Four Ways to Get Your English Learners to Do More

Four Ways to Get Your English Learners to Do More

Four Ways to Get Your English Learners to Do More

One of the biggest frustrations of teaching English is when your learners don’t do anything outside of class.

When a learner starts taking lessons, they say the right things and seem motivated. But this initial enthusiasm usually disappears after a few weeks.

I feel that as teachers, part of our job is to inspire our learners to do more, and to think about how we can help our learners to stay consistent over the long-term.

This is something that I’ve put a lot of emphasis on over recent years. In fact, I even have a course for English learners helping them specifically with this.

And in this post, I want to share four ways that will help your learners to consistently do more outside of class.

Please note: This is specific to teachers who teach one-to-one online, but the following can be adapted for traditional group lessons too.

I believe it all starts with a conversation and a plan.

Set Expectations and Come Up with a Plan

I believe one of the biggest reasons why intermediate speakers don’t become advanced speakers is because they don’t comprehend exactly what it takes to reach this level.

Taking two lessons a week and then doing nothing else will mean little progress. It takes much more than that to achieve a higher level of English.

You can approach this by doing two thing: Firstly, ask your learner what level they want to have and when they want to reach this level.

For example, you might have a learner who has a B1 level. And after talking about their goals, they say that they want to have a C1 level by this time next year.

This is definitely achievable, but they will most likely have to make some changes and do more. Therefore, the second thing to do is to come up with a daily learning schedule and general plan to ensure they reach their goal. Additionally, helping your learner get into the habit of using English on a daily basis will make a big difference.

One thing to bear in mind is that you need to make this sustainable and fun. If you ask your learner to do too much too soon, they will most likely feel overwhelmed and lose motivation.

They need to get into the habit of learning – and enjoy what they are doing – to keep this up over the long-term.

Do Things that Interest Your Learner

Making things relevant to your learner is incredibly important if they are going to do more outside of class.

A small percentage of English learners will keep up with grammar exercises and course books over the long-term; the majority need to do something that really interests them.

One way to do this is to have your learners send you things that they have enjoyed reading or watching in English.

One of my students was really interested in personal development. He read a lot of articles in his native language on this topic, so I encouraged him to learn about this in English instead.

We found a bunch of blogs and videos together, and he sent me articles that he enjoyed on a regular basis. I then created a lesson plan around what he sent, something that after doing a few times, didn’t take me too long to do.

Additionally, I encourage my learners to subscribe to YouTube channels and blogs that interest them. Getting this regular email with a link to an article/video in English gives them a reminder to do something in English. And because this is something that they enjoy, the motivation to read/watch something is stronger.

Set Long-Term Projects instead of Homework

Mark Barnes gave me the idea to this during our interview.

In a nutshell: you let your learner decide on a long-term project and you then collaborate on this together.

I did this with one of my learners last year; he wrote a book on a topic that he was interested in, and we used Google Drive so that I could correct his English and give feedback.

Using this approach gives your learner more authority over what they do, and again, because they decide what it is they want to create (a project, a video, a book, a presentation etc.), and in the area of their choosing, they are doing something that is relevant to them. And something that they are excited about doing.

Connect and Communicate with Your Learner

One of the benefits of teaching online is that you can connect with your learners in different ways; using email, social media, Google Drive, for example.

This means that you can send reminders about your lessons and keep the communication flowing with your learners outside of class.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time on communicating with your learner. A simple Tweet or email a couple of times a week will only take you a few minutes. And what this does is shows your learner that you care and that you are invested in their learning, and it will also send them a small reminder to do something in English.

If you want to make this more involved, like a daily email or support, then you can make this an added extra on top of the lessons that you offer.

But I’ve found that the more I communicate with a learner, the more they ultimately end up doing. And this is especially true with learners who need direction with their learning.

Over to You

Setting expectations, coming up with a plan, doing things that interest your learners, giving your learner more authority over their learning, and keeping the communication flowing will help your student do more in English.

What tips do you have to encourage your learners to do more outside of class?

Leave your comments below!


If you're curious about online teaching, get my free video series on how you can get started. Click the button and enter your details to get instant access to video 1!



  • Hi Jack, thanks for the helpful post.I have to say that the students here in Sardinia have been very good about doing home work.They are so enthusiastic! It is a wonderful experience for me.

    • That makes a big difference, and is an important point: some learners are more motivated than others.

  • “Fours Ways?” LOL

    • I’ve been printing out my posts to proofread before publishing. Note to self: Check the title too!

  • I have been scratching my head about this for what seems like ages. Thank you, Jack, for pointing us (or me, at least) in the right direction. 🙂

  • kesavadas Mariyil

    thank you ,Jack.yes,I have been struggling with this for some time

  • Hi Jack,

    You’re right. Students need to be doing something out of class that adds to their learning experience.

    One of the reasons I teach almost Young Learners exclusively is because I share many of their interests. I play a lot of video games, know Minecraft and Clash of the Clans as well as they do, and watch every animated movie that is released. I build stuff in my downtime using the digital Lego app and I still read a lot of science fiction.

    If you want students to do work outside the classroom, it really does help to share some of the interests that your students have. It means that whenever I watch a film or spend time playing a game, I’m thinking about how I could set a task for the students. And it means my students receive a lot of communication from me that is just a reminder to watch a movie or check some new function in an online game. We’re both motivated about the same topics.

    For students with whom I share less in common, it’s always been tough. I can’t get excited setting a task about a business report, even though my student needs that practice. I really like the idea about long-term projects. As a teacher, you need to be dedicated and constantly providing feedback, yet I imagine the reward for the student can be enormous.

    So I would say to your point about doing things that interest your learner: if you’re interested in the same things, it really does make life easier.

    As always, thanks for an informative post.

  • Interesting idea about creating a long term project! About 90% of my students just want to have better English speaking skills with a long-term goal of fluency. Have you worked on projects with students who have more vague goals? What kinds of projects have they done? Something like “By next year I want to watch English movies (or a certain movie) without subtitles”?

    When a student books a lesson, I send them a short YouTube video meant for native speakers about a topic that we’ll cover in class. We always talk about the video in class, so it’s a good way to get them to do at least one English thing outside of class. The more curious and motivated students click around to other related videos while they’re on YouTube. Great practice!

  • Damien

    Hi Jack
    I find this resource from The Round really useful to use with students. It is all about how to coach your students outside of class. It also comes with a student booklet which they can download for I think $1. I think it would work nicely with an online class.

  • Nelle

    These are all great tips as usual. Let me add that we can survey students to help them discover the kind of learner they are: visual, kinesthetic, intrapersonal etc. This will help teachers to know which assignments best benefit students and in turn, students are more likely to complete and enjoy such assignments.

    For example, students who love music can listen or watch videos and transcribe the lyrics. Since so many songs are full of slang and idioms students will have a fun way to study grammar which is usually dry and boring for them to learn and for us to teach. If students love tweeting, teachers can assigned a set number of tweets to read and respond to or give them more control and have them report a certain number of tweets they do not understand, which would be discussed during the lesson.

    Students can play word games or create word games and share with teacher words that they have trouble with. They can write poetry or songs etc. If they like to cook, they can share recipes for discussion. This one really helps with sequencing. Teachers who enjoy cooking can try the recipes intermittently to encourage students to continue such a course

    Tapping into to students strengths and interests, as James mentioned, can help students stay motivated and can also help teachers with lesson creation.

  • Linda Simon

    I can use some of these ideas with a university student that I meet through a friendship program. She want to improve her IELTS score but she needs more exposure to English to make that leap from 6.5 to a 7.0. Some of these ideas will be really useful. Thanks Jack

  • Vania Paula de Freitas

    Congrats Jack! Your post, as usual, is very usefull.

  • Anne Bursey

    I have just started teaching English on line and found this most useful. My last student is wanting conversational English and pronunciation. They are battling with LISTENING to English by way of TV/Audio Visual. He is reading an English book currently so I found a link to the Audio of this book and asked him to listen to it while following in the book itself. I also asked if he could try and memorise one of the quotes in the book which we will then go through on our next session. I will then help him with the pronunciation. Thank you for this article!!!

    • Thanks, Anne. Listening and reading at the same time is very powerful.