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June 2017
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Quick Tip: 3 Effective English Teaching Strategies That Make Learning Relevant
by Hang T. Nguyen

I asked Thang, a student who was constantly not paying attention, to come to the front of the class and talk about relative clauses, the topic of the previous week’s lesson. Thang stared at me and said, “I’m Vietnamese. Why do I have to learn English?”

I was shocked to have a student challenge me like that, partly because it was unexpected and partly because I didn’t have a response.

This incident with Thang fueled my determination to create more effective strategies to make English learning relevant to my students. To make learning relevant to students, it is important to get to know each one personally. It’s also important to create a classroom environment that motivates and encourages the students to achieve (Richards & Theodore, 1988).

1. Survey of Interests

As it is impossible to get to know all the students’ passions and goals through interaction alone, conducting a survey is an effective way to ask them directly. The three most important things that I wanted to learn from my survey were:

  1. Which English language skills are the students interested in improving?
  2. What are their interests/hobbies/passions?
  3. What are their goals for the future?

Thang, the student who had confronted me, loved sports and dreamed about becoming a professional soccer player. He thought his passions and dreams had no connections with learning English. He didn’t realize that when he used English to explore and share his passions with others, not only was his knowledge about soccer broadened, but his excitement for learning the language was also enhanced. Thang was not the only student with such a misconception. My belief is that no matter what a person’s interests and goals are, as an English language educator, I can and should find a way to connect it to English.

My survey showed that these three topics held the most interest for all my students: movies, music, and travelling. From the results of the survey, I was able to develop the following two class activities to make learning English relevant to my students.

2. Journal of Progress

The first activity that I organized for my class I called the Journal of Progress. The journal had two basic elements:

  1. At the beginning of the week, the students wrote down a weekly goal. At the end of the week, they commented on their progress toward that short-term goal.
  2. Each week, they chose some words from the most current vocabulary list, and then they tried to use these new words as many times as they could as they completed weekly journal entries. They wrote about any topic that interested them.

From these sections of the Journals of Progress, I learned more about my class’ general interests, and I integrated these interests into my lesson plans.

3. Project of Love

The Project of Love is an interactive group activity. I divided the class into groups based on their interests. Different groups could work on similar interests and come up with different projects. The only requirements were that the projects be creative and show the groups’ passions about their topics. After working together, the groups could choose to present their interests in the form of a physical product, a presentation, or a play.

Students of different talents benefited from this activity. A play was suitable for students who were good at writing dialogues and role-playing, while a picture was more suitable for students who expressed an interest in drawing. Whatever the students chose as their final products, the project aimed to improve their communication skills. This activity helps to create a friendly environment in which all students feel recognized and valued.


Through these activities, I created an environment in which learning English was relevant to my students’ outside interests. By the end of the semester, I understood how much Thang knew about soccer from reading his journal. He had even joked using a soccer pun: He was going to meet his goals. According to him, his success in my class was thanks to keeping the Journal of Progress and working on the Project of Love about sports with his friends.


Richards, J. C., & Theodore, S. R. (1988). Approaches and methods in language teaching. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Hang T. Nguyen taught English as a foreign language in Vietnam for a year, after which she attended the University of Houston and attained her master’s degree.  


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New Leadership for TESOL: Meet Christopher Powers
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3 Effective English Teaching Strategies That Make Learning Relevant
Irony in Everyday Language Use
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