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Help Students Water their Own Plants

Teach students to survive language learning by being active participants.

HouseplantIn a study* by psychologist and writer Dr. Ellen Langer, nursing home residents were given a plant for their rooms. The residents were divided into two groups. Group 1 was told to take care of their own plants. Group 2 was told that the nursing staff would take care of the plants. The residents in Group 1 were also encouraged to take an active role in their own personal care, including making decisions as to how they wanted their room to look and feel. Residents in Group 2 were told that the staff would take care of details such as medication and room setup.

Within 18 months, twice as many of the residents from Group 2 had passed away. Those who were still living and caring for their own plants from Group 1 were healthier both physically and mentally than at the beginning of the study. On the other hand, the health of those who had survived from group 2 had gone downhill.

This type of study is useful for those who have loved ones living in hospitals or nursing facilities, but it can also apply to language teachers or teachers of any discipline. Most teachers know that students who are active participants in their own learning achieve better results. But, do we realize how important it is? And, more importantly, do we remind our students each day that their success is in their own hands?

Help your students help themselves, by sharing the story of this study in the classroom. You can follow it up by having your students fill out a “personal student survey” that can be placed in plain view in a notebook or locker (or my favourite-on the fridge door).

If you typically hand out an introductory letter or overview on the first day of class, add this as your PSS:

Personal Student Survey

  1. What do I want to learn in this class?
  2. What can I do to improve outside of class?
  3. What are my study weaknesses?
  4. What extra work will I do to improve my:
    • speaking
    • writing
    • listening
    • grammar
    • vocabulary
    • other (eg: TOEIC score)
  5. The most important change I want to make during this class/term is…

I will survive! (signed)

*Happy at Last: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Finding Joy Richard O’Connor
Image: Uberculture

Written by Tara Benwell for EnglishClub | July 2009
Tara Benwell is a Canadian freelance writer and editor who specializes in materials and articles for the ELT industry.

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