakers, kids will still benefit from a chance to talk in class. Make sure your lesson plans always include questions for discussion. You may need to give specific questions for your students to cover rather than giving simple directions to simply discuss, but you will find that middle schoolers have opinions and they appreciate a chance to share them.

  3. 3

    Be Creative

    Even though kids in the middle school age range are trying to mature out of their childhoods, being a kid is still a large portion of who they are, and encouraging creative expression through artistic elements will add an element of fun to your classroom they are sure to appreciate.

  4. 4

    Be Concrete

    Preteens experience a lot of brain development, but in middle school most students think in very concrete terms. They often cannot understand intangible concepts, so the more concrete examples you give during your instruction, the more effective your teaching will be. If you are trying to teach something abstract, try to explain it in as concrete terms as you can to help your students understand, and give lots of chances for students to put theoretical knowledge to practical use.

  5. 5

    Use Object Lessons

    Object lessons can be an effective way to make an abstract lesson more concrete. Think of ways you can teach a concept through an object lesson, and check online for successful object lessons other teachers have used.

  6. 6

    Be Flexible

    Not every traditional or even successful lesson plan will work well with middle school students. Be flexible and willing to change up even the lessons that have worked for you in the past. Because your middle school students have different needs than children or adult students, you should always be willing to tailor your plans to meet those needs.

  7. 7

    Celebrate Success

    Everyone wants to feel as though he is successful at his work, and middle school students are no exception. Celebrating the small victories and accomplishments of your students will help them feel motivated and will inspire them to deepen their linguistic educations.

  8. 8

    Encourage Curiosity

    Middle school students are like children in that they are learning how the world works. Encourage your students to satisfy their curiosity about language as they learn. Allowing your students to ask any questions, and not berating them for it, will help your students get excited about learning. Then use this excitement to show them that they can be successful language learners.

  9. 9

    Give and Take Respect

    The more you give your students respect, the more likely they are to return the gesture. Avoid talking down to middle school students, listen when you ask their opinions and talk to them like they deserve respect, and you will find your students are more responsive and engaged in class.

Experienced teachers know that it takes a special person to work with middle school students.

By planning lessons to meet the needs of your middle school students and being flexible with your time and activities, you will be proud of what great students your middle schoolers have become.


Are you a middle school ESL teacher? Share with us your tips for effectively teaching middle school students below.

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