Connect, Grow, Thrive

ETAS Journal Editors’ Choice Number 24 (September 2017)

Dina Blanco-Ioannou: ELT for Personal Growth and Success by Dina Blanco-Ioannou

Few would argue that motivation and confidence are vital for learning to take place. Whilst we, as teachers, are aware of this and try to foster these aspects in the classroom it is not often that we incorporate whole activities intended to help students focus on their self-esteem or self-worth.

Dina’s article offers practical, tried and tested activities to encourage a ‘healthy sense of Self’, a term which covers self-esteem, self-respect, self-worth and self-compassion, all areas which play a key role in personal growth and success. Being a Certified Trainer in the Success Principles and Canfield Methodology, Dina writes from experience and with passion.  

Dina presents four (very low prep) ideas to try with your students.  These include ‘Responsibility Stem Sentences’ which break down responsibility to get students to think about what would happen if they took just 5% more responsibility for aspects of their lives. The concept of a ‘small step’ makes any goals much more achievable and is an aspect that is present in all the activities. It’s easy to forget that our students come into class with emotional baggage, Dina’s ideas are a simple yet effective way to help students re-focus on their strengths and goals.

If you get the chance to attend one of Dina’s workshops, then I strongly recommend it. I’m sure you’ll come away motivated and with plenty of ideas to help boost your students’ enthusiasm as well as how to achieve your own personal goals. In the meantime, enjoy this article!

Gemma Lunn

ETAS Journal Social Media Coordinator

ELT for Personal Growth and Success

By Dina Blanco-Ioannou


I ask you to approach this article with an open heart and mind as I introduce to you five meaningful classroom activities that I have successfully presented and tried out in various classroom settings and teacher training workshops both in Switzerland and abroad. These activities have shown to foster a healthy sense of Self, a holistic term used in this paper to describe the unification of the key components for personal growth and success such as self-esteem, self-respect, self-compassion, self-confidence, self-worth, and self-efficacy.

The Importance of a Healthy Sense of Self

As I am equally passionate about English Language Teaching and Personal Growth and Success, I decided to combine these two areas to support the development of language whilst nurturing a healthy sense of Self. At this point, and irrespective of the educational context, I want to stress I strongly believe education curriculums around the world should comprise programmes that support personal growth not only in the individual, but also foster an awareness and understanding of it in others. It is happening – it’s just taking time.

Having said that, I am also aware that many educators feel the development of a healthy sense of Self is not their domain and respect their view. However, let’s not forget the brain is connected to the heart or, put it in another way, our mind is connected to our emotions. Consequently, if our learners’ emotions are hindered in some way or another, how can we expect them to be cognitively engaged – that is, how can we expect learners to learn effectively? Surely, as teachers, we should therefore be concerned.

To further support this view, Arnold (1999, p. xii) states that we are “abdicating our responsibility” if we do not address the affective domain. Alluding to Jerome Bruner’s work on the Culture of Education (1996), Arnold had this to say: “Bruner (1996) reminds us that if our educational institutions do not deal with values and affective issues, such as self-esteem which are the basis for healthy value systems, learners will turn to a myriad of ‘anti-schools’ that will certainly provide them with models – though very probably not the most socially desirable ones” (Arnold, 1999, p. xii).

  • So, what does a programme for personal growth and success look like?

Well, it is certainly more than developing ‘happy feelings’ and confidence-building experiences to help our learners feel good. If this were our sole purpose, then we’d be missing the depth of the issue. To have a long lasting effect, we also need to include aspects related to integrity, responsibility and achievement since “only by addressing these areas can one effectively build self-esteem” (de Andres, 2000, p. 99 citing Reasoner, 1992, p. 23).

Self-Esteem and Success

The discussion of self-esteem in general education and ELT is quite extensive. Dörnyei (2001) stresses the importance of self-esteem, seeing it as a crucial component of motivational teaching practices even though it is often “ignored or played down” in the classroom. In order for learners to focus on learning with “vigour and determination” they also require a belief in themselves as learners given that, according to Dörnyei, (2001): “Self-esteem and self-confidence are like the foundations of a building: if they are not secure enough, even the best technology will be insufficient to build solid walls over them. You can employ your most creative motivational ideas, but if students have basic doubts about themselves they will be unable to ‘bloom’ as learners” (pp. 86 - 87).

Before we explore the practical applications, I now want to briefly discuss success as it is closely linked to fostering a healthy sense of Self. According to Scheidecker and Freeman (1994, p. 129) “the elusive concept of self-esteem is really spelled S*U*C*C*E*S*S. The only way true self-esteem is built is through making people successful” (as cited in Dörnyei, 2001, p. 89)

  • What then is success?

In the broader sense, success does not simply allude to the widely accepted definition of being financially successful. In fact, there are many different areas and ways in which success can be conveyed. Aside from financial and professional success it can be witnessed within our relationships, in sports, recreation, health and the way we choose to make a difference in the world. Examples include achieving a weight loss goal, doing something we’ve never done before i.e. running a marathon, cooking, skiing, or ensuring we have 15 minutes ‘me’ time a day. No matter how big or small the goals are, the ups and downs we go through before we see the result, gaining a real sense of achievement through the process is what success is all about. This in turns supports and builds a healthy sense of Self.

The Practical Applications

The five ideas here only represent the very tip of the iceberg, providing but a glimpse of my ELT for Personal Growth and Success educational programme. The practical applications, which I have adapted for ELT, are based on those I learnt whilst training as a Certified Trainer in the Success Principles. I encourage you to try these ideas out in your classrooms to witness first hand the positive impact and results I have also had the pleasure to experience in my own educational settings.

1. Acknowledging Past Successes (adapted from Canfield, 2016, p. 294)

Sometimes we get so caught up in what isn’t going right, we totally forget about our past successes which have led us to where we are. Acknowledging past successes therefore is crucial to building a healthy sense of Self. Research has shown over and over again that acknowledging our past successes gives us the self-confidence and belief needed to motivate us in achieving our goals. The first exercise is suitable for all teaching contexts and levels.


First, tell your students about some of your successes. You can introduce these on a worksheet simply numbered 1-50. These don’t have to be in any particular order. However, make sure you include successes from all decades of your life. Tell your learners:

“Just as my examples, I want you to think about ALL your successes to date, no matter how big or how small they may seem to you. Whether it’s riding a bike, baking your first cake, anything at all from your birth (which in itself is a success) to the point in your life now.”

Depending on time, individually learners list at least 10 successes, mid-range 25, and, if you possible, 50 (you can choose to assign 50 for homework).

Once completed, learners turn to a partner or work in small groups and share their successes. Drawing on all the wonderful things they’ve done has a positive impact as learners suddenly realise and appreciate their accomplishments. I have found they are often pleasantly surprised and feel a real sense of pride and achievement when they consciously acknowledge everything they’ve done to date. In terms of language difficulty – here the language focuses primarily on the past simple and acts as a springboard for practicing the target language in context as a controlled yet meaningful language practice actvity suitable for all levels.

Learning to take 100% Responsibility

Have you ever considered the word responsibility and what it actually means? How about if I do this response– ability? A-ha! Looking at it in this light, we can see that responsibility means the ability to respond to events based on the choices we make. The underlying concept is that if we want to develop a healthy sense of Self and achieve major success in our life we need to assume or at least act as if we are 100% responsibility for our life.


It is suggested (Canfield, 2015, pp. 6-7) that every outcome we experience is the result of how we responded to an earlier event or situation in our life. If we don’t like the Outcomes we’re getting then we need to change the Response. We’re all going to find that we face different events in our lives, but it’s how we respond to these events that determine the outcomes. Simply, we need to change our Response (R) to the Event (E) to get the Outcome (O) we want. This means we can change our thinking, what we say, our attitude, our behaviour and even the pictures in our head. In doing so we can experience a new outcome.

2. Responsibility Stem Sentences (adapted from Canfield, 2016, p. 18)

Because taking 100% responsibility can be overwhelming for some, this exercise is a great way to ease learners into the concept. This short activity is aimed at drawing learners’ awareness in the areas of their life where they are not taking responsibility and shows them how to take more responsibility. This exercise is suitable for adult and young adult contexts. In adult teaching contexts this activity can be used openly. For young adult teaching contexts, you may want to introduce key areas focusing on school, at home, relationships, and pastimes.


Tell your learners that in a moment we’re going to work on four sentences. “What would you do if you took 5% responsibility for your life?” Divide learners into pairs or small groups depending on time and size and ask them to form a circle with their chairs where they are asked to complete the following Responsibility Sentence Stems Sentences. Rotating in a clockwise manner, learners take turns completing the same sentence stems until you tell them to stop and proceed to the next one. Use up to 2-5 minutes per sentence.

  1. If I were to take 5% more responsibility for the success of my relationships, I would…....
  2. If I were to take 5% more responsibility for the success of more ‘me’ time, I would…....
  3. If I were to take 5% more responsibility for my health, I would…....
  4. If I were to take 5% more responsibility for my grades at school, I would …...

Example: If I were to take 5% more responsibility for the success of my relationships….

  • I would plan quality time with my friends and put it in my calendar.
  • I would have a date night twice a month with Roger
  • I would talk less and listen more
  • I would speak to my parents at least once a week.

You can devise your own specific focus areas depending on your teaching context (business or general English courses) and learners’ needs. As the example below, you can also expand and focus on the 3rd conditional.

3. Have to, Choose to (adapted from Canfield, 2016, p. 32)

The long and short of it is that nobody can make us do anything. We always have a choice – the choice to choose to agree or not, to do something or not.  What we need to understand is although no one can essentially make us do anything we don’t want to, there are consequences for our choices. The following activity, suitable also for adult and young adult contexts, helps put this concept in context.


Ask learners, “What are some of the things you have to do?” Jot ideas on the board to use later as the basis for the activity. Then, depending on what comes out of the brainstorming session, tell them “Thank you! There are people who feel we really have to do those things. But let’s think about it - there are people out there who don’t look after their children, who don’t go to school, who don’t work, or who stay in that job.” Using the ideas on the board, provide your learners with an example.

Example: I have to do my homework.

If I don't do my homework, then I will get bad grades. (Consequence if I don’t)

If I get bad grades, my parents will get upset. (Consequence if I don’t)

If my parents get upset, I will get grounded. (Consequence if I don’t)

If I get grounded, I will not be able to go out with my friends. (Consequence if I don’t)

I'd rather do my homework, than not be able to go out with my friends. (Taking responsibility in deciding or choosing to do their homework)

I choose to do my homework. (After analysing the consequences, learners establish that they choose to do their homework rather than getting grounded).

Ensure that you highlight key structural forms that highlight the use of the 1st conditional just to draw learners’ awareness of it. However, don’t focus or teach this grammatical form as it goes against the meaningful purpose of the activity in which the 1st conditional naturally appears. Providing a finished example on the board such as the one I have given above allows learners to get the gist of the language they need to complete the sentences without going into depth.

I have to ……………………… (A)………………………………………

If I don't …………(A………. then………………..(B)……………….

If I ………………(B)………then………………..(C)……………….

If I ………………(C)………then………………..(D)……………….

If I ………………(D)………then………………..(E)……………….

Create a worksheet or write the sentences shown in the table on the left on the board. Give learners time to complete the sentences. When finished, ask learners to share what they have written with a partner. If you wish, at the end of the activity you can of course focus on the form of the 1st conditional and provide further practice, using the learners’ example sentences.

4. Appreciation Exercise  

This exercise is about acknowledging and appreciating what we have because it is so easy to forget to do so. This is based on the concept of compassion, developing an awareness of self and others.


Tell learners to close their eyes for a moment and ask, “Who are the people and things in your life you appreciate and are grateful for?” Offer ideas such as people or objects they appreciate at home, at school at their work for example. Ask them to think silently about the different areas you have chosen. Then, opening their eyes and thinking about the different areas, ask them to write at least 3 sentences for each one once you’ve provided them with your own examples.

Example: I appreciate/I am grateful/thankful for (A) because. . .

  • I am grateful for Paul because he welcomes my ideas.
  • I am thankful for hot running water because I can have a shower every morning.
  • I appreciate my English teacher because she is really patient with me.

After five minutes of writing, ask learners to turn to a partner and share their appreciation list. If they have people on their list, ask them to contact that person and tell them how much they appreciate them and why.

And on that note. . .

Thank you! I want to appreciate and acknowledge you for taking the time to read my article and for considering implementing some of the ideas presented. I would of course love to hear from you and welcome your feedback if you decide to try these out. Also, if you’d like to learn more about my educational programmes please feel free to contact me at


de Andres, V. (1999). Self-esteem in the classroom or the metamorphosis of butterflies. In J. Arnold (Ed.). Affect in language learning (pp. 87-104). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Arnold, J. (Ed.) (1999). Affect in language learning. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Canfield, J. (2016). Train the trainer with Jack Canfield. Santa Barbara, CA: The Canfield Training Group.

Canfield, J. (2015). The success principles: How to get from where you are to where you want to be, 10th Anniversary Edition. New York, NY: William Marrow.

Dörnyei, Z. (2001). Motivational strategies in the language classroom. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

About the Author

Dina works as a teacher educator at the PH FHNW (SEKI), and is currently the Coordinator of the ETAS SCT&TE SIG. She is also a Certified Trainer in the Success Principles and Canfield Methodology, having been personally trained by Jack Canfield. She is founder of Lessons-in-Self Transformational Education Programmes which includes her ELT for Personal Growth and Success modalities. For more information: