Ask Why Your Students Want to Learn English

“Well begun is half done.”
Ancient Greek proverb

Sometimes we forget the most basic questions.

What brings the students in your English class into the room? Are they fulfilling school requirements, pursuing academic achievements, or creating new possibilities? How do you motivate your ESL and EFL students to do their best from day one? Asking students for their motives, needs, and hopes creates a stronger English class.

Many students enjoy studying English, some find English class boring, and a few students resent studying English. Therefore, we sometimes need to explore their motivations, hear their concerns and desires, and even “sell” learning English – and our own English class in our opening classes.

Here are some simple questions that I have often asked students to ask each other during the first or second lesson. Students are encouraged to write down their partner’s responses. Sometimes I collect the student responses; sometimes I let students simply reflect on the semester’s possibilities. This engaging exercise also establishes that we will have interesting conversations in class, and their opinions count in our English class. I have used different variations of these questions with international university students, high school English language learners, community college English classes, and even adult school English programs over the years. Getting students to buy-into the advantages of improving their English and committing to working hard has remained crucial in all these diverse situations and teaching contexts.

1. Why do you want to speak better English? Give three reasons.

2. How can speaking better English help you?

3. What activities or methods have you found most helpful in improving your English? Why?

4. What is best English class that you have had? Can you tell me more about that class?


5. What are some reasons some people dislike English class?

6. How else could speaking fluent English change your life outside of school?

7. Can you list three topics that you would like to discuss with your classmates this semester?
• _____________________________________________________
• _____________________________________________________
• _____________________________________________________

8. What are your strengths as an English language learner?




9. What are some challenges that you want to work on this semester?


10. What three things can you do this semester to improve your English?
a) __________________________________________________________________
b) __________________________________________________________________
c) __________________________________________________________________

Asking these simple conversation questions helps set an open, relaxed, and even democratic classroom. I also find their answers helpful in tweaking and modifying the planned course to better match the students who actually sit in the class. It also helps create more motivated students and autotelic (self-driven) English language learners. So far, the results have been quite positive.

How do you start your classes? Do sometimes feel the need to “sell” your English class? How do you find out the motivates and concerns of your English students in the first week? What teaching tips can you share from your ESL classroom?

Ask more. Know more. Share more.
Create Compelling Conversations.


  1. I also often use Chapter 7 from Compelling Conversations called “Being Yourself” that you can find on

  2. John Chivers-Wilson

    Quite useful – Thank you.

  3. My pleasure. Thanks for reading this micro-niche blog for English teachers.

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