Getting Serious about Your New Year’s Resolution: What is your life purpose?

Sharing New Year’s resolutions can be a relatively easy activity with students. You put common structures into practice as students make statements, such as “I hope to improve my vocabulary” or “My resolution is to learn at least five new words a week.” You can prompt more production and ask them to outline a plan for achieving their goals. This allows you to teach sequence markers. Model: “The first thing I will do is make time to read in English. I will read for 5-10 minutes a day. Second, I will practice writing one short text a week with my new words. Finally, I will keep a vocabulary notebook to help me review all the words I’ve learned.”

Such activities are not new, and to be truthful such activities don’t dig very deep. Students can stay in the safe zone and make resolutions that reveal little about who they are and what they really want in life. Statements about cleaning out the closet and losing weight are common, and these kinds of goals may be stated as first thoughts that come to mind. Could we push for more depth and greater risk-taking? Can you set up a lesson that calls for more of an investment? If done well, such a lesson would be memorable, and isn’t that what we want all our lessons to be?

How about asking students to start the New Year by identifying what their life purpose is? — Wow. Right? For upper level students, I see potential to develop activities based on two TEDx Talks. Both presentations prompt students to reflect on what they either want to do or what they are already doing in life.

  • For teens and younger adults, I recommend Eunice Hii’s talk “Don’t Just Follow Your Passion: A Talk for Generation Y.” I discovered this video while I was searching for examples of transition words used in presentations. I like Eunice’s clear, natural speech. Her tone is conversational, yet professional. I also got my example of “So…” as a discourse marker in her opening line! Students could be asked to identify and react to Eunice’s view of the advice “follow your passion.” Does she think following one’s passion is a good thing? What guidelines does she set? (Use the last five minutes only, from about 12:10 on.) Can students identify their own role models as Eunice did? (2:20-3:05) Do they feel as clueless as Eunice about the future?
  • For adult learners, Adam Leipzig’s talk will be very insightful. The title alone is very engaging: How to Know Your Life Purpose in 5 Minutes. A listener doesn’t have to wait long to receive Adam’s list of questions which guide reflection. He repeats the questions a number of times, making the list easy to remember. The Q&A activity he does with the audience is one you could do in class either aloud or through writing. For more introspective learners, I would recommend a writing assignment based on Adam’s questions. It could all lead up to informal 30-second chats with multiple partners. Once students have fully and accurately answered the questions on paper, have them pair up several times, taking turns asking one another the question,  “What do you do?” Incidentally, Adam’s talk gave me a wonderful example of “Now…” used as a discourse marker (1:19).

Whichever talk you choose to work with, remember you can focus on different aspects. Explore the potential. As Helen Solorzano taught me at MATSOL this year, these kinds of talks can be used to help students become better listeners. Helen encouraged teachers to design activities that get students thinking about what is said, how it is said, and what is not said directly.

As teachers, I think you’ll enjoy answering Adam Leipzig’s questions in his TEDx Talk. Our New Year’s resolution should be to come up with a better answer than “I teach English” when asked what we do. Think of the amazing answers we can give: “I facilitate international and intercultural communication” or  “I help others gain communication skills in English to better their lives.”



[December 22, 2013] Dear Readers: Since posting this, I have received some wonderful feedback. One teacher took these ideas and created a very well-designed handout. Please click to view and make use of the material shared by Denise Friend of  Polaris Career Center. [Know Your Life Purpose in 5 minutes_Denise Friend]


6 Comments Add yours

  1. mlm247 says:

    I work in cross-cultural communication. When I did my teacher training it was made very plain that we are not teaching maths and English, we are always teaching people.

    1. Yes! We aren’t teaching a subject. We are teaching people. Good wording!

  2. J.Miller says:

    Jennifer, thanks for the great tips! I will definitely share this with my students. For sure, if I didn’t have such inspiring and fabulous students, I would hate teaching TOEFL — but helping really motivated people succeed is such a joy. I like your final suggestion as an answer to ‘What do you do?’ 🙂

    1. Hello! Yes, I understand what you mean. When you realize you are a part of someone’s path in life — even a small part, it really gives meaning to the work you do. I really liked Adam Leipzig’s talk and the balance he created between focus on self and focus on others. Ultimately, there should be a little more focus outward rather than inward. Indeed, our inspiration comes from our students. You’re very right!

      Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  3. Thanks for sharing this. I really enjoyed the idea and plan to use it when my class resumes after our extended break. I put together a 2-page activity based on your ideas and the video. I’d be happy to share it with you and you can share it with others if you wish. Just email me and I’ll attach it for you.

    1. Hello Denise,

      Yes, I would love to see your activity based on the TED Talk. If you posted it elsewhere, you can share the link in the comment section. If you would like to have me post from my end, let’s connect via email. I was not able to send a private reply to your Polaris address for some reason. Can you use this link to contact me?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s