Giving Students a Reason to Learn English

I’ve noticed that it is around this time that 2nd grade JHS students start questioning the basic premise of English classes.  “Why is this useful?” “Why is this important?” “Why do I have to memorize this?” “Why do I have to repeat after you?” “Why is this so boring?” “Why is this so confusing?” “Why do we have to learn English?” “Why?” “WHY?” “WHY?!?”

When these questions go unanswered, students start reaching their own conclusions…

Some may press on, finding hope in the future: “Perhaps I’ll use this someday…” or “I’ll use this when I travel abroad…”

But I know that a lot of students walk down a separate path: “We study English because of the entrance exams…” “We do it because it’s stupid.” “I’m here because I have to be…” “It sucks because grown ups always force us to do things that are usesless…” “We learn it because life’s unfair…”

And as the English lessons proceed as usual, insensitive to these subtle changes in the hearts and minds of the students, we start to lose some of them. These students turn their backs against teachers and the curriculum… They may go through the motions but absorb essentially nothing. Worse, some students may just give up.

When a subject is mandatory and the motivation based primarily in rewards and punishments (don’t do this — or else!), it is something that is bound to happen.

I think it’s part of our job to turn the tide against this attitude and show students there’s another way.

Happily, the 2nd graders are finishing up the unit where they learn phrases like “because”, “if”, “when” and “I think”.

We use these expressions in English to share our opinions. What better time to consolidate the unit with a class where students must generate reasons for why the study English?

We are taking the chance to throw a life line to some of these students who are becoming lost in the massive English curriculum.  We posed this question to our students in a lesson that consolidates the use of those four phrases:

“Why do you study English?”

The goals of the lesson are:

1) Students can express their reason for studying English in English.

2) Students can use “because”, “if”, “when” and “I think”

3) Students can share their ideas with friends

Giving students this opportunity to think of concrete reason why they study English can bring untold motivation back to students. Just like you won’t find an astronaut or writer who says, “I did it all this time because someone forced me to do it…” students need to find their reason or goal for learning English to stick with it. Us teachers can deliver that opportunity to them in the form of a class that consolidates the material they just learned.

If you want to learn more about this lesson plan and get some free materials, please send me an email: eliotc1986[at]gmail[dot]com.

What are your techniques for maintaining motivation for learning English?