Classroom Activities for Adult Learners

By David Coodin
Adult students have different needs and strengths than younger students

Most adult students have been out of class for a while; as such, their needs are different from those of younger students. Adult learners may not be as good as children and teenagers at forming new sequences of information, but they are better at putting existing knowledge to new uses, says author and education columnist Marcia L. Conner. Whether you are teaching high school courses, college or continuing education, it is important to play to the strengths that adult students bring to the classroom.

Ice Breaker Activities

Helping adult students get to know each other will break the tension in a classroom that one rarely finds in a class of children or teenagers. You might try the "Lie Detector Game," in which students go to the front of the room one at a time, and say two professions, one of which is their own, and one of which is made up. The rest of the class must guess which is which. Alternatively, simply go around the room and ask each student to talk about his experience of coming back to school.

Computing Activities

Many adult students, especially seniors, will not have the facility with computers that young people, who have grown up with the technology, possess. One activity to get you started is to use real-life parallels to the functions you are teaching. When teaching how to use e-mail, bring an envelope to show the "To:" box is identical to filling out an address.

Teaching a Second Language

Unlike children, who have a natural capacity for absorbing new languages, adults can have a difficult time learning a new tongue. One good strategy for adult students trying to learn English is to bring in an English-language newspaper and ask students to identify words in headlines that they recognise. If they do not recognise any words, show a picture accompanying a newspaper story and list words associated with the image, which you can then explain. For more advanced students, allow this exercise to lead into an English discussion of the article's topic, or have students write reports on current events. These can be both summaries of articles, and opinion essays. Additionally, ask students to bring in a book in their first language, and see if they can translate the first page.

General Teaching Activities

In general, be guided by the principle that adults learn by doing, more so than children. It is therefore important to practice activities that exceed mere instruction or exposition. A helpful activity for almost any subject is to ask students to pair up and teach each other the basics of a given topic. If you are teaching history, for instance, assign half the class one topic to study, and half the class a different topic. This kind of independent yet collaborative learning works well for adults. Another activity involves having students draw on their life experience. If, for example, you are teaching a math lesson, have students talk aloud about how math is relevant to their everyday lives.

About the Author

David Coodin began working as a writer in 2005, and has been published in "The Walrus." He contributes to various websites, writing primarily in the areas of education and art. Coodin holds a Ph.D. in English literature from York University in Toronto.