10 Tips For Teaching Older Students (10+ Years or Older)

By Editorial Staff •  Updated: 05/25/23 •  Classroom Resources

Students 10 years and older are not little kids. A mistake new teachers make who don’t have experience working with different age groups is not to adapt their teaching style to the student.

This matters, and the parents we’ve spoken with care about this. An 11-year-old boy is not a 7-year-old girl. You must be flexible with how you interact with the student in class. Also, how to present yourself in your introduction video will affect what type of students are interested in learning with you, so be thoughtful about this (see more on our video introduction tips).

With platforms like VIPKID or SayABC, you must develop flexibility with students of different ages. Of course, you’ll naturally be better at one age group of students than others. But it would help if you tried to learn and understand both needs.

This is what makes these platforms so valuable and helpful for students. They get access to a wide range of teachers with various teaching styles. Regardless, one issue teachers face is the need for bookings, and it’s often due to how they teach and present themselves.

Not to imply they are bad teachers, on the contrary. Most are excellent for young learners, but the tactics and teaching style they implement are ineffective for older students, particularly male students.

10 Teaching Tips for More Advanced Young Learners

So what are Teach and GO’s teaching tips for students in that challenging age range of 10-13 or perhaps young learners who are more proficient with English than expected? This is what we advise:

  1. Be age appropriate and don’t treat them like a child.
  2. Joke around, be cool and talk to them to build rapport.
  3. Learn how to expand on the lesson.
  4. Ditch the reward system for older students.
  5. Move past topics where they show proficiency.
  6. Speak in normal tone, no high pitched baby talk.
  7. Use props for fun and to engage with the student.
  8. Have your energy level match or be slightly higher than theirs
  9. Don’t force anything.
  10. Know what you’re talking about

Be age appropriate with older students.

A 12-year-old boy and his parents will not enjoy or appreciate a class with you if you insist on following a teaching style directed towards a lower age level or gender.

While 10 to 12-year-old is a child still, they are at that age where they don’t think of themselves as a kid and want to be treated more like equals. For older students, keep things professional, fun, and age-appropriate.

An excellent teacher for younger leaners but not older students.

For example, if you’re teaching an 11-year-old boy who may be at a lower level, don’t baby them. They are at level 3 because of their proficiency in English, not because of their maturity level.

This is important to remember, particularly for your video introduction on any online teaching platform, because parents don’t want to book their pre-teen-age son or daughter with a teacher who does not have the right style for them.

Joke around, treat them like intelligent young adults, and build rapport

Older students again want to be treated more like an equal. Typically older students have a better command of English, so take the opportunity to build rapport, joke around, a be cool at the beginning of the lesson.

Often time this means being flexible with the warm-up. The warm-up is the first few slides, where it’s more game-oriented to give context to the rest of the lesson. Sometimes the warm-up is a bit lame for a 12-year-old boy, like singing a song. Be flexible and adapt to everything and anything you need to do to accomplish the lesson objectives.

That means completing the warm-up in the best way you can. Ask them questions, like and dislikes, and build a connection so they enjoy the class.

Learn how to expand on the lesson

Expansion is one of the most critical skills any online teacher can develop. What expansion means is adapting the lesson as you’re conducting it to make it appropriate for the student’s language ability and maturity level.

Lesson objectives are clear, but the actual slide or activity must often be more complex or mature. Adapt the lesson as needed. Again, your goal as the teacher is to meet the lesson objectives.

Go back to joking and being cool. You are free to meet the class objectives as you see fit.

Ditch the reward system for older students.

Often online platforms have a built-in reward system like stars. Use the platform’s reward system, but leave it at that. Up to 10 years old, reward systems are essential and motivate students.

Once a student is 11 or older, they become much less effective, which goes back to point 1. You end up treating a 13-year-old like a 9-year-old. For children, their maturity and behavior advance rapidly with each year.

We’ve found it best that once a student is 11 years or older, a different reward system is impractical, and the student will resent being treated like a little kid.

Move past topics where they show proficiency or expand.

When an older student shows a high level of proficiency over a topic, move on from it or expand on it. For example, many Chinese students are pretty talented at mathematics, get the concept of 90 being “greater” than 80, and can easily vocalize that sentence.

Do you need to have them do the following 12 examples of “10 is less than 15” and so forth? It gets tedious and redundant for the student, making them feel like you don’t respect them as you’re not treating them appropriately.

To sum this point up, expand if possible or move and get to a different topic.

Speak in a normal tone of voice

Don’t be fake. Older students are not stupid and can pick up when you’re being insincere. This includes the tone of your voice. Keep your style stable, and don’t switch to a high-pitched tone you would use for a 6-year-old. Also, consider getting a voice amplifier for class to help your students have a better experience.

This takes practice because teachers who are great with older students struggle with young learners for the same reason.

As we said in the introduction, it’s not to imply one way is better. If you’re a fantastic teacher for a young learner, you must practice toning it down for older students.

Use props to help meet the lesson objectives.

For students of all ages, teaching props should be used to demonstrate concepts with students and to make the class more fun. Just use your professional judgment on what to leverage and what to discard as not appropriate, given the student’s age.

There is no one prop you should have or use, but we have suggestions (whiteboards, stuffed animals, things of different colors, and letters).

Have your energy level match or be slightly higher than theirs.

With young learners, energy level is almost always relatively high, making teaching children tricky. But with slightly older students, you’ll want to be observant and be a step above their energy level.

You could have a 12-year-old boy or girl who demonstrates a level of maturity not found with an 8-year-old. As such, you want to match their language or be slightly higher.

Again it goes back to the first point. Don’t baby them. If they are calm, collected, and appear to be motivated and mature students. Treat them as such. It’s inappropriate to be at a significantly higher energy level than theirs.

Again, however, this is a skill you will learn to develop over time.

Don’t force anything

You need to pay attention to older students’ proficiency and interests. Some activities designed for an online class are age-inappropriate. You’re not a robot and are typically allowed to teach in your way. The goal is always to meet the lesson objectives, keep parents happy, and competently teach students.

Use the activity as a base. If it’s too inappropriate, then change the activity together and never force the student to do something they are not interested in or an activity that is not appropriate for their age or level.

For example, you have an advanced student who is 12 years old, and you’re learning about spiders and insects. You have an activity to sing “itsy bitsy spider” because whoever made the material designed it for children under 10.

Instead of forcing your 12-year-old student to sing when they don’t want to expand, ask exciting questions about spiders and build rapport.

Know what you’re talking about

This may seem strange, but many advanced lessons teachers themselves need to review so they know what they’re talking about. For example, if you have a lesson about the rock cycle, you better understand the difference between metamorphic and igneous rocks.

You better be able to explain what exactly a syllable is and why words that have two vowels may only have one syllable. You need to know if the number zero is negative or positive (side note – it’s neither, why?)

Your student could ask you to explain concepts in more detail as a teacher. It’s your job, so make sure to succeed with your students by being ready to teach little girls the ABCs and 123s.

Teaching older students conclusion

To conclude, be open-minded and flexible with various proficiency levels and maturity concerning your online students. As a teacher, you will naturally be more skilled with one group over another, and that’s fine. Work on diversifying your skill set.

If you’re great with older, more advanced students, you may find it challenging to be a high-energy and playful teacher for young learners. The converse is true as well.

Editorial Staff

I'm David Unwin and I head the editorial staff here at Teach and GO. I've taught as an ESL teacher in Thailand for 5+ years at all levels of education, from elementary to University. I was also one of the first 1000 VIPKID teachers. I and my team now share my extensive experience as a teacher here at Teach and GO. Learn more.