Motivation Through Reflection in the ESL Classroom

Shaun James Alan Wilbraham, Hiroshima Shudo University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Goals, reflection, self
  • Learner English level: Intermediate or above
  • Learner maturity: University to adult
  • Preparation time: 20 minutes
  • Activity time: 90 minutes
  • Materials: Smartphone or computers, or pens and paper and a board, example email (see Appendix)

This activity gets students to use language to reflect on and set goals for themselves. Using the example of, it provides guidance for students to write emails or letters to themselves in the target language, which they will then receive on a future date. This activity can be done in person, in which case students can use or write emails on paper. It can also be done through distance learning, which would be done through



Step 1: Write an example email to yourself that will be shown to students (see Appendix for my example).



Step 1: Introduce students to the topic with a discussion on reflection and goal setting.

Step 2: Explain the concept of, which shows how it is possible to set goals and reflect on your progress by writing a message to your future self.

Step 3: Provide the example you created and invite students to ask questions about it.

Step 4: Explain that students will create their own emails that are to be read in two months’ time.

Step 5: Begin talking about reflection by asking students to choose a single word that exemplifies their character (e.g., optimistic, friendly).

Step 6: Collect answers, then write them on the board.

Step 7: Survey students and ask how many of the words on the board they feel represent them.

Step 8: Ask students to write a short sentence about each word that they feel represents them.

Step 9: Now that students understand reflection, set parameters for the exercise by getting them to set reasonable goals that can be achieved within two months.

Step 10: Encourage students to incorporate past, present, and future tenses into the email, but do not be too strict with grammatical constraints because students should freely express themselves.

Step 11: Give students sufficient time to write around 200 words, following the format of the example email.

Step 12: If is used, set the date and time for the class when they will be read. If students are writing on paper, collect them and keep them safe until the “delivery date.”

Step 13: After the two months have passed, repeat Steps 5-11, and get students to write a new email before they read the old one.

Step 14: Get students to compare both compositions and discuss their progress with a partner.

Step 15: Finally, get students to give themselves a score based on whether they have achieved what they set out to do in the previous email.



This exercise allows for a lot of flexibility and can be changed depending on student level, maturity, and group size. Instead of doing this exercise individually, it can be performed in pairs; in which case letters are read by another person. The timeframe between writing and reading emails can be weekly, monthly, or annually. If done weekly, students can use a notebook and would only need to write a few sentences.



This is a versatile and accessible activity that helps students to understand themselves and each other. It brings the class closer together by getting students to express themselves in a way that they might not normally do.



FutureMe. (n.d.). Write a letter to the future. FutureMe.



Dear Future Me,

You might not remember writing this email, but you wrote it during a difficult time. Choosing to be a teacher was a big decision, but this is a reminder to follow your dreams. You have worked hard, trust me, it will be worth it in the end.

I hope that you can look back on the previous year and say, “I did it,” do not worry about failing. It is really important that you remember that there are a lot of people there to help, do not be scared to ask for help.

I know this may be strange receiving an email from your past, but I am writing this in the hope that you will remember scoring the winning goal in that football tournament. Keep working hard for your students but stay focused on what you do every day.

Do you still have the dream to become a full-time university teacher? If you are not a full-time teacher yet, continue. Has your dream changed? If yes, trust yourself and do what you feel is right.

The last thing I have to say to you is that things will change in the world, but you did not quit four years ago, please do not quit now.

Past Me