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Motivating students with clear goals

Anastasia Antonova gives teachers practical guidance on using can-do statements

One of the biggest challenges that teachers face is helping students maintain motivation to continue learning and progressing their skills. This, I believe, is very much dependent on their understanding of what they have learned with each lesson.

There are countless techniques, tips and tricks that teachers can find which help them encourage their students to be more engaged and part of the learning process, but we still need to know how to provide our students with that sense of achievement they all crave.

I believe that using can-do statements, which can be implemented in all your classes, is a practical way to provide this sense of achievement.

What are can-do statements?

Originally, can-do statements were derived from the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR), and used to understand and evaluate a student’s knowledge of a language.

The CEFR has a detailed set of can-do statements which are used to place students on the correct level, from pre-A1 (beginner) to C2 (proficiency), either at the start of a course or as part of a summative assessment at the end. They are also used in many course books, such as Empower and English File, to describe the objectives of each of the units.

Using can-do statements in lessons

A more practical application of can-do statements is to use them directly in lessons, adapting them to your own context if necessary. For a real-life example of can-do statements I have used see the box on opposite page.

First, teachers can plan and structure each lesson using a set of can-do statements as goals for the students to aim for by the end of the lesson, providing a clear purpose for the students. This can promote student retention, student autonomy and student-centred lessons.

Second, the can-do statements can be used to highlight which aspects of the language students have learned to implement practically in their everyday lives. Doing this greatly enhances students’ understanding of and involvement in the learning process, and allows them to self-assess to what extent they have achieved the lesson’s aims, giving them a boost in motivation for further learning.

Can-do statements can be used in any lesson, except for those with very young learners, because they lack understanding of such concepts.

Practical application

Let’s start with how to use the statements in face-to-face lessons. The first thing to do is print and cut out as many templates as you need (see example in box, opposite). Then, give the can-do statement forms to your students at the beginning of the lesson and get them to write down the aims of the lesson as you present them as part of your lead-in. This is a great way to involve your students in the learning process and not waste precious preparation time.

Similarly, we can use the same template for online lessons. This time though, you would fill in the template with the goals prior to the start of the lesson and click on the ‘share your screen’ function as part of your lead-in. At this point, it is a good idea to take a screenshot of the goals so they can be sent to each of the students for future referencing.

Near the end of the lesson, return to the can-do statements via the same ‘share your screen’ function and tick the goals that have been achieved. At this point, you may also recycle the written points to give extra support and firmly set them in the students’ minds.

Getting the most out of can-co statements

Here are some key tips on getting the most out of this technique.

Application. This should be general statements on how and when students will apply the grammar or vocabulary in common situations. This is so the students can relate to what is being learned and how they will be able to use it in the context of their lives.

Consistency. There is no point in using this technique once every couple of weeks, as your students won’t feel the progression through the course. It’s much better to include can-do statements in every lesson.

Timing. The best time to present what the students will learn is just after setting the context of the lesson, to keep the lead-in engaging without spoiling the main topic of the lesson.

Presentation. You may be able to get away with discussing the aims of the lesson with teens and adults, but more creative methods are needed with younger learners. One way to get your younger students excited and involved is by using a mascot, for example a teddy, to introduce what the goals of the lessons will be. In face-to-face classroom lessons you could also hide papers with the goals written down for the students to find. It’s important to get your younger students involved to keep their attention on the lesson.

Follow-up. Use of can-do statements must be reflected on and self-assessed by the students at the end of the lesson. Go through the different aims on the can-do statements and have the students tick everything covered during the lesson. This step cements all the aspects covered with their practical functionality, as well as allowing time for the students to self-assess to what extent they feel they have achieved the goals of the lesson.


Implementing can-do statements is a fantastic way to provide your students with clear goals that they can use to evaluate how much and how successfully they have achieved the aims of the lesson. This has proven to be one of the best ways to boost my students’ motivation in learning more and keeping them fully engaged in each lesson.

Anastasia Antonova is an English teacher, translator and a holder of CELTA (Grade B), TKT, TKT YL. She is from Moscow, where she has been teaching English to students from 4-50 years of age, at various levels and contexts, for more than five years. Lessons available at:

Real-world example

Here is an example of how I have used can-do statements in a face-to-face classroom lesson with a monolingual class of adults studying at pre-intermediate level. I started my lesson presenting the topic with a small brainstorm about clothes with vocabulary they already knew.

After the presentation stage, when the feedback was done, I introduced the can-do statements in the top right corner of the whiteboard. I allowed a bit of time for my students to read them and copy them onto the special can-do statement forms. In this case the list of statements were:

I can:

  • Explain where objects are in a room.
  • Say what people in my class are wearing.
  • Describe a picture/painting.

I then started the class, making sure all the aspects from the statements were in the lesson and that students touched on each of these points. After the personalised production stage, we assessed what they had just done and what new knowledge they had just acquired.

I then highlighted the can-do statements again and asked students to tick the boxes next to the statements. Make sure you never forget this stage as it is one of the most important moments in the lesson, providing the students with time to reflect on what was covered and how well they feel they have achieved each goal.

Image courtesy of Library
Anastasia Antonova
Anastasia Antonova
Anastasia Antonova is an English teacher, translator and a holder of CELTA (Grade B), TKT, TKT YL. She is from Moscow, where she has been teaching English to students from 4-50 years of age, at various levels and contexts for more than five years. Lessons available at:
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