Make it Diverse


“Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.”  D. Pink

Increase student autonomy simply by altering homework expectations.  Students are different.  Homework should be too.  I recently conducted an observation inside my ESL classroom where students were provided with the opportunity to select from multiple homework options.  Enthusiasm heightened as pupils selected from appropriate tasks.

While you’ll want to provide the scaffold, allow your students liberty to select subjects of personal interest delivered through creative vehicles.  Don’t be afraid to switch things up as borders are pushed and new horizons pursued.

Perhaps you could introduce a bingo template with each square suggesting a variation on completing homework.  From the template, students could select a personally relevant task.  Or encourage students to present through varying vehicles including video, prezi, drama, song, and text.  Model for students how to collect data from diverse sources.  Expect students to engage in solo, pair, and group work.  Compile student work in portfolios, track progress, and enjoy watching your students flourish!

How are you already providing opportunity for diversified homework?  I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.


Have the Student Teach


“While we teach, we learn.” Seneca

While preparing to teach, teachers learn.  While teaching, teachers learn.  While reflecting upon teaching, teachers learn.  So why should we not expect the same of our students?  Rather than offering content on a silver platter, turn tables and expect your students to prepare and deliver content.  Allow them the joy of learning by teaching.

As the instructor, it is your honor to side-step platforms and welcome your learner on center stage.

In the article, Students learn more if they’ll need to teach others, Everding shares the results of a study in which evidence pointed towards students learning more when they felt expected to teach others.  Simply by altering expectations from that of taking a test to actually teaching content, students benefited from enhanced memory of main points.  In addition the study concluded that, “expecting to teach appears to encourage effective learning strategies such as seeking out key points and organizing information into a coherent structure…it is noteworthy, then, that when students instead expect to be tested, they underutilize these strategies” (Nestojko, Bui, Kornell, & Bjork, 2014).

To start your students teaching, check out 10 Minute Leadership Lessons in which over a dozen ideas are presented where your students have the opportunity to lead inside the classroom.

Or select a student to present review material, have students research and teach content to the remaining class through videos and creative presentations, or engage your whole class in preparing a lesson for another body of learners.  Call on student assistants, expect student involvement, and don’t just teach to the test.

Perhaps you are already engaging your students as teachers.  In the comments below, I’d love to hear what you’re finding to be most successful in pushing your students to teach!

Nestojko, J. F., Bui, D. C., Kornell, N., & Bjork, E. L. (2014). Expecting to teach enhances learning and organization of knowledge in free recall of text passages. Memory & Cognition, 42(7), 1038-1048. doi:10.3758/s13421-014-0416-z

Positive Role Models

Inspire word cloud

“People never improve unless they look to some standard or example higher and better than themselves.” Tyron Edwards

A positive role model is a person of influence.  One by which students are inspired and encouraged to strive for greatness.  An example to learn from, admire, and aspire to be like.  A reservoir from which guidance and advice are gained (Teachers as Role Models, n.d.).

Inside Leadership Role Models, Seaton posits that one’s most influential role models are “local”, in that they present the people you encounter and interact with most frequently.  Seaton further outlines a role model as one who teaches not only through word but through unspoken and observable behaviors.

Role models allow students the advantage to build upon skills and attributes of others as they learn and develop themselves in light of another’s example.  Of course you’ll want to be careful who your students pattern after as they select individuals worthy of attention.  When selecting role models for your learners, consider what it is that makes leaders exceptional.  What type of influence do they portray?  Of course, be sure to observe not only what to do, but also allow your students exposure into what NOT to do.  Mistakes are inevitable.  They’ll be made be everyone.  So encourage your students to minimize their mistakes by learning from the errors of others (Eikenberry, 2009).

Introduce positive role models into your classroom by way of exploring stories of leaders.  First, have your students read examples in which specific qualities are exemplified.  From the reading, explore in conversation specific characteristics while drawing connections to your student’s individual lives.

Explore stories around men of valor and influence – individuals who lived and died well.  Journey through the lives of people such as Winston Churchill, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther King, and Abraham Lincoln.  Raise the bar of expectation for your students as you expose them to a world of greatness.

Eikenberry, K. (2009). The importance of learning from role models. Retrieved 2016, from
Teachers as role models. (n.d.). Retrieved 2016, from

Intrinsic Motivation


 “You can motivate by fear, and you can motivate by reward.  But both those methods are only temporary.  The only lasting thing is self-motivation.”           Rice  

It’ll take grit and determination, however, you’ll love the results of building motivation within each of your students.  Deduct motivation and you’re left with learners refusing to participate and retain information.  Trigger motivation and your students transform into learners excited to learn and participate.  Enjoyment for both you and your pupil is bound to increase.

In Cultivating Student Leadership, Ferlazzo shares how results from the Harvard Education Letter provide evidence for intrinsic motivation to be a key childhood characteristic among adults who become leaders.  Intrinsic motivation has the beautiful ability of inspiring persons from within.  Rewards are felt internally as leaders develop and behaviors flourish.

So how do we create such motivation?

Fostering intrinsic motivation may be as simple as building relationships with students to better learn their self-interests, hopes, and dreams, or simply being more prepared to explicitly form connections between students and lesson.  You could also offer praise for effort and action above that of intelligence (Ferlazzo, 2012).  Rather than teach mere content, teach students how to think.  Help your students discover what they can use or do to motivate themselves (Strauss, 2011).  You, the teacher, may be in their lives for but a short season.  Prepare them with tools to succeed long after your absence.

By way of grids, blocks, and an easy to read infographic, MacMeekin delivers 27 ideas to encourage intrinsic motivation in your students.


Or step away from the classroom for a bit as Dan Pink explores the puzzle of motivation from a business perspective.  After presenting studies where higher incentives result in worse performance, Pink sets forth autonomy, mastery, and purpose as tools for nurturing intrinsic motivation.


Ferlazzo, L. (2012). Cultivating student leadership. Retrieved 2016, from

Strauss, V. (2011). Helping students motivate themselves. Retrieved 2016, from



“…the only normal way to begin speaking in a new language is to begin speaking badly!”

Greg & Angela Thomson

Ouch.  Mistakes feel uncomfortable.  Who wants to risk speaking badly?  Invite your next student group into a safe learning community where trust is built through collaborative learning.  Expect and welcome errors.  Utilize techniques targeting the development of teamwork skills while promoting a sense of community among learners.  Take advantage of group work and cooperative learning as your teacher role transforms into one of facilitating student learning (Tibbetss & Hector-Mason,2015).  Increase communitication through collaboration.

As you engage, remember successful collaboration doesn’t just happen but takes planning and could include:

  • sharing challenges with students
  • deciding on group norms
  • setting group roles
  • teaching students how to listen, how to take turns, and about wait-time before interrupting
  • exploring how to ask good questions
  • negotiating and building consensus
  • analyzing and synthesizing information

Of course successful collaboration will also require willing participants and clear vision and goals in synthesis with a supportive environment (Tibbetts & Hector-Mason, 20015).

Encourage Collaboration Through Games

Include a game during your next class to promote communication and kick stress to the curb.  Seifert presents 5 dynamic games for group collaboration in the ESL classroom.  Who knew that creating sentences, learning proverbs, and creating subjects for verbs could be so exciting?

Encourage Collaboration Through Storytelling

Set lose your student’s imagination as they create stories according to Ferlazzo’s collaborative storytelling lesson.

Encourage Collaboration Through Project Based Learning (PBL) 

Select a project and get your students working.


What will you do to engage your next group of English pupils?  How will your classroom become a place of collaboration for adult learners?  I’d love to hear in the comments below.


Tibbetts, J., & Hector-Mason, A. (2015). Collaboration in adult education. Retrieved 2016, from

Student-centered Teaching


“I never teach my students.  I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” 


Rather than assuming total control of your learning space, today’s tide is shifting to include a louder student voice inside the classroom.  Weimer shares five characteristics of learner-centered teaching in which she advises to first engage students in the hard and messy work of learning.  Students should be the ones asking questions, detailing answers, offering examples, organizing content, and presenting review material.  Explicit instruction ought be presented which teaches students how to think, solve problems, evaluate evidence, analyze arguments, and generate hypotheses, all tools essential for mastering material within a discipline.

In addition, student-centered learning encourages students to reflect upon the what and how of learning.  Assignments require students to reflect, analyze, and critique learning while talking much about the learning process. Learners are motivated by receiving control over learning processes and it’ll be your honor to select ethically responsible ways of sharing power.  Finally, student-centered learning encourages collaboration among students giving individuals the opportunity to learn from one another as members share commitment to learning (Weimer, 2012).

 Target your students with one of these student-centered teaching strategies which include Think-pair-share, 3-2-1,  alphabet brainstorm, and four corners, just to name a few.

Or meet your students where they are by utilizing the flipped classroom model, although you’ll want to make sure your students have internet access for this one!

What have you found to be successful in cultivating a learner-centered environment?  I’d love to hear in the comments below.

Weimer, M. (2012). Five characteristics of learner-centered teaching. Retrieved 2016, from

Positive Learning Environment


“Academic success for students begins with a trusting and mutually respectful relationship between student and teacher, extends to classroom order, and culminates in a safe and supportive school climate.”

Cornell & Mayer

As facilitator, it is largely up to you to create an environment in which your learners feel safe to explore further learning.  Through various avenues you’ll be the one who includes students both personally and emotionally while presenting content reliant upon individual and personal student experiences.  Inside each student you’ll have the power to cultivate a sense of occupying necessary positions within your learning community as the environment nurtures and supports diverse needs present within participants.

Search the web and you’ll find hundreds of suggestions for cultivating a positive learning environment.  I’d love to hear your favorite finds.  In the meantime, below are several suggestions to start you thinking:

Establish a Positive Attitude 

Take a moment to simply consider how the brain is wired.  In the following TED talk Shawn Achor shares how happiness can lead to success.  Achor posits that, “If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral or stressed.”


Personalize Learning

Say good-bye to yesterday’s traditional sage-on-the-stage creation as you transition into a tech-assisted personalized learning haven.  Howton presents five tools to turn your classroom into a personalized learning environment.  These specify utilizing technology which you already have and choosing wisely your content delivery method.  Expect student choice in determining how to complete a task while choosing a learning pathway to embark upon.  Assess often, and be sure to learn from others.

Provide Frequent Opportunities for Practice 

Practice.  Practice.  Practice.  Get students up in front.  Have them speak with a partner. Participate in a drama.  Engage in whole class discussions and debates.  Complete pair work or join small group talks.  Remember learning should be fun, although this definition will vary among learners.  For specific ideas to increase adult gab, check out Wickham’s 13 ideas for adults to practice ESL speaking activities.


Flexible Classroom Structure


“Learning is not a spectator sport…[Students] must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, apply it to their daily lives.  They must make what they learn part of themselves.” 

Chickering and Gamson

As an educator, it is your privilege to invite students into a stimulating environment where they are sure to encounter a safe oasis for learning.  Include variety and freshness throughout your lessons, transform your environment, and join your students with success as you think beyond borders to best meet your students where they are.  Create a place for differentiated learning to flourish and your students are sure to succeed!

Creating flexibility within learning can assume a plethora of appearances depending on your end goal.  Below are several suggestions to freshen a student’s experience as you seek to provide a safe place where learning is nurtured.

Promote Comfort and Classroom Design 

By first promoting classroom comfort, students benefit from a sense of well-being as well as a focused mind and limited distractions.  Taking it further to classroom design, interaction among students and faculty can be increased simply by a revised design.  Inside a traditional classroom tacit hierarchies often form in which vocal and more confident students sit toward the front and receive more individualized attention while the quieter and more timid students gravitate towards the back and encounter less interaction (Rethinking the Classroom, n.d.).  Switch up seating arrangements, place students in groups, and alternate the front of your classroom to bring a freshness inside your walls.

Work Beyond a Single Curriculum

Don’t be afraid to switch things up and think beyond borders.  In one study of an adult ESL literacy class (Finn, 2015), the observed classroom experienced flexibility in structure rather than abiding by a particular curriculum.  As a result, instruction was designed to emphasize student empowerment through a learning-centered model focusing upon writing, reading, discussion, leadership, and publication.  Inside the classroom, students could earn the title of “assistant teacher” in which they were expected to assist the head teacher during class time.  Student volunteers would then help lead class weekly and were titled “experts” upon assuming leadership roles.  Such leadership roles gave students opportunity to actively participate in learning (Finn, 2015).

Introduce a New Classroom Model 

Prepare to totally transform your learning space by utilizing uniquely designed chairs and work tables, multi-purpose cabinets, and flexible boards, among other elements.  Be sure your students are given an environment in which they feel free to collaborate as well as learn beyond traditional expectations.  Garner ideas, or copy one specific model as it is presented in the following video:

What will you do to provide flexibility inside your classroom?  Perhaps it’s simply alternating seeting or supplementing expired curriculum.  Or maybe you’re looking to totally revamp your classroom appearance.  Either way, I’d love to hear what you’re doing to allow students flexibility in learning!

Finn, H. B. (2015). A need to be needed: The intersection between emotions, apprenticeship, and student participation in an adult ESL literacy classroom. Journal of Research and Practice for Adult Literacy, Secondary, and Basic Education, 4(1), 36-47.

Rethinking the classroom: Spaces designed for active and engaged learning and teaching. (n.d.). Retrieved 2016, from

Self-directed Learning


“We can only have citizens who can live constructively in this kaleidoscopically changing world if we are willing for them to become self-staring, self-initiating learners.” 

Carl Rogers 

A crucial learning element which every adult learner should encounter is the ability to be self-directed.  Inside the classroom, behaviors may be fostered which help students advance language knowledge outside the classroom.  Rather than relying upon teacher-directed methods of learning, adult students should actively assume a role in both establishing personal goals as well as determining how they will reach such goals.  As the ability to be self-directed is nurtured, adults are then further developed in assuming personal ownership of learning (Grover, et al., 2014).

To encourage self-directed learning among your adult learners, experiment with the following and I’d love to hear your results.  Or perhaps you have another teaching strategy which you’ve found to be successful in cultivating self-directed learning.  I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Know Your Role As The Facilitator

As facilitator, you embrace the responsibility to assist students in independently making connections amidst learning as well as realizing how a specific ability can enrich one’s life.  Language instructors should encourage students to engage in informal learning activities including finding conversation partners, blogging in English, and reading English written newspapers (Grover, et al., 2014) .

Identify Goals and Determine a Plan of Action 

In a former post, I discussed how to teach goal setting and engage your students in identifying relevant goals.

Develop Self-Awareness Within Your Students

Frequently engage your students in self assessments in order to further increase awareness of personal performance.  No doubt the self-directed learner will present a thorough understanding of self as he/she is aware of their personal learning processes.  Your learner should also understand individual strengths and weaknesses, their ability to utilize different learning approaches, the importance of a learning activity, as well as when assistance is needed.  Furthermore, attention should be directed toward identifying and removing distracting articles in one’s learning environment while simultaneously developing a realistic perception of one’s ability to achieve a target learning goal (Long, n.d.).

Touch the Edge of Comfort Zones 

Develop your learner by venturing together to the edge of a comfort zone.  Introduce new experiences and opportunities and provide coaching to assist your adult learner in reviewing and learning from their individual experiences.  Allow your student the opportunity to generate feedback in order to become more aware of what was done, as well as to take increased responsibility for performing differently during future projects (Self-directed Learning, n.d.).


Long, H. B. (n.d.). Skills for self-directed learning. Retrieved 2016, from
Self-directed learning: Managing yourself and your working relationships. (n.d.). Retrieved 2016, from




Journal Writing


“I hear and I forget.  I see and I remember.  I do and I understand.”

Inspire your learners to engage in personal reflection through the avenue of frequent journal writing.  Within journal writing, students encounter a unique strategy in which they are given opportunity to take control of personal learning through simultaneous reflection and practice of a target language.  Specifically during the journal writing process, students are expected to organize and retain language content (Ludwig, 2016).  Students both reflect regularly upon what they have learned, while also identifying how activities completed in class have assisted learning (Class Journals, n.d.).  Growth in language understanding is recorded and students may receive encouragement from documented progress.

Of course, journal writing can assume various appearances among student learners.  Below are several suggestions for introducing journal writing to your next classroom of learners.

Present Clear Expectations 

Journal activities can have students relating theory to practice or concepts to reality.  Evidence of learning may be revealed, individual insight shared, as well as questions posed regarding course material.  So from the outset be sure to plan specifically what is to be included in each journal.  Plan appropriate feedback and be selective in which journal entries you read.  You could also ask students to either organize and mark entries to be read, or simply select their best entry for you to review (Using Active Learning, n.d.).

Provide Sentence Stems

Provide a sentence stem regarding learning, e.g.: ‘The thing I enjoy most about English is…’ etc.  Then have students compare responses with one another (Class Journals, n.d.).


One-minute papers

Ask students to write for a minute.  Topics can range from something they should have learned in class that day to something that is still not clear.  Perhaps it’s questions, the main point of the lecture, critiques of the ideas being presented, or the part of class that helped them learn more. This can also be an alternative to calling or checking roll so the time is a trade-off.

1) At the beginning or end (or even in the middle) of class, ask students to submit a one-minute paper.

2) To limit the size of the responses in large classes, ask students to write their responses on a 3×5 card.

You or the students can provide feedback during the next class centered around selected questions (Using Active Learning, n.d.).

Dialogue Journals

Engage with your students through writing letters back and forth inside the covers of a real bound notebook.  Initiate conversation, ask questions, and submit entries to one another.


Class journals. (n.d.). Retrieved 2016, from

Using active learning in the classroom. (n.d.). Retrieved 2016, from