5 Tips for Teaching Generation Z

The most important thing we can do for our kids is to understand them. This is a tall order for teachers who struggle to relate to the ways their students communicate.

The way kids connect with the world outside of the classroom poses management issues within the classroom. One way to take away the issue is to not make it one. I'm not convinced that the issue is the technology, however. Perhaps it's what the technology has done to the way kids think and articulate their thoughts. This is not a new theory, but here's where I am on a plan to provide better instruction.

Kids these days are used to interactive information, videos, texting, and more possibilities to define themselves than the Generation X or Y child. Since the way Generation Z sends and receives information is different, we need to understand their modes of communication to better support them in the journey to becoming an adult. Furthermore, we must understand how the way they communicate affects literacy and processing. 

I have a Z pre-teen at home and have only taught Z students. Here's what I know having been raised by Xs in the Y generation. 

1. Short Phrases

Texting and YouTube is what they use. That means generations X and Y are competing with unfamiliar conversation controls and the PAUSE button.

Let me explain. 

When a text comes in, the receiver has control over the response time, and they can affect the tempo of the conversation. This allows them to think about their response under less stress. The pause button on a YouTube video, for example, allows them the same control over tempo.

How can you make this work in the classroom? Try Verso App

2. Use Visuals

This works for everybody, but if you have a room full of Generation Z, you'll need to choose to either tell jokes, the most amazing stories, or the best kept secrets for them to pay attention for more than 45 seconds. 

Throw a provocative image on the screen, and you'll have them for at least three minutes. Ask them questions, and you'll have then for as long as they feel like they are contributing.

Recently, for example, I taught my students about Executive Order 9066. I started with an image analysis of the Japanese internment camps and followed it up with a study of the Korematsu vs. United States case. 

If I had started with the executive order, I'm sure I would have worked hard to engage half of the class for most of the time. This probably sounds like good teaching for any generation, right? The difference with Generation Z is that this needs to be what the average teachers do, not just the good ones.

Otherwise, they have better things to do, especially with a powerful handheld computer in their pocket.

3. Make it Interactive 

Content doesn't have to some solely from the teacher or the textbook. Students can use the Internet to find a variety of sources and share them with the class. 

This type of activity opens opportunity to practice evaluating sources for trustworthiness and usefulness. It also encourages students to be contributors instead of mere consumers. 

4. Be Honest

They can handle it. Their world is packed with on-demand information that most adults could have never fathomed. That means their world is also full of honesty amid the usual deceipt.

Be yourself. Teachers are not superhuman purveyors of knowledge. We are facilitators of learning. We know what it looks like when students are successful and know what to do to get them there.

5. Take Criticism Well (Give it, Too)

This one is hard. It means you'll have to establish a classroom atmosphere that maintains the hierarchy of authority without making students feel like they can't have a constructive opinion about the teacher or lesson. 

Generation Z's path to understanding the value of respect requires a different approach than the authoritarian strong hand of Generation X. Leverage their ability to let the world know what they think about something by using student self-evaluation.

After each exam, provide a evaluation / reflection form so they can turn their opinion tossing toward themselves. This will place their education in their own hands and help them rethink the responsibilities of the teacher.