Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Designing a Study Plan

As teachers, we are always designing and planning activities with certain aims, pointing at specific practices or learning areas in order to help our students reach their learning goals. But one thing that often strikes me is that students have their goals at the tip of their tongue during the first weeks of work, and it seems that these objectives and visions fade away as they progress and get closer to what they were after in first place. A typical example is one-to-one classes, in which progress is often very fast, but students also tend to forget quite soon what they were after.

This may lead to a series of negative effects on students’ learning, being the “floating” feeling (when the student doesn’t know if s/he is learning anymore, or loses track of her/his progress) the most common (and in my opinion the most dangerous) of them all. In order to solve such situation, a very useful tool for teachers and students is the study plan, which description I will detail below. I have designed the plan below to my adult students, but it may also be adapted to younger audiences. Feel free to use it with your students, and tell us what kind of effect it had on your interaction with them.


Since we are taking our first steps with a very sweet group of new students, I thought it might be a good idea to provide some ideas on writing a study plan. It is a good idea to keep it in your notebook (what?! You don't have a notebook?! Ahhhhh!!) in a visible spot, so that you keep these very important elements in mind. You may need from 10 to 30 minutes to design your first draft, so go to a calm place and relax!


In order to apply your efforts to something, a helpful strategy is to know what you are after. How many times have we started something out of excitement and were not able to keep up because you lacked the vision of where you were heading? (I don't know what you will answer, but I've had such experiences on beginning Monday diets...). In order to "refresh" our excitement and keep your pace steady, we must know where you're headed to. I am going to present you with some useful questions and sample answers so that you may reflect about what is going to be your driving objective. The 3 leading questions for designing your study plan are:

1. What?

2. Why ?

3. How?

You may find it useful to brainstorm your ideas at first, and organize them after you finish. (So you don’t waste a lot of ideas while trying to organize your paragraphs or lists. Just let the ideas flow here!)

Now, let’s think about the questions in a bit more detail:


· What is your main goal?

· What do you want to do with English?

· What do you see yourself doing in English when you reach your goal?

Some answers I’ve already got from students were:

· I’d like to listen to music in English and understand the lyrics;

· I’d be happy to understand CNN news reports;

· I want to travel to Miami, go shopping and be able to buy whatever I want;

· I’d like to do well on a job interview;

· I’ll know my English is good when I’m able to watch American sitcoms without reading the subtitles.

So, it is a good idea to know what you want and (as Tony Robbins would ask) how you will know you have reached it. As time goes by, our goals might change, and for us to keep track of our progress, it is very important to understand these changes (or else, we will have the constant feeling some intermediate level students do – “I don’t know if I’m really making any progress”). So, in order not to get disappointed, it’s a good idea to:

a) Know where you’re going;
Understand how you will know you got there.


· Why do I want to speakEnglish?

· What will it provide me?

· How will it make my life better?

Besides knowing what you are after, it is also helpful to understand what is driving you to reaching it, your inner reasons. Here are some answers I have already got from students:
· Because I want to get a better job;
· Because I want to improve my understanding of music;
· Because I want to do business with foreign investors;

This step also helps you align your feelings and expectations, as well as helps you identify what is your “fuel” in this journey.


Ok, now it is time to design what your actions towards your goal are going to be.

· How am I going to reach my goal?

· What am I going to do to reach my goal?

Here we get to some very distinct possibilities… I strongly suggest that you design some daily, weekly and monthly actions, and find a way to keep track of them. Here go some examples:


  • read a piece of news in English;
  • learn a joke in English;
  • read a feed of something I’m interested in;
  • practice for ten minutes with a friend or relative;


  • Watch a movie in English, with captions in English;
  • Have English classes;
  • Write an email to a site I’m interested in;


  • Write an email or letter to a friend in English;
  • See a theater play in English;
  • Build a blog in English (and update it monthly);

Try to specify how long will you spend in each activity, so that you can include these activities in your daily schedule!

These are some of the possibilities! There are many more!

As soon as we finish designing our plan, we have the feeling of being able to reach our goals, which is very motivating and fun!

It may serve you as a motivating factor at times you are very busy or very tired, helping you keep a steady pace in this exciting journey.

All in all, it is always easier to get somewhere when we have a map, or at least some references of what we are looking for, isn’t it? (Like the thought of a cool glass of water when we are at the end of a walk in a very hot day).

I hope it helps you get to your goals!

Feel free to email me about your plans, as well as your experiences along your learning path (or your students’ experiences! Or even better! Have them email me! J )!

Good luck! :)


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