Mark Beales

Types of students in a Thai classroom

Teaching young children, teenagers and adults

If you think language teachers may come in a range of shapes and sizes, just wait until you witness the range of students you’re going to teach.

Some students are eager, some are recalcitrant; some students are delightful, some are dire. However, the good news is that to a large extent the kind of student you get is related to the kind of teacher you are. Plan well, think how to engage with students and there’s a good chance they will react positively.

Go somewhere like South Korea, and you’re likely to meet students who live in a society where work and education are paramount and so they’ll have their heads in their books from dawn to dusk. 

Head to Japan and you may be met with willing, charming students who don’t want to interact for fear of making a mistake. 

Or land in a Thai classroom and you will need to be as much an entertainer as you will a teacher. If you make a lesson anything there, make it stimulating. The first complaint Thai students usually have is that lessons aren’t ‘sanuk’, or fun. 

Depending on where you are teaching, students’ levels of English may vary wildly. At the top of the ladder are international schools, where students only study ESL until they ready to join mainstream classes. And on the bottom rung are government schools, with classes of 50-plus. 

Traditional teaching methodology in such environments often focuses on reading and writing, with plenty of drilling. The results are that students that can recite the formula for the Passive Future Continuous Tense, but may have few speaking and listening activities. As well as various types of schools, the various ages of students will also affect how you teach. Below is a breakdown of the basic student groups you can expect.

Young Children

Trying to find teachers to work in kindergarten can be like attempting to count the stars in a night sky -.exhausting work. The idea of attempting to teach a foreign language to children who can barely master their Mother Tongue can seem daunting. Yet young learners are among the quickest to pick up a new language and the most willing to please a teacher. 

Up to the age of about six, experts reckon that children are the most receptive to new languages. On the plus side, young children will want to get acceptance and approval from their teacher. They will also respond enthusiastically to what you want to do, and will be happy to try new things. On the down side, their attention span is short, so you’ll need to be using several short activities rather than one long one for a lesson.


Anyone who has seen ‘The Breakfast Club’ knows just how terrible teens can be. Lethargy, disinterest and apparent amnesia when it comes to bringing books to class are just some of the complaints teachers often make. 

The one difference between teenagers and young learners is that the former prefer to please their friends, whereas the latter looks for approval from their teacher. Despite this, teenagers can be the most rewarding group to teach. Once you establish some ground rules and they know who the boss is, teens tend to be inquisitive, open to challenges and happy to take on new concepts. 

When planning lessons, you’ll need to find subject matter that isn’t too baby-like but that also aren’t too adult-orientated. A good way to do this is to start a course by simply finding out what students like, and then designing material around it. Teens rarely get tired of talking about sport, music, the internet and mobile phones. 


As an English teacher, at some point you’ll be teaching adults. Your school may decide it wants all staff to learn some English (yes, even the PE guys too), or you may pick up evening work teaching company workers.

Adults tend to be motivated (as they’re often the ones paying to learn) and can call on a whole lot more experience than your typical 12 year old. If things go well, classes can be rewarding. Some students are highly dedicated and keen to learn. They come to class armed with questions and won't leave until you've answered them, drinking up knowledge as though it were water in a desert. 

That said, if things go badly then adults are far more likely to complain. Adults who are there because their boss put them there are likely to be less motivated than those who are paying for the course.

Those who do wish to learn are likely to be far more vocal than younger students if they dislike your approach – you’re rarely going to find a Year 6 student going off to complain about your chosen teaching methodology. Teaching adults can certainly help you understand more about your culture, you’re going to have more in common with them for a start, but you’ll need to be on the ball.

- Above blog adapted from 'Teaching English' (How to Teach English as a Second Language)


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