Cheering Our Students On

Photographer: Michael Neel (Flickr)
Photographer: Michael Neel (Flickr)

Taking taekwondo classes over the past few months has put me firmly back into the role of a learner. As with any subject, I’m discovering that some aspects are more easily mastered than others.  I feel pretty good about picking up the forms, and I’m pleasantly surprised to say I enjoy working with weapons. However, I feel like a fish out of water when it comes to sparring.

No one enjoys being bad at something. If you aren’t immediately good at a particular task, it can be hard to find the will to go on.  But if you keep your end goal in mind and realize that there are many parts of a whole, then you are willing to devote time and effort to mastering each task. That willingness will increase and possibly turn into genuine interest with the right amount of support.

In short, I’ve become more willing to spar because I’m in a supportive environment, and my efforts are meeting with small amounts of success. I am now able to recognize I’m actually getting better! My martial arts experience is not unlike a language learner doing well in one area, like grammar, and struggling in another, say, pronunciation.  The struggle in a particular area can stir up frustration and self-doubt.  If a learner’s effort is not encouraged and supported, then it is difficult to go on. Had my instructor not told me funny anecdotes about his own struggles and had my classmates not cheered for me when I stepped into the sparring ring, I might have given into tears and quit after the first time I got kicked in the head!

I don’t mean to say we need to bring out the pom-poms and the marching band as ELTs, but we do need to think of ways to infuse lessons with a positive tone.  One strategy I sometimes use is choosing or designing uplifting content.

In a recent lesson with a beginner, I felt that more review of irregular comparative adjectives and adverbs was needed. I wanted to reinforce the grammar, but develop comfort with speaking and pronunciation. As a result, I created a simple set of tasks that I can share with classroom teachers in the form of my Good, Better, Best_handout. I hope you’ll appreciate the secondary intention, which was to cheer the learner on.

Photo “Half-time Show” by Michael Neel (Creative Commons)

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. billpelan says:

    Hi Jennifer, I really like this “Cheering Our Students On” post and the handout. I will make good use of them.

    You are very brave to learn some good exercises, Roller Skating and now Taekwondo.

    At our SpeakEzy ESOL groups in Auckland, NZ we have a young Chinese student called JoJo. She is a world champion in Kung Fu from Beijing and is a great asset to us, being very positive in her approach to learning English and keeping fit.

    I do use ‘other’ methods in my choice of topics. For example we have just completed your Language Notes, Topic 9: Internet and Text Slang. I do admonish that these do not be used in Formal Writing.

    As a follow up to this I am presenting a “Hands On” topic where the students compose and make Customised Car Registration Plates.

    I have a template of the NZ registration plate and we photocopy this onto A4 sheets. Students then design their own 6-character alpha-numeric plate and stencil this onto the paper plate.

    So this is another way of using ‘customised’ words. Eg, JENESL would look good on your car!

    By the way I have some cousins in Boston and New England

    Best wishes from all here at SpeakEzy in New Zealand.

    Your topics are gr8.

    With Regards

    William T. Pelan, BA

    JoJo in action.

    1. Hello! How nice to hear about JoJo and her positive attitude. I have definitely benefited from instructor and peer support at taekwondo, and I surely hope encouragement that I’ve given online and offline to ELLs over the years has helped them. I might draw more parallels after my first tournament, which is this coming weekend!

      I like the JENESL suggestion. Thank you. What an interesting task! Registration plates.

      I am very happy to know you have made use of the Language Notes series. I hope to return to some of my other playlists soon.


      1. billpelan says:

        Jennifer here is a comment from JoJo. She is a big fan of your ESL teaching.
        The 2 links are for some of her Kung Fu competitions.

        This type of Kung Fu is called Wushu and is very passive but is used for health and fitness.

        Thought you might be interested.

        How did you do at Taekwondo?

        Hi Bill:

        How are you? we were missed you this morning. Hope you can get better soon. Thank you for introducing me to Jennifer.
        by the way there some of my videos you could pass to

        warm regards

      2. Oh, how inspiring, Bill! I know I will not likely reach that level in martial arts, but it is wonderful to think about trying to get as far as I can. JoJo looks amazing and her control is masterful. I never saw that kind of weapon, and I never knew about Wushu. Please tell her I admire her technique and range of movement.

        In my age group there were only three of us in the low ranks this past weekend. We were two yellow belts (two women) and one orange belt (one man). We were all a little nervous standing up before the judges. Luckily, we were first at 8:00 a.m., so the gymnasium wasn’t full yet! I whispered my good wishes to everyone just before we were called out, and just saying, “Let’s do out best,” reminded me that’s all I was there to do. I was there to show I was trying and that I wanted to do the best I could. I enjoyed the experience.

        Here’s a Bruce Lee moment I like very much. I think JoJo will understand what he means, but we language teachers can think about the value of an honest performance as well.


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