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Reflecting on the Future or

5 Exciting Tips to Motivate your Learners



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Most teachers would probably like their students to think about their futures a little more often. If learners knew what they wanted to be doing in five or ten years` time, they would see the purpose behind their schoolwork and be motivated to study. This kind of motivation is often called instrumental motivation, and the more a student reflects on their ambitions and associates them with the task ahead, the stronger this motivation will be.

Reflecting on the future has an additional benefit. Young people usually imagine their future self as being a more powerful and successful version of their current self. So, just as reflecting on past mistakes can make learners feel negative, reflecting on potential growth can help them develop a positive self-imagine. This in turn will increase their expectation of themselves and raise motivation. In other words, their future self will act as a positive reference point, or a behavioral guide.

For learners of English, the possible future self is a particularly attractive one. The prospect of accessing global conversations and culture can plant exciting ideas in their minds about the people they might become. However, the present has such a strong hold on us that we sometimes lose sight of the place we want to get to or the person we feel we can be. Encouraging young people to reflect on their aims and their future lives can restore this future focus and the motivational benefits that come with it. It’s a good idea to explore student`s current motivations to learn English in order to raise awareness of the need for a future self-guide.


Motivational Teaching, TIP 1

Try this

Reflect on motivation: Ask students to work in groups and discuss why they are there in the classroom learning English. You might hear ideas such as the following:

  • we have been to learn it in this school.
  • I want to understand what people are saying online.
  • I`ll need it for the job I want to do.

Write these reasons on the board in two categories. On the left put ideas connected with their current lives, on the right those connected with their future lives. If some reasons could relate to both (e.g. the second reason above), ask students to clarify. Now add the column headings My life now and My future.
Ask students which column has more reasons and why. Then ask which reasons they think are more exciting or important.


Motivational Teaching, TIP 2

Try this


Research the benefits: Give students a worksheet entitled Reasons to learn English, with 6-10 shapes or spaces to write reasons in. Tell them to write reasons to learn English into each shape or space. Then put students in groups to share their ideas. Have each group agree on their five most exciting reasons and write up their ideas on the board. Students can then make a class poster or display of the most popular ideas.

Students may end up with a list of benefits similar to the following, taken from real advertising for English language schools:

  • Earn more money than your peers
  • Read 95% of academic research
  • Work in science, technology, or business
  • Watch foreign TV networks
  • Go to an international conference
  • Work in an international organization
  • Understand emergency instructions on planes, etc.
  • Impress your friends and family, just by speaking
  • Chat with 2.5 billion people.

Such lists are selling us nothing less than a vision of our future. The websites and adverts where they are found use imagery and narratives to make these visions even more powerful. Could we also use the vehicle of advertising to sell English to students? If it`s true that salespeople end up believing their own sales talk, imagine what might happen if we turned students into advertisers of English. Alternatively, to help students develop a more personal, detailed view of the future, we could encourage them to reflect on a typical day in their future as an English speaker.


Motivational Teaching, TIP 3

Try this

Future diary 1: Ask students to write about a typical day in their future. Start by getting them to choose five things they`d love to be able to do one day using English. Show them the list of benefits above to help them. Then give them the example of a future diary entry below. Have students identify which five items on the list the author of this diary entry chose (c,d,e,f, and i). Students then write their own future diary entry including five ideas of their own.

My typical day with English (ten years in the future)

It had been a difficult day. I had attended a conference in Chicago with 50 computer game designer from around the world. The presentation I had given for my company was a success, but as I sat in my hotel and caught up with the news on CNN I felt tired. Then the phone rang. I picked it up and responded in English, but it was only my mum. «Is that really you, Gianni?», she asked. «Wow, your English accent is so good!» After she had hung up, I felt better and I decided to go down to the bar. I got chatting to a group of interesting people working with a modeling agency, and we decided to head out to see a film at the local English language cinema. It was a great evening.

√Getting it right

Encouraging imaginative thinking: Children of primary school age will probably feel comfortable talking about what they are going to be «when they grow up», but a class of teenagers may feel a little self-conscious about revealing their inner ambitions. For older classes, teachers could take a less direct approach, by encouraging students to identify with other young people who have become proficient in English. While teachers rarely have the opportunity to introduce students to an L2 speaker who can be a role model, the internet can be useful source. For example, video logs (vlogs) on YouTube regularly feature non-native speakers posting videos of themselves speaking in English.


Motivational Teaching, TIP 4

Try this


Future diary 2: Adapt the future diary 1 activity by asking students to write a mirror image of the first diary entry, in which they don’t speak English well. For example:

My typical day without English (ten years in the future)

I was returning home after a meeting with colleagues at the small, local company where I worked. I was exhausted after a long and boring day. While I was waiting at the bus stop, a young Australian tourist approached me and asked if I knew what they were asking but couldn’t find the words to respond. «Sorry, no help» was all I could say in English. Disappointed, the tourist walked off…

You could then make a copy of these and ask students to ceremoniously throw the copies in the bin.


Motivational Teaching, TIP 5

Try this

One sentence project: Find a YouTube video of the One Sentence Project showing young people reading sentences in the third person, such as He was a very patient father. Ask who the young people might have been talking about (themselves from a future viewpoint). Then ask students to imagine what they would like others to say about them in the future. Here are some examples:

He always helped others.

Her ideas helped change the world.

She flew with her own wings.

She saved many lives.

He made people laugh.

Correct their sentences if necessary, then video the class as they say them and upload the video to the school website or blog if you have parents`/ carers` permission. Then ask them to discuss how English can help them become that person.

The materials have been used from Motivational Teaching, by Nick Thorner

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