ESL lesson about challenges


We all know how difficult it can be to learn a language.  For ESL learners the journey is a long one and some if not most spend years and years improving, practicing and working on their English language skills, vocabulary, and grammar and on and on.  Psychologically though it’s important to look at difficulties with a positive attitude in order to stay motivated with the eye on the prize so to speak.  A good lesson for reminding students of how to stay motivated through their language learning journey is discussing “Challenges” and “Goal Setting”.  Preferably it can be done at the beginning of the school year, if not one of the first lessons but you can bring it out at any time you might feel that your students are getting weary. So let’s get to it.

Start by printing out some images from the internet (Google, Pinterest etc.) on different kinds of challenges.  For instance, someone doing sport (physical challenge) or someone studying or working in an office (mental challenge). Giving a speech/presentation, domestic life/every day challenges or something like an extreme sport.  Any of these will do the trick.  Give out the images to students in pairs and ask to identify what kind of challenge each image depicts.  Once you get feedback and confirm what they all show, tell students to discuss in pairs when they have experienced these types of challenges, what happened? How did they feel?  Students don’t have to relate to the specific ones depicted but just the kinds of challenges. Get feedback and ask students if they can think of any additional everyday life activities that are challenging (ex. getting up early, eating a balanced healthy diet, exercising, being on time, preparing meals, organizing a vacation etc.)  Alternatively you could start the lesson with a brainstorm and then ask students to rate them from most challenging to least and give reasons why.

Now for the vocabulary bit.  This I have taken myself from the Total English advanced book which you can find here.  Eight sentence beginnings which students have to connect with their appropriate second half endings.  IN the sentence are expressions and collocations we use to discuss challenges and goals. Here they are:

  1. I like to set achievable goals,
  2. It’s important to face challenges, but
  3. She usually rises to the challenge, even if
  4. If I succeed, it will make my dream come true, because
  5. It’s quite a daunting challenge, but hopefully I
  6. I couldn’t have done it without help, so
  7. It was a burning ambition, which
  8. It’s important to have the right attitude, because

Emphasize the different collocations with “challenge” and how they affect meaning.  It is also worth mentioning to students how recording new vocabulary in chunks makes it easier to remember/learn.  Remember that sometimes collocations act as a kind of “emphasis” so that daunting really just means very big challenge, make it clear for students. Here are the second half endings:

  1. I’d like to thank my family and my sponsors.
  2. Can achieve it
  3. So, before starting, I always think about my objectives.
  4. If you are a positive person, it will be easier.
  5. I’ve wanted to do this since I was a child
  6. You mustn’t be afraid of them.
  7. It’s something very difficult
  8. I finally managed to achieve.

Matching the sentences should help students understand the expressions clearly.

Once you’ve explained and reviewed the vocabulary ask students to discuss in pairs (maybe new pairs?) What their goals are for this course/in their career or studies/ in their personal life?  What challenges do they think they will face in achieving these goals?

Get students to use as much of the vocabulary as possible and give an example to show them how.  I usually speak about my challenges and goals with learning/improving my Polish but you can choose anything.  While you speak incorporate the language so that students see what they need to do.  Emphasize to higher level students that though they may feel like this is vocabulary they know, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they use it or that they can produce it when speaking or writing.  Tell them this is the opportunity to practice and become comfortable with it. Go go go! Give them some time to talk and get feedback.

The total English course book follows this up with a challenges questionnaire, something you would find in a magazine that tells you how willing you are to take on challenges.  Whether you choose to do it or not is up to you but there are some decent follow up questions to this: ccf09102016_00000

  1. Do you think challenge involves being in extreme situations? Or are there more challenges in day-to-day life?
  2. Which do you think are tougher – mental or physical challenges? Give examples.

And there you have it peeps.  Once again, if you want to include a reading or listening aspect to make it a theme for a few lessons than very easily google something and I’m sure you’ll find an article or short video/audio that compliments this topic nicely.  This way you can choose what type of challenge you think your particular class will enjoy the most listening/watching or reading about.  If you have teenagers they might prefer a sport type challenge, while if you have business students you can choose something on presentations, team work.

That’s a wrap.