New Year is a perfect time to set new goals and make personal promises. Perhaps at least once in our life, each of us makes New Year resolutions. And I believe it’s not just a cultural concept—most people consider New Year a new step in their lives, and naturally, many of us look forward to an upcoming year with motivation and determination.
Because New Year resolutions are something that many people know about and do, why not use them in our teaching? Last year, I shared several activities that teachers can implement in their writing classes. I thought maybe I could add a few ideas to that list, so here they are.
From General to Specific
Interestingly, many people tend to make general, broad, and even vague resolutions, for example, “exercise more,” “get organized,” “spend more time with family.” Those are certainly very good goals, but because they are so unspecific and unclear, it’s rather challenging to work toward achieving them. This is perhaps one of the reasons why very few people are successful in achieving their New Year resolutions (New Year Resolution Statistics).
1. For this activity, you need to prepare a list of unspecific New Year resolutions. Some examples are:
- Learn something new
- Get fit
- Help others
- Save money
- Take a fun trip
- Lose weight
- Pay off credit cards
- Get more organized
2. Then divide students into small groups, give each group a few of these resolutions, and ask students to describe what they would do to work toward achieving these goals. In other words, ask them to make a list of specific steps that they would take to accomplish the ultimate goal.
3. Ask students to share their lists with the class and discuss similarities and differences between them. For example, for the general resolution “lose weight,” students can come up with steps that might be quite different across the groups, although they all lead toward the same final goal—to lose weight. Draw students’ attention to the fact that each person creates his or her own—personal and specific—steps that better suit his or her individual needs and abilities.
Make a Language-Leaning Goal Specific
The same holds true for language goals. I noticed that oftentimes when I ask students to articulate their course goals, they simply say, “I want to improve my writing,” or “I want to speak better.” Once again, these are great goals, but many students don’t have a clear understanding of how they would achieve them. Of course, it’s partially our job—to lead students towards the achievement of these objectives. But at the same time, students need to learn how to make specific language-learning goals with clearly defined steps.
This activity can be an extension of or a transition from the previous activity.
1. Divide students into small groups and give them one of the following language-learning goals (or create your own):
- Learn more vocabulary
- Become a better reader
- Improve my writing skills
- Speak fluently
- Make no grammar mistakes
2. Explain the assignment: “Imagine that you have to help a second language learner achieve a New Year resolution that he or she made about English. This resolution is very broad and unspecific, and the student would have a hard time achieving it. You need to create a list of specific steps that would help the student accomplish this goal.”
3. Have students make a list of specific steps that would make it possible to achieve the ultimate objective. Ask students to share their lists with the class.
4. Alternatively, you can have students work on their own by asking them to make a list of specific steps for one or more language-learning goals from the list above, as if these goals were their own. Have students compare and discuss their lists with other classmates.
Write a Letter to a Friend
To practice particular concepts (e.g., modal verbs, expressing an opinion, giving instructions), you can have students write a letter to their imaginary friend who has made a New Year resolution but is not sure how to achieve it. Ask students to use the target constructions (grammar or rhetorical features—depending on the focus of the lesson) in their letter-advice.
1. Prepare a statistical report of New Year resolutions that people make in a particular country. For example, the following data show the most frequent New Year resolutions made by American people for 2014:
- Lose weight
- Getting organized
- Spend less, save more
- Enjoy life to the fullest
- Staying fit and healthy
- Learn something exciting
- Quit smoking
- Help others in their dreams
- Fall in love
- Spend more time with family
2. Have a class/small group discussion. Some of the questions may be:
- What can you say about people in America?
- What are some of the cultural values of the American society?
- Do you think these resolutions are common for people in other countries/cultures, too?
- What about people in your country? Do people in your country make the same/similar/different New Year resolutions?
If you have ever used the concept of New Year resolutions in your classes, I’d like to hear about your experiences. Happy New Year and enjoy your teaching!