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What is The Difference Between Teaching English to High-School Students and University Students?

What is The Difference Between Teaching English to High-School Students and University Students? | ITTT | TEFL Blog

An obvious difference between teaching English to high-school students and university students in the organization. Class sizes at a school are usually limited to about 25 students and we have to check the attendance because it is compulsory. The timetable and the syllabus are fixed. At a university, the groups are often much bigger, and the teacher can arrange the syllabus more freely.

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

Students’ Age

In my opinion, the greatest difference is the age of the students and how the teacher must adapt to it. Most of the university students are over 18 years old. They are adults and treated as such, while almost all high-school students are teenagers. Also, in high-school students are prepared for university, in university students are prepared for their professions.

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The Level of Motivation

That is to say that as an adult you can decide what you would like to do and what you would like to study. Usually, this means that the students are more motivated, but it also means that they must take responsibility for their education. At the beginning of the course, the teacher often provides the syllabus and the students can then manage their own time and complete assessments on time in their responsibility. It is not very common to give homework or to check it. Students need to be more self-directed and avoid procrastination. It is also expected that they prepare for the classes and that they take responsibility for attendance. This already changes how the teacher can start the class.


Another difference will be the syllabus itself. Students often already have some knowledge of the English language. At university, aims are often to learn to think critically, form questions, and share ideas. The teacher will lecture in front of the class. It is very important to be well prepared, to be enthusiastic, and to have creative ideas. The interests of a young adult will also be different from a teenager. We should keep this in mind when we prefer the syllabus. This will encourage students more and might lead to interesting classes! We should still try to reduce the teacher's talking time. To achieve this, we can use group discussions, working in groups, or pairs.

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Class Size

As university classes are usually bigger sized, there will generally be less individual contact with the students, and they will be more independent. However, if a student needs more intention, we will be there. The impulse for it will often come from the student. This is the opposite of a high-school student.


If we teach at a high school, we are not only responsible for teaching English to the students. We are also responsible to help them grow up to be independent adults.

We will have to check the completed homework and remind them of the due dates. If we see that a student has difficulties and falls behind, we will take responsibility and help the student to understand every topic.

As the groups at a high school are smaller, the teacher will have a more personal relationship with the students and will also be more involved with problems that might occur in the classroom. This could be arguments between students, mobbing, behavior problems, and so on. This can interfere with our classes and we need to pay attention to this. Younger students still develop their personalities and their social behavior. So, we should help them to do the best at it. Only if all students feel welcome and comfortable at school, a good learning environment will be given.

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Furthermore, we must report the development and evaluation of the parents of our students. Parents play an important role in their children’s lives. Open and regular communication will help us guide our students.

Teaching teenagers can be challenging because their focus is often not on the school and the motivation is not very high. Another problem might be that students are sometimes insecure and are not fans of some methods. Teachers should be aware of this and react fast to it. Using different and modern methods will help us. Games and competitions are a good way to make classes more exciting.

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In conclusion, I believe that every group is different, and we need to think about our role as a teacher again and again. A teacher should always stay active and adapt to new challenging situations. With some experience, a teacher usually finds their personal preference of the age or the level of English of the students they like to teach. I love to teach teenagers. I like to teach in a small classroom and to build a rapport with the students.

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