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Same, but Different: The Differences Between Teaching High-School and University Students

Same, but Different: The Differences Between Teaching High-School and University Students | ITTT | TEFL Blog

In my years of teaching, the experience of teaching high-school and university students can be somewhat similar. This is because as students who are learning English as a foreign language, all students, regardless of their age group, are likely to face similar struggles in the basic skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking, albeit to varying degrees. As such, there are teaching strategies that can be used for these disparate age groups, but with some changes in the level of complexity to account for the ages of the students in question.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Sher L. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

High-School Students vs. University Students

That said, the experience of teaching English to high-school students and university students can be different in several ways. Firstly, a teacher has to be aware of the different motivations and levels of motivation in high-school students and university students. While a student’s desire to learn can vary from one individual student to the next, broadly speaking, high-school students might still be motivated to learn English. This is because, for students of high-school age, it is likely that they may still need to take English qualifying exams at the end of high-school or as part of a requirement to enter a tertiary educational institution. Therefore, they may be more focused on improving their levels of fluency in English for the sake of future educational opportunities, in particular.

In comparison, students in university may be less motivated to learn English. Students in this age range may even have difficulty attending classes consistently, despite wanting to learn, due to external factors, such as a demanding major or even part-time work. Since university students are older, they are likely to have had a previous learning experience, which may, in turn, affect their behavior in class, and their overall willingness to engage in class.

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Apart from that, teaching English to university students can be more challenging as opposed to teaching English to high-school students. This is because students at the tertiary level may not only need to use more complex English but specialized English as well. While high-school students do need to be able to read, write, speak, and listen to English as fluently as possible, they are generally not required to know or use specialized terms in their day-to-day use of English. However, in a university setting, a student may have to contend with academic terms in English and may be required to write and present their work in specific formats, all of which require different styles of English. As such, it can be more difficult to address the English needs of a group of university students, especially if the students are from different majors, and, may need help producing different kinds of material in English.

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In general, a teacher will have a particular age group that they may be more comfortable teaching. However, in my experience, having taught students of different ages and backgrounds, the strategies that a teacher has learned in teaching one group of students can generally be useful in learning how to address the concerns of another. The concerns of these groups of students may seem to vary wildly at times, such as a high-school student concerned with writing an essay for a class or a university student worried about presenting their paper at a conference. Despite that, a teacher should be able to deduce what basic language skills the student needs to improve in, and, apply the learning methods that are appropriate for the students’ age.

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