Happy New Year (at least to those of us for whom it is a New Year already)! I’m pretty sure most of us are hoping 2021 will be an improvement on 2020, and that many of us are hoping to effect personal change in the upcoming months. I am – with this in mind, for the first time in years, I’ve decided to set some New Year’s Resolutions (which some cynical souls describe as a mere “To Do” list for the first week of January). I’m curious to see if my students will get on board and be willing to do the same.
The task is designed primarily for lessons you may have in the next few weeks; if these are new courses, you may want your students to be comfortable together, and with you, before you do this task. To my mind there’s no harm in doing this lesson at any point in January or February. In the lesson, students share views on the topic of New Year’s Resolutions, brainstorm common (or less common) resolutions and select some for themselves; then, in the main task, their resolutions are presented to each other, with students explaining why and how they will achieve them. The task of the listener is to help “refine” each resolution, making them specific, concrete, measurable and therefore – hopefully – more achievable. I’ve included some variations towards the end for different contexts (e.g. shorter 45-minute lessons), as well as some possible language areas that might emerge.
- Set the context of New Year’s Resolutions. You can do this by giving one or two examples of what people in January typically vow to do to improve their lives that year; from the examples, elicit the term. It is then worth also feeding in key collocations e.g. to make / set a resolution, to keep a resolution, to break a resolution.
- Share the Jamboard for this lesson (the usual applies: if you want to use this Jamboard, make a copy for yourself – you will then be able to change the sharing and editing rights). Focus on Frame 1, which asks for views and opinions on the topic; students can discuss these in Breakout Rooms – if you put the students in 3s or 4s, you can ask them to find out who has the most similar views / experiences. Feedback on questions 1-3. Question 4 is meant to bridge to Task 1.
- Moving to Jamboard frame 2, tell the students they will add their ideas from question 4 on the first frame to the post-its in the image. Put students in three rooms for this (assuming your numbers allow this). Room 1 should add 4-6 resolutions on pink sticky notes to the pink post-it note, room 2 should add 4-6 green sticky notes to the green post-it, room 3 should add 4-6 yellow sticky notes to the yellow post-it. Before you open the rooms, draw attention to the “standard” example lose weight to show what / where they should add, and then delete it. Check the goal – that they should list 4-6 ideas to their post-it, using sticky notes of the same colour. Tell students not to repeat ideas they already see placed on the Jamboard (don’t worry too much about repetition, this will be addressed in step 3 if you choose to include it).
- Students then list their 4-6 resolutions in rooms, being mindful of ones that other groups have already placed. Monitor the rooms, making it clear you can provide phrases / correct where needed. In feedback, address any errors that have remained on the sticky notes and ask some questions focusing on the resolutions they have selected e.g. why do people often choose this one? Which ones are harder to keep? Why? Which resolutions here are less common?
- Optional article / resolution replacement : tell the students they are going to read an article listing resolutions and then agree replace 2 or 3 of the brainstormed resolutions with ones they have read about. They should replace any that are a) very similar to others on the board but “slipped through” b) any that feel particularly boring or clichéd (it’s up to the students to decide on this). Share this link to the article e.g. in the chat. Tell students the article includes 50 resolutions. Room 1 should look at resolutions 1-15; room 2 at 16-30; room 3 at 31-45. Their task is to individually a) skim their resolutions b) stop and read three that seem interesting or useful c) be prepared to share why they think they should add these to their list from step 2. It may be worth checking this task before they start e.g. Room 2, which numbers should you read? Everyone, how many should you read more fully? etc. Let them read, setting an appropriate time limit depending on the group’s level and reading skills (emphasise the fact they won’t be able to understand everything, and shouldn’t try to: it’s enough to get the gist of the 3 they select). Then, as a group, they should present the ones they selected, saying why they should add these to their list / what it should replace. This could be done quite quickly if they have all selected the same resolutions; if a group finishes earlier than others, help them with any new vocabulary they noticed in the text.
Having now generated and refined a number of resolutions as a class, it is time for the students to select their own on their own. How many you focus on will depend on the time you have and the willingness of your students. I think between 3 and 5 resolutions each should be plenty.
Note that there are a number of variations on this task that may work better in certain teaching / learning contexts, so after reading this “standard” procedure take a look at the alternatives in Variations below.
- Share the example on frame 3 of the Jamboard. This imagines students are working together in pairs and that each student, using different coloured sticky notes, has selected 4 resolutions. Adapt this to make it work for your class: it could be groups of up to 4 learners sharing fewer resolutions for instance; or it could be you and an individual learner listing your own 5 resolutions side by side. Note from the example (pictured above) that the resolutions are stated briefly and generally: refining them is part of the task in step 3. It is no problem if students note down similar resolutions or if different resolutions are somehow linked (e.g. dry January / lose weight).
- Ask students to add their own resolutions to a relevant frame on the Jamboard (the template frames 4-8 has space for 5 numbered rooms; copy and add or delete as applicable to your class size and desired grouping size). As students note their resolutions, they should pay attention the question prompts on the right. These are designed to help them make the resolution more concrete, specific and measurable when they share them in the next step: so as they note each resolution, they should think about why they want to do it; what steps they will take; how often they will do this; and by when they will finish or how they will know it is successful. (You may have to pre-teach the meaning of “by” in this context.)
- Once students have put their resolutions on the frame using sticky notes, it may be a good idea to demonstrate the task – you can do this either by sharing a resolution of your own and having the students respond to and refine it, using the questions in frame 3; or you can play a recording from the Follow-up stage below. If you use your own example, make sure by the end of this demo, your resolution is “smart”: with the students’ help you have concrete reasons, steps and a time frame. Their goal in the next step is to do the same with each other.
- Put students in their pairs or groups into rooms, giving them a good length of time (e.g 15+ minutes) to present and help each other “refine” their resolutions – double check this goal / outcome i.e. by the end they should have at least 2 or 3 specific resolutions each based on their feedback to each other. Monitor the rooms: help with language that emerges at the point of need; gather interesting discussion points for content feedback.
- Content Feedback: based on what you have heard, nominate one or two learners to present short summaries of how they refined their resolutions, and pick out any interesting suggestions that were made along the way. Troubleshoot further: is anyone still not happy with their resolution? Can we improve it?
- Language Feedback: address any recurring issues with different lexical or grammatical items you have not yet noted, using the chat or board to share and correct / upgrade these. See the Language Focus below for possible areas that might emerge.
- Listen to Neil and Neil talk through one resolution each. If you listen to both, you could ask students to decide: a) Would you choose either resolution? Why, why not? b) Who is more helpful? If you listen to just one, students can note the resolution and any of the details that emerge (why / how / how often / by when).
- For homework, students can listen intensively to either in order to pick out any new phrases – they should share these next lesson for clarification and expansion.
- Focus the content: depending on your class, limit the content so resolutions focus on work / professional issues (e.g. BE / ESP learners), study habits / plans (e.g. EX, EAP learners), or classroom norms more generally (all classes).
- Levels: though it may be optimal at B1 upwards, the lesson can work with A2 upwards – as with all task-based lessons, the trick with lower levels is effective scaffolding. This could mean, for instance, giving more time to think and plan what they want to say, allowing students for instance to take some notes to support their presentation of their resolutions. It can also mean giving a clear, simple model yourself (which is often a good idea in any case) before they do the task.
- Lesson Length: if you do the full lesson it’s probably a good 90 minutes. If you only have 45, I’d suggest keeping the pre-task brief, limiting task 1 to a quick brainstorm, and devoting most time to the main task and feedback on it.
- The “Year Compass”: Anita Derecskei shared this fascinating resource with me just the other day; it offers a sophisticated template for reflecting on the past year and planning for the year ahead. There’s a lot there, so you’ll need to have a good read to get your head around it before using (parts of) it. Though I haven’t used it yet, I feel it’s very exploitable, particularly with high level one-to-one professional learners (it acts as a kind of Framework Material).
- Gamified resolutions: ask students to list their 4 or 5 resolutions but at least one of them should not be true. Their partner asks questions / interrogates to identify the false resolution (so, yes, a variant on 2 truths and a lie!).
- Creative mode: give students (or better still, let them choose) a local or global celebrity for whom they should identify 4 or 5 resolutions. They can then read the resolutions out, and other groups guess the celebrity; or they can simply present the celebrity and resolutions, with the others decide which ones the celebrity is more / less likely to keep. Here is a randomly chosen example:
Lexis / collocations related to everyday life – health / fitness, work, hobbies etc: to get fit, to lose weight, to go on a diet to do (more) exercise, to go running, to be more productive, to plan more, to plan less, to take up (activity), to read more, to give up/cut down on X, to learn a language, to learn a new recipe etc.
Language for describing (bad) habits: I tend to spend too much money on…..; I’ve been eating / drinking too much; I don’t do enough exercise.
Language to express plans, intentions, hopes and wishes: I plan / hope / would like / want to travel more; I’m going to (try to) spend more time with my family.
Adverbs / adverbial phrases representing frequency or time: (at least) once a month, daily, three times a week, by the end of (February).
Questions to help refine the resolutions: why do you want to take more photos? How often will you do this? When will you do this? What will the result be, in the end?
Evaluating each others’ resolutions: I think that is unrealistic; you need to be more realistic; that sounds like a good idea; I think it will be difficult to keep; it should be easy to keep.
Language for making suggestions: you should do it more often; it would be easier if you stopped eating chocolate too; maybe you could go running with someone else?