7 tips from CommitTED language learners

Learning_a_languageHere are 7 pieces of advice from some TED translators. ‘Secrets’, they call them. Ha! Most of their ideas are here in this blog. In fact, I wonder if they’ve been stealing.

Strangely, no one mentioned teachers or classes. Or coaches. That’s where we differ, I guess.

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The Motivation Meter

As teachers we can design classroom activities which we think will tap into our learners’ motivations as individuals and as a group. As coaches, we need to coach our learners in their language lives outside the classroom. We need to hand over the motivational controls so that they can tap into motivation themselves when we aren’t around. Motivation is the driving force behind effective learning, so learners need to do two things:

• recognise and understand their motivation

• maintain and boost it

This blog and our book, From English Teacher to Learner Coach, provide lesson structures, guidelines and other suggestions for establishing a greater awareness of motivation. One simple device that learners can then use to keep track of their motivation levels is the Motivation Meter. It looks like this:

Motivation Meter smallIt’s very easy to use. Just pop the Cranial Probe Sensor on your head to measure your motivation levels that day or week. You can then decide what to do with this information. Ask yourself: Why is my motivation like this today? What does this mean for what I do with my English learning?Understanding the factors that motivate or discourage you is a strength because you may be able to avoid things that lower motivation and welcome things that raise it.

Also, there are practical considerations about what to do if your motivation is low or high. If low, then maybe you should just choose something non-challenging or something you enjoy doing – watching a short film on YouTube, for example. Perhaps you could leave English altogether today and try again tomorrow. On the other hand, if your motivation is high, then maybe it0s time to tackle that tricky exam practice paper that you’ve been putting off for the last few days.

So the motivation meter is a great first step in monitoring and maintaining motivation. It accompanies the S.M.A.R.T. goals Evaluationator that we introduced last week. Next week we bring you the Language Life Convertinator!

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The SMART Goals Evaluationator

In a talk we gave at IATEFL last week, we unveiled three coaching contraptions to help teachers encourage successful learners, not just successful classes. You can see an interview about the talk we gave here. The tools illustrate aspects of the job which require a coaching twist. I’ll be showing you them over the next couple of weeks. Here’s the first:

The SMART Goal Evaluationator

The SMART Goal Evaluationator

One problem that learners have is a lack of a sense of progress because their goals are vague, undefined or too ambitious. This machine evaluates your linguistic goals and helps  you make sure that they are:




Realistic and

Time bound.

S.M.A.R.T for short

Let’s imagine my goal is to improve my pronunciation. Great, but that’s an extremely vague goal to aim for. First of all, what exactly do I want to achieve? OK, so I’m going to tighten up, i.e. make it more specific. How about ‘Improve my pronunciation of –ed words’? Ding! Green light for that one! Next, how am I going to measure it? Well, why don’t I record myself telling an anecdote now, then practise my –ed words, then record myself again, and compare the two? Ding! My teacher has corrected me many times for my incorrect pronunciation of past verbs, so I can say she would agree that the goal is appropriate for me. Ding! Also, I need to be realistic so I’m going for an improvement in getting the right number of syllables, but I’m not too worried if I don’t pronounce the ‘d’ clearly /t/ or /d/ – that’s not a priority and is very hard for me. Ding! Finally, I need a time frame (or I could still be working on it this time next year!) I’ll set myself until next Thursday to reach my goal – this will help me focus. Ding!

This is a well- known coaching tool that we’ve adapted for the language classroom. With well-defined goals such as this, your learners will have a clearer sense of progress and a much better chance of success.

If you like this idea, you can read about it in the new book we announced a couple of weeks ago.

Next week we’ll look at another ingenious contraption from our labs deep in the LearnerCoachingELT dungeons that zaps your learners’ lives and converts them into English – the Language Life Convertinator!

Mwaa – ha – ha!

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Successful learners, not just successful lessons


Download the book from Amazon or Smashwords today!

From English Teacher to Learner Coach is NOW OUT! Followers of the blog may be interested to know that we have been busy developing and expanding the ideas, lessons and activities promoted in the blog over the last few months. The result is From English Teacher to Learner Coach, a complete guide to coaching learners in English language learning.

Here’s the blurb…

Help your students get motivated, get organised and get practising!

More than ever before, English learners have the tools and opportunities to practise and become competent English users, but they will need support and guidance to make the most of them. In other words, they need a coach. This book helps you to give your teaching a coaching twist, which in turn helps your students practise more outside class and get more out of what they do in class with you.

 The book has two parts:

1. A guide for teachers which includes:

  • a clear rationale for a coaching approach
  • ways to give your teaching a coaching twist
  • coaching activities you can use in your lessons

2. A student book with 39 activities. This includes:

  • activities to help students get motivated
  • activities to help students get organised
  • activities to help your students practise English outside class on their own or with fellow students.

 Learners can buy the Student book as a separate mini-book.

From English Teacher to Learner Coach is for all types of English class: adults, teens and younger learners, general and business English, EAP classes, large groups and one-to-ones, classes with or without a course book. Many activities are internet based but there are plenty of unplugged alternatives, which require no technological resources.

What are you waiting for? Give your teaching the coaching twist today! Visit the round for more information.

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Even Younger Learners and Coaching

A few weeks ago, we had Clare Sheppard guest blog about her brilliant adaptation of a coaching activity for a teens class. We are blessed with guest bloggers, and this time Hooman Sattari shows us how he pitched the same activity for even younger learners. Somehow it seems more appropriate to raise awareness of such metacognitive notions as motivation in ten year olds than adults!

Hooman has lived in Milan for 14 years and teaches all ages and levels there. He says that he did the lesson because he thought that a lesson on motivation would be original and prove challenging for this age group. Here is his YL adaptation of our activity on motivation Why I’m Learning English:

Look at some of the reasons other children gave for learning English

1)   I’m learning English because I want to pass my PET for schools exam.

2)   I’m learning English because I like speaking in different languages.

3)   I’m learning English because we often go on holiday; we’re going to New York in October.

4)   My parents want me to learn English.

5)   I’m learning English because I like singing songs in English.

6)   I’m learning English because it is fun and I like playing games.

7)   I’m learning English because I think it will be important when I grow up; I need to pass exams and get a good job.

8)   I’m learning English so I can write to my e-pal/pen pal who lives in Canada.

9)   I wasn’t good at English before. I didn’t like my teacher, but now I’m learning English because I want to, not because I have to.

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Teens and coaching

Some commentators on the blog have asked why there is so little attention paid to younger learners and teens classes. I’d like to state clearly that this in no way reflects a notion that coaching is for adults. Quite the contrary; coaching and the methodology behind it can and should be introduced as young as possible. The bias towards adults’ classes is quite simply a consequence of Duncan and my current interests.

So we are pleased to introduce a new guest blogger this week, Clare Sheppard. Clare comes from Dublin and worked in Hong Kong and Italy before moving to Barcelona, where she works for the British Council. Clare has been experimenting with some coaching ideas and has adapted them for the teens classroom.

In the next few days, another teacher will show us how he adapted for an even younger class. For now, I’ll hand over to Clare…


Lesson:  “Drives – motivational activity” for Upper-Intermediate/FCE Teens

For this task I chose to do the activity “Drives – a motivational activity” with my FCE class. I chose this in order to promote motivation and enthusiasm amongst teenage students of a B2 level.

The strategy  in mind for this adaptation was to gauge how much teenage students regard English as yet another subject which kept them behind a desk, between four walls, and whether they could align it with another extra-curricular activity by which they are motivated to practise outside the confines of which it occurs, in other words, to stimulate agency.

First, I had to adapt the “Drives…” activity to suit make it age appropriate. I maintained Dan and Duncan’s idea of using sport but I used a story of when I was fifteen and joined a football team, and though I was really bad, yet I wanted to be good because my family had played football before me (extrinsic motivation) and I very much enjoyed the sport and the company of the people on my team (intrinsic motivation). One day my coach told us a scout would be coming to the next match to scout for the regional team. I practised and practised on my own, in our local park, and in the end I made the cut.

I first had them do a running dictation of this story and then I gave it to them cut up and they had to put it in order. Because of the theme of football and the fact that I was some of their ages in it they were interested and after we had finished they asked me lots of questions: “is it true?”, “do you still play?”, “how did you feel?”, “were your family happy?”

I then asked them to write just a few sentences about something they feel motivated about and willingly practise outside in their own time.

They gave me feedback such as dancing, sport, music, playing the x-box. I asked them why they practised these in their own time. They overwhelming answer was “because we enjoy them, because we can see out friends, because we can move, be outside.”

I then asked them to think about English.

I asked them why they are learning it.

They gave me the following answers which are displayed in the table below:



It is easy My parents make me
To speak to my English cousins because I get on really well with them To get a good job
It is fun Because if you don’t you’ll be poor
I realise it is important Because people tell me I have to
To be multi-lingual To communicate

We followed that up with a discussion about how they feel when they come to English class, and ‘tired’ won out as the overall adjective to describe it.

I then asked them to imagine that they have a friend who is does not speak English, but has to start lessons and is very negative about it. I asked them to write a) what would you say to them regarding why this person should learn English b) what would you advise them to do outside class to get better quickly.

Why they should learn English

Advice to improve

–          Interesting language Go to a summer camp
–          Use in a job Speak English to your family if they speak English
–          Communication if you go to a summer camp Talk to a penfriend
–          If you hate it keep in mind that it’s important for the future Sing songs
–          To get an English girlfriend Watch films
–          Because it’s one of the most important languages Play football on an English team (summer camp)


–          You get good marks  
–          You can live where you want  
–          Books, films, TV series are better in English  
–          Football  
–          To understand lyrics of music  


I told them that many of their reasons and much of their advice point to something a lot more alive than simply an academic subject, and asked them if they regard their pieces of advice as something fun to do and/or something that they would do. They all replied that they regard them as fun and that it would be something they would do.

The activity really engaged the students. It worked as a method of personalization, that is, they liked talking about themselves, they liked that I was asking how they felt about English. It also worked in the sense that it altered their perception of it being solely an academic process.

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Activities for giving your Coursebook the Coaching Twist

In the last post I argued that coursebooks may have something to offer independent learners and their language coaches (that’s you). This runs counter to a common viewpoint in ELT that coursebooks stifle independent learning. I suggested that you re-evaluate the coursebook you are using because you may well find that it provides a decent starting point for learning coaching and some good material to get your class thinking about their learning.

In this post I’m going to present five ways you can give your coursebook the coaching twist. Turn your coursebook teaching into learning coaching!

1 Behind the scenes

At the start of the course, some teachers introduce the coursebook to the students with a quiz, with questions designed to show students around what the book has to offer, eg:

What topic can you find on page 76?

What useful section is located on pages 157-158?

Find three ‘Quick checks’. What are they? Where are they?

After this, put the students in pairs or small groups and get them to prepare a list of questions for the coursebok writer as if they were going to interview them. Use the writer’s name on the front of the book to make it realistic. Then have them swap questions with another group and discuss and try to answer those questions orally.

Get them to act out the interview with the writer of the coursebook for the podcast “English Teacher Monthly”. They might do this in pairs to start, but you might want to ask the better interviewers up to the front afterwards.

Rationale – Students are unlikely to take much interest in the design and content of the coursebook, which is after all quite a dry subject, even though it concerns their learning program significantly. By wearing masks and getting personally involved in these areas, they may be more inclined to care about these things and think about them more carefully.


2 Yes, I can!

The Big Picture (Elementary) "Quick check" This series of activities is designed to help learners think about what they have learnt and how well they have learnt it. It exploits a common feature of modern coursebooks – regular checklists of learning outcomes. Some coursebooks include ‘can do’ statements like this one, which are usually found at the end of each unit or after every two or three units. Learning coaches get learners evaluating their progress in a ‘coursebook dependent’ way at the beginning but  gradually the learners get better at articulating learning outcomes for themselves.

After Unit 1

Ask the students to look at the checklist. Make sure that they understand the statements by getting them to match them up with the page number or sections where they studied and practised them. Point out that the statements are expressed in terms of what they can do and not what they know. For example, in the above checklist it asks whether they can ‘talk about what’s happening now’ when it could have expressed it as ‘use the present continuous for actions happening now?’.

Get the learners to complete the checklist. Tell them that this is for them and that you don’t need to see their answers. Invite them to come to you at the end of the lesson to discuss their answers only if they want to. Elicit some ideas for what they could do if they don’t answer ‘Yes, I can’. Some possible answers might be:

talk to the teacher about it

do extra exercises in the workbook

read the lesson pages from the student’s book again

go to the grammar reference at the back of the book

ask a classmate for help

find examples of the language with an online search

practise putting the new language into practice (speaking or writing)

cows1RationaleMany students have fixed notions that learning grammar or vocabulary is an end in itself, not a means to an end. By ticking boxes related to ‘can do’ statements, learners are doing two things: they are looking at the real-world practical use of grammar structures and they are underlining their achievements in discreet, manageable steps, saying to themselves: ‘Yes, I can’.

Students may find it strange to do an exercise in their books that their teacher doesn’t need to see. They may be unwilling to admit a lack of understanding to the teacher who is supposed to have taught them! By bringing this issue to the fore, learning coaches underline the learners’ responsibility for their own learning.

After Unit 2

This time, encourage your learners to think a bit harder about what they have learnt. Before the lesson, choose keywords from the checklist to gap. Create a gap fill either on the board or on a worksheet. From the above checklist, for example, you might do the following.

Can you… Yes, I _____ Yes, more or _____ I need to look _____
1 talk about your _____ and neighbourhood?
2 _____ directions and explain _____ things are?
3 talk about what you can and _____ do?
4 give and follow _____?
5 leave a message on the _____?
6 talk about what’s _____ now?
7 talk about people’s _____?
8 get your message across when _____?

Get them to fill the gaps, then to complete the checklist as before.

After Unit 3

This time, you should begin to expect more from the learners. Ask them to fill an empty table:

Can you… Yes, I can Yes, more or less I need to look again

Put them in groups of 3 or 4 and explain that together, they should write the ‘can do’ statements for Unit 3 without looking. You might quickly flick through the pages in the book in front of the class to remind them of the lessons. Go around the room making suggestions and giving prompts. Get them to share their answers as a whole class before checking in the book.

RationaleThis is the third unit in a row that the class will have used the checklist. As a coach, you are encouraging a good habit which will hopefully become a regular part of their learning routine. If making your learners do something like this feels a bit authoritarian, consider the common primary education practice of making students write a title at the top of a new topic or lesson; as an effective independent learner you probably still do this years after being taught it. A bit of ‘teacherly’ encouragement is not anathema to coaching towards independence!

After Unit 4

Don’t make such a big deal of the checklist; this time, quickly elicit the ‘can do’ statements orally from the whole class, then let them check.

After Unit 5

Just give them five minutes to fill in the checklist on their own.

After Unit 6

Set the checklist for homework

After Unit 7

Remind the students that the checklist is there.

After Unit 8

Don’t mention it. One or two lessons into Unit 9, ask them whether they did Unit 8.

After Units 9 and on

Don’t mention it any more.

RationaleOver the course of a year you have gently handed over responsibility for this area to your learners. There will be, of course, learners who don’t adopt this reflective practice in their learning, but that will be their choice. Hopefully, many of your students will go on thinking for themselves about what they have learnt and how well.

3 Drastic Cuts

You may sometimes find that you do not have time to cover the whole unit, depending on contact hours that month, the overall length of the course or the pace of the class. Normally in this situation, the teacher would choose which lessons from the book to cut, but the learners could do it given the chance (and a little guidance).

Explain to the class that this month there isn’t enough time to do everything in the unit and that it is necessary to cut one lesson. Put the choices on the board; for Unit 3 you might write Lessons 3.1 / 3.2 / 3.3 / 3.4 / 3.5

If possible, get the students into a ‘board meeting’ formation around a big table with their books in front of them. With larger classes you could organise groups around several tables with one chairperson per group. Ask them to look at the next unit. Invite suggestions as to which to cut; with everyone’s ideas, make sure they justify their suggestions. Also, be sure to encourage disagreement.

After five or ten minutes, wrap up the meeting and call a vote. Hand out slips of paper on which the students write their preferences. Whichever lesson gets the most votes is cut, even if it one that you would have preferred stayed in

thisorthatRationaleThis helps learners to see that the coursebook is not some authority that tells you what to learn; rather it is a tool for learning, a useful guide, and nothing more. Also, it is important as a coach to encourage students to make choices about what they learn. While we cannot expect them to decide on learning outcomes from scratch (one reason coursebooks are useful is to do that for us), we can make decisions easier by presenting them with choices.

4 Why? Why? Why?

After every activity one lesson, ask the students why you made them do it:

Why did we do that gap fill?

Why did I make you say the phrases?

Why did I ask you to copy the board?


Then do it at least once every lesson until it becomes a common question in the classroom that the students are used to answering.

Rationale Coaching encourages learners to make decisions for themselves about how to learn. By repeatedly asking them to justify good learning practice in class, they will hopefully be better able to justify what they do outside of the class.


5 [your own idea]!

Rationale – We want to practice what we preach! Please contribute to this post and practise making coaching decisions about what to do with your classes. Leave your ideas in the comments below.

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