Number one for English language teachers

Teen Talk: Talking politics

Type: Article

Is the language classroom a place for politics? Many would argue that it isn’t, especially with teens and younger learners.

Introduction

Talking politics isn’t always easy in your own language, let alone a foreign one. Adults often find the range of political systems, parties, and laws baffling, so what chance do you have with a class full of teens? The common (mis)conception is that teens are just not interested in politics so why bother teaching them about it? They don’t have a vote, so why should they care? But today's media coverage of elections around the world makes it a difficult topic to ignore and teachers can be assured that if their students do watch or read the news then they will have some knowledge about various political events. And more and more, it seems that young people are becoming politically engaged, so using elections could be a springboard to talk about politics and political apathy in a way that doesn’t offend or bore, but engages them. Here are some ideas.

Lesson ideas

To introduce the topic, why not do a reverse quiz on the current election going on in the country in which you're teaching? In a reverse quiz, you provide the answers and the students make the questions. Besides being good grammar practice for question formation, it also allows for different possible questions. As an example, a reverse quiz for a lower level class on a US Election might include the following answers:

the White House, Republican, Democrat, November, George Washington

You then ask the students to work in groups and formulate the questions that would provide those answers.

Q: Where does the president of American live (while he is in office)?

Q: What are the names of the two main political parties in the US?

Q: In which month does the US election take place?

Q: Who was the first US president?

Another idea to prompt discussion is to dictate the following sentences and ask students to rate them from 0-10, (10 = totally agree and 0 = totally disagree):

  • Young people don’t care about politics.
  • Young people are only interested in shopping and music.
  • Young people don’t watch the news.
  • It isn’t important to know about world politics.

Use these to statements to provoke a reaction and kick off a class discussion. Ask students to stand on an imaginary line in the classroom depending on what number they gave and ask them to justify their answers.

Finally, if you're teaching politics in the run-up to the election, give election watch assignments for homework, with students reporting back orally on what they found on television or the internet. Ask them to conduct informal polls among family members of who they would vote for if they could. You may be able to prove that not all young people are ignorant of world politics. To borrow a phrase from the activist and filmmaker Michael Moore, it could be a mini slacker uprising.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I´m so pleased you´ve included politics! I´ve had some very sucessful teenager politics classes. We´ve looked at some different ways to influence politics and topical news stories ... students wrote their own draft laws and debated them eventually voting on the best ones. Most Parliaments/ Assemblies etc have an education service with resources that can be useful ... for example www.parliament.uk/education. Emma

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