Not quite an adult but still not a child is a difficult thing to be. Since they are a tricky bunch to motivate and manage, adolescents are often seen as problem students. Adolescents are going through a lot of physical and emotional changes; they have a deep need to feel valued and good about themselves. Once we are able to find the correct balance between respect and authority as well as what gets their attention, working with middle school students can become a rewarding experience.
One of the questions I hear many professionals who work with adolescents ask is: “How can I motivate them? They aren’t interested in anything!” Often, they don’t like the books and the topics in them. If you ask what topics they would like to cover in sessions, they usually don’t know or will come up with just a few. Sometimes when you bring in materials about their interests they will most probably show very little enthusiasm. The problem is not the actual topic of the lesson, but the type of activities involved.
Here are some tips to motivating middle school students during speech/language sessions:
1. Find strengths and build on them: Every child can shine in some area. Identify what your students do best, no matter what it is. Elicit and use their strengths and passions for session content.
2. Work with students to set short-term goals: For professionals, the school year may fly by, but for the average student, a year can be a very long time. Set regular, achievable objectives in order to keep motivation as high as possible, and discuss and negotiate these goals with your students to keep them involved in therapy.
3. Be the Adult: Research has shown that firm but fair educators are preferred by this age group. Many times adults are tempted to treat a group of adolescents as adults, but the fact is that emotionally they are not. If you talk to them as if they are your friends or peers, they will often use this as an excuse not to participate or do as you ask.
4. Use Humor: A good laugh now and again can motivate adolescents to want to come to speech. Make up stories or ask them to help you solve a problem. My favorite problem-solving activity is a story which was partially true. I tell my students that I had received a horrible birthday present from my husband and I didn’t know what to do with it, without hurting his feelings. The students would come up with all sorts of solutions, have fun and, work on expressive language in the process.
5. Keep it Real: Middle school students often need to know why they are doing something, how it can help them and how it relates to their lives. Most tweens like to talk about themselves, what they think, and what they don’t like; this allows students to express themselves freely and talk about a topic. Take advantage of this by personalizing lessons and relate this to what is going on in the lives of the students at the moment.
6. Stay Relevant: Keeping up- to-date with technology and the topics that interest adolescents may take a lot of effort on behalf of the SLP, but it is of utmost importance to getting and holding their attention.
Here are some materials and methods that I have found to be particularly useful when working with middle school students:
Music: Adolescents love and relate to music. It’s a great way for them to express themselves and learn at the same time. Analyzing lyrics, reading about their favorite artists and watching YouTube performance videos are great ways for them to express themselves and learn at the same time.
Video Games: There often is nothing more exciting to adolescents than video games. I came up with a “Guess the Nintendo®” character powerpoint presentation that my adolescent boys ask for over and over.
Role Playing: Role-playing allows them to vent their feelings in a safe way since it can be perceived as just a “role” they are playing and not their true selves.
Games: Some their favorites include:
Gubs is a terrific strategy game that gets my students interacting and talking.
Tribond requires players to determine what three items have in common. Great for associations and categorization skills.
A combination of gin rummy and scrabble, Quiddler builds vocabulary and spelling.
Some apps my students enjoy:
Switch Zoo: We had a long-term project using this free app, which is also available online. You can read my post here.
Tellagami is another free app that kept my students busy creating projects over many sessions. Check out how I used it last year in this post.
Do you have any tried and true ways to motivate older students in speech? Please share your ideas below!