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New Years Resolutions Writing Assignment


Just like the adults around them, our students may be looking at the new year as an opportunity for renewal, a time to assess their life and consider how they might want to improve it.

And we can help them. This week, since the topic of new year’s resolutions is likely to come up anyway, why not make a lesson out of it? Here’s a step-by-step plan you can use to help your students make the kinds of resolutions that could have a significant impact on their quality of life.

1. Get warmed up.

Ask students if any of them have made a new year’s resolution yet. Allow them to do a think-pair-share about this, then ask a few to share their resolutions with the class, if they have any. Also talk about your own, if you have one. This is just a casual conversation to get warmed up. If some students choose not to share, let them pass: There’s a chance they have some ideas, but they’d rather not announce them publicly.

2. Explore different kinds of resolutions.

One of the main goals of this lesson is to give students a better sense of the things in their lives they DO have control over. That’s an important message; one that can empower them to take ownership for their choices and start making big changes. And this message will be most effective if students are exposed to a broad range of possibilities, rather than limit themselves to whatever ideas they happen to come up with on their own.

So spend some time looking at the kinds of resolutions people make. You might brainstorm a list of possible resolutions on the board, then divide that list into categories. This would essentially be an inductive learning lesson. You could also have students do this in groups, or to save time, just prepare a list of example resolutions in advance.

The list could include categories and examples like these:

Health Resolutions: eat less junk food, exercise more, get better sleep

Academic Resolutions:  set up a homework routine, keep school materials organized

Relationship Resolutions: be a better listener, stop gossiping, spend more time with family

Personal Growth Resolutions: learn a new hobby or skill, spend less time on devices

Once students have explored many possibilities, have them choose at least one resolution for the new year.

3. Explain how to turn a resolution into a goal.

One of the reasons some resolutions fail is because they aren’t specific or measurable. If a person resolves to “eat healthier,” that’s hard to measure and hard to track. With a broad resolution, it’s easy to fall into a gray area and eventually drop it altogether. So teach students how to take a vague resolution like “give my dog more attention” and turn it into a specific, measurable goal like “spend 10 minutes a day petting and playing with my dog.” Introduce students to the concept of SMART goals so they can craft a goal that meets all five criteria.

If a resolution is something more complex and long-term, like “learn how to cook,” have students think about what success with that resolution might look like: Maybe someone who knows how to cook can make a certain number of meals easily, so have the student decide what that number is and set a deadline for learning that number of meals. Or better yet, have them create a list of specific things they want to learn how to cook; this can serve as a checklist for the year.

4. Show students how to track their goals.

Explain to students that people generally have a greater chance of meeting their goals if they keep track of their progress in some way. Then show them how to do it.

Because students will have different kinds of goals, they will need different approaches to this tracking. Some will have the kind that require daily changes, like flossing every day or spending time each day with a pet. For a goal like that, they could use a daily record like this one, where they record “scores” they define themselves.

For a more complex, long-term goal, it may be more appropriate to set milestones that lead up to the bigger, broader goal. A milestone tracker like this one could help facilitate that:

5. Later, provide time to reflect.

Plan class time later on for students to do some written reflection on the progress they have made. Have them consider how well their plan is going, what factors may be getting in their way, or how the new changes are impacting their quality of life. The first time might be a week after goals are set, followed by two more check-ins spaced further apart. During these reflection times, share how your own goals are going, and talk to students about how sometimes we end up changing our goals based on what we learn about ourselves over time.

Suggestions for Success

Here are a few suggestions to give this lesson the greatest impact:

Make it ungraded. This is the kind of activity that has value beyond academics or grades, and students may be more intrinsically motivated to complete it if it is not tied to a grade. On the other hand, if you believe students will not do it without some kind of school credit, consider just assigning points for completion, rather than evaluating students’ work on it. If you have a student who doesn’t take it seriously, chalk it up to a maturity issue; at least they have been exposed to the ideas.

Allow time for discussion. Although students have likely heard about or made new year’s resolutions before, this may be the first time they have been given a structured opportunity to think it through. And it’s highly likely they have only ever heard people in their immediate circle talk about their resolutions; being exposed to the ideas of people they don’t normally spend time with can broaden their ideas about where they might want to grow.

Respect student privacy. Some of your students may be wrestling with serious issues, problems they may not want to discuss with anyone, including you. From the start of this lesson, let students know that if they would prefer to keep their resolutions private,  you will respect that. If you need to give points for participation, you might have students give you a very brief peek at part of their plan, just so you can see that they completed it.

Don’t use this as a sub plan. In order for students to take this assignment seriously, they need to be with someone they trust, so unless you know they will have a sub with whom they already have a great relationship, hold off on this project until a time when you will be with your students.

Want this lesson ready-made?

I have put together a New Year’s Resolutions lesson based on these concepts, including printable goal-tracking sheets and reflection forms, ideal for use in grades 6-12, but also appropriate for grades 4 and 5. The lesson also includes access to the forms in Google Drive, for paperless classrooms.

To take a closer look at the lesson, click the image below:


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As the end of the year is rapidly approaching, a lot of us start thinking about our New Year resolutions: things we want to change, goals we want to reach, personal qualities we want to develop, places we want to visit, books we want to read, etc. This list can go on and on. New Year resolutions can be a great teaching tool in your writing class, too. Whether you are teaching a beginning writing class or an advanced composition course in college, you can create lots of engaging activities incorporating the concept of New Year resolutions to help your students develop their writing skills. In what follows, I share some activities, and I hope they can help you generate further ideas for your own classes.

Practicing Categorizing
The purpose of this activity is to help students practice categorizing items. When I was teaching an intermediate writing class a few years ago, a classification essay was one of the course writing assignments. I realized that many students had a difficult time grasping the concept of principle of organization. This activity, I think, can be a very good exercise for students to understand how different items (e.g., objects, concepts, ideas, phenomena) can be organized based on a common feature they share.

The idea behind this activity is simple: The students need to organize the given New Year resolutions into several categories. You can design this activity in multiple ways.

  1. You can divide the students into small teams and give them the pieces of paper with the New Year resolutions written on them. As a team, the students have to organize them into the categories, which you can either write on the board or put on a worksheet for each team.
  2. Another way of doing this activity is to write the categories on the board and give each student one or two New Year resolutions (depends on how many you prepare). Each student will come up to the board and put their resolution(s) under the corresponding category.
  3. You can prepare several groups of New Year resolutions with several resolutions in each group, including one resolution that doesn’t fit into the group. The students will need to find a resolution that doesn’t belong to the given category.

Examples of New Year resolutions

Health and Fitness Resolutions

To lose 5 pounds
To run three times a week
To learn a new meditation technique

Education and Training Resolutions

To learn a new language
To learn to play the piano
To learn 5 English words every day

Relationship Resolutions

To spend more time with the family
To write a thank-you notes to my friends
To smile to people more often

Recreation Resolutions

To visit Disneyland
To spend more time outdoors
To learn how to fish

Practicing Reported Speech
The purpose of this activity to help students use signal phrases and reporting verbs used for incorporating the reported speech and quotations in their essays.

Divide the students into small groups or pairs and have them interview each other about their New Year resolutions. Encourage the students to obtain as much information as possible about a particular resolution, as opposed to getting a list of things that their classmate wants to do. For example, the students can describe to each other why they think a particular goal seems to be valuable at the present moment of their life, how they are going to achieve it, some necessary changes they need to make in order to achieve this goal, etc. After the students are done with their interviews, they will write a short paragraph reporting the results that they obtained from their classmate. Encourage them to use the reporting verbs and signal phrases as they compose their report.

The examples of the signal phrases and the reporting verbs:

According to A, __________.
In A’s opinion, ___________.
In A’s (his/her) words, ____________.
In A’s view, _____________.
Point out

New Year Resolutions: Improving English Skills
The purpose of this activity is to help students think about the variety of ways they can improve their English.

As a class, brainstorm with the students and write on the board the different things they will do in the coming year to develop English skills. The examples can include:

Reading an English book
Listening to the radio in English
Watching a movie in English with English subtitles
Using an English-English dictionary
Doing online chat in English
Doing an Internet search in English
Writing e-mails in English
Playing language learning computer games
Recording myself speaking English
Learning English idioms

Ask the students to write a paragraph or a short essay on the most effective way(s) of developing their English skills. You can also adjust this activity to the beginning level by simply asking the students to list on the piece of paper their goals of improving their English skills in the coming year. The students then can share their ideas with the class.

All these activities can be adjusted to fit the particular goals and objectives of your class as well as meet the individual needs of your learners. In addition, they can also be adapted to other English classes (e.g., grammar, reading, speaking). I hope that you find them useful.

What New Year resolution activities do you do with your English language learners?

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.

View all posts by Elena Shvidko →

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