Teaching Strategies for Teenagers with Ever-Decreasing Attention Spans…… Conscious v Subconscious Learning.

Every minute counts!

Given that the average teenager will probably only be able to concentrate for 10-20 minutes of ‘conscious learning’ within a standard 50 minute / 1 hour lesson, it is important that this short amount of time is used to good effect.

As the clock starts to tick, teacher-talking-time needs to be kept to a minimum especially during those 10-20 minutes of ‘conscious’ learning. Ensuring that your lesson is as ‘student-centred’ as possible is vitally important. (You’d be surprised just how many experienced teachers like the sound of their own voice!).

Traditional EAL teaching methodology has given us the ‘Presentation, Practice, Production’ or the ‘Engage, Study, Activate’ models. We need to make sure that the precious 10-20 minutes of ‘conscious learning’ time are dedicated to the Presentation and Practice (or Engage and Study) stages – especially in new language learning. This means that two thirds of the lesson should probably be dedicated to ‘subconscious language acquisition’. According to Stephen Krashen, who started the One + One Language Theory, the most effective language study focuses on language acquisition (subconscious learning) and not on ‘conscious’ grammar rules.

This is no bad thing – as real learning goes on in the ‘subconscious’ productive learning phase where language is enforced, contextualised, memorized, retrieved, repeated and then reinforced. In short, the subconscious productive stage to language learning is hugely important because it enables the learner to acquire a deeper practical linguistic usage and competency. Even if the learners appear to ‘switch off’ in the productive stage of your language lesson, the subconscious should be taking centre-stage and allowing for deeper and wider learning. Task-based learning activities including role-play and information exchange are excellent for reinforcing language.

So, short of falling asleep, the next time your language students ‘switch off’, make sure it’s in the production stage of your lesson. You might just be pleasantly surprised by the outcome!


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