New Year’s resolutions: love them or hate them? No matter what side of the line you stand on, you have to admit that the first of January is as good a date as any to set new intentions. For ESL teachers, this is the perfect time to freshen up your class environment and set new intentions for the year ahead.

Did you know that many of your students are intrigued by the idea of Western New Year’s celebrations? They see glamorous countdowns in movies and on TV. They want to be part of it! Don’t forget that in a lot of countries, New Year falls on a different date. So, if you’re a teacher in a country like Thailand, South Korea or China, take advantage of that enthusiasm and let your students experience New Year for themselves from the comfort of your classroom.

There are, however, some parts of our New Year’s traditions that should be left at the front door. The biggest culprit? Mindlessly writing down resolutions. Even the biggest New Year’s resolutions aficionados have no interest in this and your students certainly won’t either. Don’t put them off the fun of December 31st before they’ve even had the chance to properly enjoy it!

Instead, find ways to make setting new intentions for the year fun. This is a great opportunity to really set the tone for the rest of the school year. How do you want the year to go? What are your learning outcomes going to be? Or come up with questions specific to your group.


Before you get into setting new intentions, take an opportunity to reflect on 2017. You could do this by creating a collage of some of your favourite class memories or having a mini awards ceremony.

Another idea is to give your students prompts as part of a writing or speaking activity. For this, you could ask students to reflect on certain occasions from last year. For example, a time when they were kind, a fun class outing and the best thing that they learned. It’s also worth reflecting on things that they wish they could change from last year.

When it comes to setting new intentions, it’s best to look to the past for inspiration- no matter what age you are!


There’s a reason why routines like journaling and morning pages have gained so much popularity recently. Even with new technologies, the practice of putting pen to paper is still the best way to clear your head and be mindful of your thoughts.

It should be no surprise then, that writing activities go hand in hand with setting new intentions.

You might be worried that a project like this will be too complicated for your less advanced students and you definitely have reason to be. That’s why it’s important to really consider your students’ level when designing your activity.

For older and more advanced students, writing a letter to their future selves gives them a creative outlet to use their writing skills. Plus, it’s a fun activity to go back to before the summer break that will hold them accountable for their new intentions!

Younger students, on the other hand, could complete a semi-structured activity. This could be a simple fill in the blanks passage that they could decorate or a series of interview questions to answer.

Of course, in these situations, make sure your students feel comfortable to ask for guidance when they’re brainstorming their ideas. A complex writing activity like this is one of the few occasions when I’d recommend bringing some translation dictionaries to class.

(Don’t get too lax though. Absolutely no Google translate!)

New Class Rules

After your students have worked out what their own personal intentions are for the year, it’s time to set new class rules.

The first rule of ESL teaching is to harbour a positive and encouraging environment at all times. It’s for that reason that I advise throwing a lot of the old-fashioned rules about teaching out the window. Ironically, the first of those rules is dictating rules to the class.

The thing is, though, we all know that a well-disciplined class runs much more smoothly than a chaotic class. Truth be told, we do need class rules. We just need to be creative with them. Achieving a balance between a friendly environment and well-behaved class is difficult. But, it all comes down to how you develop and deliver those rules.

Almost all experienced ESL teachers will agree that creating new rules together as a class is the best way to go. By involving the students in the process, they’ll take it upon themselves to get involved in policing the class and be more mindful of their own behaviour at the same time.

This can also be made into a fun writing or conservation activity – setting rules AND encouraging good behaviour sounds like a win-win situation to me!

Despite all the clichés about setting New Year’s resolutions, the beginning of the new term is the perfect time to set new intentions with your class. Whether your students are kindergartners or Tokyo salarymen, everyone needs time to sit down and reflect on what they want to achieve in the year ahead. Hopefully, these fun class activities will help you shoot straight into 2018 with clear goals and intentions in mind!

About the Author

Hailing from Scotland, Nicole is an eternal expat addicted to travelling and eating spicy food. After spending 3 years teaching English in South Korea, she’s now on an indefinite journey through Latin America. She spends most of her days hunting out the best coffee and strongest WiFi but will never turn down the offer to hike a volcano or find a hidden beach. You can follow her blog, Wee Gypsy Girl, where she writes about all her international adventures! Visit her blog for a great read. Visit her Instagram or Facebook Page to connect.

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