10+ Tips and Resources for Motivating Language Learners to Set and Achieve Goals

Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare. ~Japanese Proverb

Part of any language curriculum should involve students taking charge of their learning through goal-setting and reflecting. This process helps students find out how they learn best and what motivates them. It also helps them take control of their own learning. January is a great time to get your students to reflect on their learning journey. When students actively reflect on where they were at the beginning of your class and what they have achieved, it gives them an idea of what they need to do to get to where they want to be at the end of the semester. I have tried many different approaches to get my students to ponder their language learning goals and create plans to achieve them. These are a few ideas that have been successful.

Have Them Map Out Their Goals

Students should write out their learning goals on either a journal, blog, website, mobile device, or paper. They need to be able to keep a copy to refer to later. Concept maps are also useful. Students can list English language goals as the main concept then have branches listing specific goals.

Goals Should be Specific and Individualized

Encourage your students to create personal goals that relate to their interests or needs. Also, encourage them to be specific. For example, your student might write, “I want to be able to read a novel in English or understand the lyrics to my favorite English song.” Another student might need to learn English in order to pass a test.

Create Action Plans

After writing these statements, you can have your students pair up and come up with action plans to achieve these goals. For example, students might decide the best way to read a novel in English is to read so many pages each week and join an online discussion about the book. This type of activity spurs discussion among your students as they discover a little about each other. You can even pair them up according to those who have similar goals. Encourage students to also determine problems they may have along the way to completing their goals and write out solutions.

Goals Should be Posted and Shared

My students post their short goal statements to a Wallwisher (an online sticky board) on our class wiki page. This way they are committed to accomplishing the goal and have a constant reminder of their goals each time they visit the wiki.

Reflect on Their Goals

Along the way, have your students go through previous assignments and tasks to see where they began and see how much they have progressed. Have them write down or discuss how they feel about their progress and think about what they need to do to achieve more.

Motivating Students to Reach Their Goals

Your students may need some motivation to accomplish their language learning goals. The following ideas may help:

  • A wall of inspiration- Put butcher paper over one wall and have students daily write out quotes, sayings, or thoughts that inspire them. They can also add pictures of them doing tasks to reach their goals. Students love writing on walls.
  • A goal collage- have students create collages with pictures that relate to their goals. Students can create multimedia collages online with these free webtools- Glogster, Muzy, Magnoto, and Webdoc.

More Resources

For more tips for achieving goals with language learners, visit these resources:

How do you motivate your students to accomplish their learning goals?

If you want to receive more of Shelly’s tips for online resources for teaching English, then subscribe!


Leave a Comment ↓

  1. International Health Medical Insurance says:

    Mar 14, 2012 at 9:10 am

    When learning any language it’s important to set the goals and try to reach them! If a student keep the track of all the goals then it’s easier for him to check teh progress an the amount of the material that was learnt!

  2. Shelley Steinhorst says:

    Jan 12, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    Dear Shelley,

    Thanks for posting such an interesting blog entry. I love to work with goals with my corporate students, however, I have noticed that a lot of people, even in business, find goal setting itself one of the most difficult and unpleasant tasks they can imagine. As a goal-setting person myself, I was very surprised how hard this can be for learners. Do you have any tips for helping students actually WRITE a goal out? I mean, apart from the ‘SMART’ goal requirements. Thanks!

    • Shelly Sanchez Terrell says:

      Jan 12, 2012 at 8:51 pm


      They can look at the statements my students created here as an example, http://dazenglish.wikispaces.com/goal-setting

      I tell my students to tie goals into their interests, what they already do to learn English, what they would do to learn English, and to their daily routines. I tell them to also relate it to their personal needs. For example, they might need to improve English to make phone calls at work, pass a TOEFL test, or just be able to play an online video game. We can ask them what they already do online and offline then tie an English element to this. They might not realize they can tie learning a language to their interests. For example, a few students may sing karoake. A good goal could be to sing the English songs at Karaoke better. In their goal statements they do the following:
      A- list a specific outcome
      B- list a specific plan to accomplish this action
      C- list how many times or the amount of time they will dedicate to this action (5 minutes a day, 3 times a week, once a month, etc.)
      Not all will get it perfect as you will see from my student responses but they can work in pairs to revise their statement and discuss which might yield better outcomes and why.

  3. Global English TESOL says:

    Jan 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    These are great ideas. Thanks – and as teachers we should be encouraging our learners to think and plan towards their English goals. I also think we should be encouraging them to engage in English outside of the classroom. If we use exciting ways for this to happen, this can be very motivating. Engaging with each other via a FB page where everyone contributes to comment on a news report or answer a question, setting up a simple survey on surveymonkeys and sharing online English game sites etc. are ways to get your students interested, engaged and motivating each other.

    • Shelly Sanchez Terrell says:

      Jan 12, 2012 at 8:53 pm

      This is great advice and definitely I think students should realize learning a language happens all the time not just in the classroom. In fact, it is more powerful when they apply what they learn in various contexts that they encounter everyday. This will personalize the language for them and help them develop the vocabulary and grammar they specifically need.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed.