Three wishes - and how to make them come true!

As teachers of children, we often have three wishes. 

Carol Read

We want children to: 

  • be happy and enjoy our lessons 
  • behave in an appropriate way 
  • learn as much English as possible.

These wishes reflect three ingredients which are vital for teaching and learning success.

Developing positive self-esteem
For children to 'be happy' cannot not refer to spheres of their lives over which we have no control, such as what may go on at home. Nevertheless, we can play a key role in developing children’s positive self-esteem during lessons. Self-esteem is based on:

  • a sense of security – feeling safe and not threatened.
  • a sense of identity – knowing who you are.
  • a sense of belonging – feeling part of your community.
  • a sense of purpose – having reasons for doing things.
  • a sense of personal competence – having a belief in your ability to do things.

Young children are still in the process of constructing their self-image. The significant people in their world have a vital role in influencing this. If children feel they are respected and valued, this finds reflection in the positive way they see themselves. If children meet a negative response from people in the world around them, this similarly finds reflection in the negative way they see themselves.

Teachers have a vital role to play in this process and, as Andrés (1999, p.88) says, although 'parents hold the key to children’s self-esteem, … teachers hold a spare one.'

Influencing children's behaviour
Developing children's positive self-esteem in our classes links directly to the way they behave. Children have a deep-seated need for the important adults in their lives to appreciate, like and value them. This is one of the main factors which drives and influences their behaviour. If children have a strong sense of the five components of self-esteem outlined above, they are much less likely to need to seek attention in a negative way and to misbehave in class.

Creating a sense of achievement
The third wish, 'learn as much English as possible', relates directly to both positive self-esteem and to behaviour. When children learn English in a way which is enjoyable, relevant, purposeful and challenging, and feel that they are making progress, they experience a sense of achievement and personal satisfaction. This has a direct impact on their self-esteem and behaviour in class.

A triangle of influences
In general educational terms, these three factors - self-esteem, behaviour and achievement - form a commonly accepted triangle of influences. They affect the academic performance, social and emotional well-being of individual children. However, the way in which they do this may be either positive or negative.

Three things that, in my experience, help to maximise positive influences are:

  • the use of Multiple Intelligences (Gardner,1999) as a pedagogical planning tool
  • the inclusion of content from other areas of the curriculum, and
  • the role of culture.

Multiple Intelligences
Gardner's well-known theory of Multiple Intelligences identifies eight different intelligences: verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, musical, kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist. One of its contributions has been to give us a practical pedagogical framework and organisational tool for planning lessons and units of work which meet the diverse characteristics and needs of the children we teach.

By 'opening windows' on to the content of our lessons through tasks and activities which engage different combinations of intelligences, we have an opportunity to engage individual children in areas where they are strong. Equally, we have an opportunity to nurture and build on these strengths in order to help children develop in areas where they may be weaker. One of the key applications of Gardner’s theory to everyday classroom life is the way that different intelligences can provide, in his terms, 'entry points' (1999, p. 169) to learning.

Two further examples of 'entry points' to learning in the context of children learning English are the inclusion of real content and the role of culture.

The inclusion of real content
In foreign language classes, unlike other areas of the primary curriculum, language is strictly speaking both the content and the medium for learning. However, if language is both the means and the end, there is a danger that the ways in which it is used, and the things which it is used to do, may be meaningless, purposeless and ultimately trivial. This is amply borne out if we consider, for example, some types of de-contextualised substitution practice tasks or language drills.

In order to engage children's Multiple Intelligences and provide an 'entry point' to learning, we need to inject real content into our language lessons. This ensures that cognitive skills and linguistic demands are integrated. It makes reasons and purposes for doing things using the foreign language relevant and significant. It also reflects real life language use. In many ways, this is what primary CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) courses also set out to achieve.

The role of culture
This refers to culture with a small 'c', that is, the culture of our everyday lives, for example, our social customs, the way we spend our free time and the food we eat. It also refers to children's culture as in traditional stories, rhymes and games (as, for example, described in Opie & Opie, 1967). This often transcends national or linguistic boundaries and has specific realizations following similar fundamental patterns in different cultures.

One example of the way in which culture may provide an 'entry point' to learning a foreign language is through the strong rhythm and sounds in traditional children's rhymes such as Hickory Dickory Dock or Humpty Dumpty. These naturally draw young children into participating and using language. This is interestingly explored in Cook (2000) in relation to first language acquisition, and arguably may well apply to foreign language learning as well.

Another example is through traditional stories and fairy tales, which have a universal significance, as for example discussed in Bettelheim (1975). These often have deep cultural resonance which, although it is not usually appropriate to surface explicitly with children, extends and enriches the language being learnt.

A third example is through the beginnings of intercultural learning, whereby children’s recognition of the existence of other cultures, languages and ways of doing things, reinforces their own sense of identity. It also initiates them into the complex skills and attitudes that lead to the development of intercultural competence in the longer term.

In conclusion, Multiple Intelligences, content and culture all provide powerful 'entry points' for children learning English. These in turn develop positive self-esteem, ensure appropriate behaviour and lead to achievement and success.

Try for yourself, and who knows, your three wishes may come true!

Further reading

  • Andrés,, (1999) Self-esteem in the Classroom or the Metamorphosis of Butterflies in Affect in Language Learning, Ed. Arnold J, Cambridge: CUP
  • Bettelheim B. (1975) The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales London: Penguin
  • Cook G. (2000) Language Play, Language Learning Oxford: OUP
  • Gardner H. (1999) Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century Basic Books
  • Opie, I. & Opie P. (1967) The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren Oxford: OUP

If you enjoyed this, you can also watch a workshop by Carol: The secret of working with children


Submitted by annFor on Tue, 02/14/2012 - 17:58


Hi Carol,

There was an article recently on the BBC website called Shouting out in class 'helps pupils to learn' which reported on the results of research that suggests that pupils who shout out the answer in class do better than their counterparts who are better behaved and quiet.

So my question is: how can I  deal fairly with both vociferous and quiet students in my class? How can I make sure that the quieter students are not dominated by the more vociferous ones? And how can I do this without squashing the enthusiasm for English that the vociferous ones have?




Hi Ann

Thanks very much for pointing us in the direction of this interesting article on the BBC website.

From what the article says, it seems that there is no conclusive evidence that higher achievers are necessarily those who can't be restrained from calling out in class as opposed to the quieter more attentive ones.

I think that, as when dealing with any of the unique personality and attitudinal traits in the children we teach, the most effective approach - and especially with large classes - is to ensure that we provide a varied and balanced range of activity types which cater for different learning styles. This means that we include some activities, such as certain types of games and quizzes, which include spontaneous responses and calling out as a built-in part of the procedure, and other activities which require more considered reflection and individual thinking time.

At the same time, however, I do think we also need to be careful not to let vociferous ones dominate proceedings. This is obviously important from a classroom management point of view. As well as this though, there are often issues of a lack of self-control and self-awareness on the part of children here. We need to convey that although they all have the right to participate equally - and we value their instant, spontaneous responses -  they cannot be protagonists all the time, and also have the responsibility to respect and listen to others, and take turns as well.

Interesting topic and would be great to know what other people think! I think different cultural educational settings, expectations and norms will also hugely influence responses here.  

Hi Carol,

Thanks very much for your advice – and the reasoning behind it. I agree that a variety of activity types that call for different types of responses and an atmosphere of mutual respect in the classroom should help me to keep the problem in perspective.



Submitted by nahla_shaw on Wed, 02/15/2012 - 06:49


Dear Carol,

Thank you for the article, it is very informative and useful. I tend to agree with you when you say that we should influence a child's behaviour. It all depends on our attitude and if we provide support and positive feedback. Even if the student is weak, a little encouragement will make him/her go a long way.

Submitted by Sally Trowbridge (not verified) on Wed, 02/15/2012 - 09:20

In reply to by nahla_shaw


Hi Carol

Thanks for your great article. I particularly like this bit about positive self-esteem:

Teachers have a vital role to play in this process and, as Andrés (1999, p.88) says, although 'parents hold the key to children’s self-esteem, … teachers hold a spare one.'

I think that to have our three wishes granted, communication between parents and teachers is vital. Parents need to know what their child is doing in class, how they are behaving and what they are expected to achieve(e.g., an eight-year-old doing 2 hours of English a week can play ‘memory’ and sing songs but can’t chat in English or do the First Certificate exam). The child’s English teacher needs to know as much about the child as his or her regular class teacher does – especially if there are any behaviour or learning problems.


Submitted by Carol Read on Wed, 02/15/2012 - 09:46

In reply to by Sally Trowbridge (not verified)


Hi Sally

Many thanks for this - you make two great points with regard to children's self-esteem and possible learning problems: the importance of parent-teacher communication and information exchange with the regular class teacher.

Communication with parents can be done through regular meetings, letters home about learning objectives and what's going on in the English class, inviting parents into lessons to help, showing them DVDs of lessons so they can see what's happening (especially as it's like to be very different from when they learnt English), as well as more formal Parent Training Classes which help parents develop children's literacy. The British Council also has a lot of useful information, help and support for parents too - perhaps you could give people a link? Many thanks.

With the regular class teacher, as much communication as possible, is desirable - although in some contexts - language academies for example - teachers don't have access to the regular teachers at all.

Submitted by Sally Trowbridge (not verified) on Wed, 02/15/2012 - 14:10

In reply to by Carol Read


Thanks for those practical ideas Carol. Here's the link you mentioned. Parents (and teachers) can find lots of useful information and ask for help on the parents page of LearnEnglish Kids.


Great - many thanks for this, Sally. I know that many parents (and teachers) find these pages very helpful. Letting parents of the children you teach know about them is also a good way of starting and/or keeping up an active parent/teacher dialogue.

By showing parents how much you value their input and involvement in their children's learning, there is frequently a positive knock-on effect to their children's motivation and self-esteem. You do need to be slightly wary though of 'over keen' parents who would have their children doing endless grammar exercises or similar at a very young age and need to be gently coaxed into an awareness that other more global activities that they can share with their children, such as watching animated stories, may be more valuable in the long run (and again there are some great examples on the learnenglish kids site).


Submitted by Carol Read on Wed, 02/15/2012 - 09:37

In reply to by nahla_shaw


Many thanks for your contribution. I completely agree with you about the importance of support and positive feedback and that a little encouragement goes a long way.

I sometimes think that as teachers we need to change our 'chip' and look for things children are doing 'right' rather than what they are doing 'wrong', which often tends to get most of our attention. If we do this over time - and bearing in mind the 3 'P's (Patience, Perseverance and Persistence!) - we convey the message that we value children's positive behaviour and that they get our attention when they're on task and behaving acceptably rather than the opposite.  

Submitted by E.Hoti on Fri, 02/24/2012 - 21:04


i have a question if you can help me how can i make it easyer for the kids  to learn english i'm a english teacher in Albania  ?


Submitted by Mrs.Goodmorning on Thu, 03/08/2012 - 18:18


Hello Carol,

Thank you very much for this article.Very useful.I took notes of many points.

Thank you,




Submitted by Amira Mohamed on Sun, 04/01/2012 - 18:49


Thanks for your article. All of us wishes for thier students to be happy and enjoy thier lessons and your advices are really helpful.

Submitted by IsLaM TaGeN on Thu, 04/05/2012 - 21:58


I enjoyed reading this article. It's really useful for me as a fresh post-graduated on the start line of teaching.
I am sure with these ideas, make it a clear messege for me what I have to do.
The 3 wishes and the triangle of influences I won't forget them In sha' Allah.


I am looking to listen to the Secret form the comments sounds great moments I am about to live, enjoy and learn.

Thanks Carol Read.

Submitted by Dilora Hamidova on Sat, 04/21/2012 - 14:17


Dear Carol,

Thanks a lot for the article.  I also believe that teachers have a vital role to play in the process of constructing their self-image. And Andrés's words 'parents hold the key to children’s self-esteem, … teachers hold a spare one.' are always with me, i just can add that nowadays teachers hold the key to children's self-esteem, but parents don't care. yea,  that's another topic to discuss "How to involve parents in teaching process?"

Best, Dilora

Submitted by mustaphaahmed on Tue, 04/24/2012 - 20:19


Wow thats great way I instictivly know that this is the best way to learn anything and to practice anything, moreover, consistency and states helped me to achieve big goals such as mastering English so we really truly to get into a peak emotional state before and during and after every class. To be effective we have to be honest and doing the hard work using productivity by stimulating creativity right..


So finally we need to enjoy the platues as much as the spurts of learning and we sort of mension that in the class and tell our success stories to realy inspire or convince somebody to take a kind of action as action is what we need to live in the path of mastery and help other ppl do the same thing and I think thats the biggest benifit of mastery right, to pay it forword don't pay it back, take what you have got, what you have learnt and bring it to someone else, as you bring it to someone else, it continues the cycle of fullfillment of joy of meaning of yourlife everything works..

I think thats the best way to learn by integrating body and mind both are very very important starting with your body and the way you use your body and changing your focus..

Good Luck teachers 

Submitted by Dawud on Sun, 07/01/2012 - 13:33


Excellent article, very interesting.

I have been teaching YLs for a while now and I sometimes have problems teaching students with multi-intelligence identities. What is the best way to deal with a group of students who have for example; logical identities during a kinaesthetic activity?

I find myself with a group of students engaged and a group of students not engaged. What is the best thing to do without giving them two different activities? Can anyone help???  

That's a very good question! You might find some useful advice in this article and activity:

Submitted by Mostafa Abutaleb on Fri, 07/06/2012 - 23:12


Thanks for this useful article.

Native teachers will be able to use culture as an entry point, but non-natives like myself need a source or guide to useful culture that can be used with children. Any suggestions?


Hi Mostafa

These tips for teachers on using traditional songs and stories relate to Carol’s comments on culture as an ‘entry point’ to learning English:
Traditional songs:
You’ll find lots of songs and stories on LearnEnglish Kids:


Submitted by Nesma Awad on Thu, 07/12/2012 - 15:37


Thanks Carol for the article, it was really helpful. I do agree that children's behaviour mainly depends on the five points of self-esteem and it is usually the ones who lack some of these keys who tend to have a disruptive attitude in class. Although we cannot control what goes on in their homes but we can definitely have a great influence in class. Appreciating children and giving them value deeply affects their contribution and activeness in class...

Submitted by Ihabbadr on Sun, 07/22/2012 - 13:02


The article is very usefl. Thanks Carol. I think this will need a lot of preparation and adaptation of material on the teacher's part. Is there a website or a forum where teachers and educators share useful links and material for teachers to use with their YL classes.


Submitted by erinfenton on Tue, 08/28/2012 - 12:51


Thank you for the article. It was very useful in reinforcing beliefs and practices as EFL teachers of young learners. More often than not, the EFL classroom is centred on maximizing content and the use of English at the expense of developing a nurturing and safe classroom environment. As you mentioned, positive self-esteem is inextricably linked to a student’s behaviour and success as a language learner. As teachers we play a vital role in lowering students’ affective filter and therefore have a duty to provide them with a venue for exploring English comfortably. For that reason, I would suggest classroom environment as an additional ‘entry point’ for children learning English!

Thanks, it is always refreshing to read your articles.

Submitted by PrincessLou on Tue, 09/04/2012 - 06:27



Thank you for this article.

You are right about the three wishes and I am sure that by following your advice and incorporating different learning styles and culture into the planning stage of lessons they would be closer to coming true! I will try....

I agree with the comment made in the reply post (which I believe was also in your workshop: The SECRET of working with children) that it is important to praise and give recognition to positive behaviour therefore increasing students self belief and not to specifically focus on negative behaviour. Hopefully behavioural and attention seeking problems could be helped by using the advice given in your article on: creating a sense of achievement and making lessons relevant and challenging.




Submitted by Aziza1 on Thu, 09/06/2012 - 10:42


Many thanks for this useful article. It's very interesting and helpful. We really need this kind of articles to enhance our teaching method

Submitted by Elizaveta on Wed, 09/12/2012 - 09:35


Thank you very much for the article! You've managed to sum up the crucial components of any successful learning.

Unfortunately, in my place very few teachers realise how important it is to support children's self-esteem. Maybe it's the Soviet legacy with its total disrespect to one's personality, maybe lack of prefessionalism  - but most of the teachers don't take into account psychological aspects of teaching. So I wonder whether there are any ways to change teachers' attitude to the kids? How can it be done? Maybe there exist some seminars or trainings or even courses?I am very eager to promote communicative (humane) approach in ELT in Russia but I badly need the tools...

Thanks once more :)

Submitted by luiza 1952 on Thu, 09/13/2012 - 17:06


Thank you very much for the brilliant ideas, I think we need to plan every lesson with the taking into concederation your theories.

Submitted by VeryHungryTeacher on Tue, 08/13/2013 - 07:04


Thank you for this. I was particularly interested in the section on culture. I have used traditional stories and rhymes from around the world because children like these and because of the language they contain. However, I had never really considered the role of traditional children's stories in communicating culture, or their 'universal significance'. I will be doing some follow up reading!

Submitted by Hankos on Tue, 08/13/2013 - 14:31


Interesting stuff. Seems obvious that fostering a positive environment stimulates learning but it's sometimes easy to forget how important it is. Links well with the part about body language in the SECRET workshop. Many thanks for the input.

Submitted by susannah.voigt on Fri, 09/06/2013 - 08:39


Thank you for an insightful and practical article for this fundamental aspect of teaching young learners. I sometimes find it overwhelming, bordering on demotivating, to recognise problems with self-esteem or the effects of difficult home situations, in the children in my classroom; I feel powerless. Your article provides a positive and realistic solution: for those 90 minutes I can do my best to create an environment that supports the development of positive self-esteem, an interest and enjoyment of learning (English), and a safe place to be. I may not be able to change society, but I am doing my part with the influence I have as an English teacher, which I may have taken for granted before. Thank you again for the practical tools.

Submitted by tonywildman on Sun, 09/08/2013 - 01:09


Thanks for your insightful article, especially the discussion of using 'real content' with YLs.

Submitted by claudiaincasa on Sun, 09/08/2013 - 16:03


Thank you for a short article jam-packed with ideas and hope! =] I really liked that you mentioned how beneficial CLIL can be in the primary language classroom. Primary students need reinforcement from all sides, and the more we incorporate real (but fun!) material into our courses as language teachers, the better for all involved. As you pointed out, teachers play an important role in children's lives when it comes to developing self esteem. Through the inclusion of real content in our lessons we can boost their sense of personal competence both in our classrooms and elsewhere.

Submitted by Sensuco on Mon, 09/09/2013 - 09:16


Since it is not possible for (V)YLs to reach our level of developmental abilities as adults, I believe teachers should make the effort to understand their ‘little world’ and work towards gradually building up their cognitive, social, moral and motor skills in a meaningful, engaging and fun way that ultimately leads them to develop linguistically. I would also be worth considering Carol Read’s article, The Seven ‘R’s: Managing Children Positively (, which presents an integrated framework for classroom management and creating a positive learning environment with YLs.

Submitted by Ana Bela Carvalho on Sun, 11/15/2015 - 21:30


Hi Carol, Thank you very much for your article. I also have the same wishes and I agree with you that they are vital for teaching and learning success. See you soon. Best wishes

Submitted by Teresa123 on Wed, 11/18/2015 - 16:53


In fact, I also have these three wishes and I wish that my students feel secure in their classroom, for I think , as Carol Reads points out, it is very important to the child to feel secure. From my point of view , if a child does not feel secure in his class with his Teacher and his colleagues, he won´t learn anything in those classes. I think the feeling of security in the classroom is one of the basis for success in education. Thank you very much, Carol Read, for your post. It is very interesting and important too! Teresa123 (TeresaPadrão, Portugal)

Submitted by Michael Magid on Mon, 05/02/2016 - 14:37


Dear Dr. Read, Thank you so much for your insightful article! I found that what you wrote about the relationship between self-esteem, behaviour, and achievement was enlightening. I did research on language learning motivation and found an interesting relationship between confidence in English and motivation. My participants were adult English learners from China as well as young learners of English (year 5 students) from Singapore. For both of these groups of learners, when their confidence in their English increased, their motivation toward learning English also increased. When their motivation toward learning English increased, so did their confidence in their English. When you referred to the book by de Andrés, I was reminded of another book by this author and Jane Arnold called Seeds of Confidence: Self-esteem Activities for the EFL Classroom which I found to be so practical and inspirational. I had my young learners do the Coat of Arms activity where they had to think of positive adjectives to describe themselves. Then, their classmates, teachers, and parents wrote positive adjectives about them to build their self-confidence. As I was reading your article, I was thinking that designing lesson plans that address the multiple intelligences of learners, include real content and culture are the keys to motivating them intrinsically. I will definitely keep this in mind when designing lesson plans for young learners of English!

Submitted by Durnaz on Sun, 08/14/2016 - 12:37


Dear Carol, Thank you for the article, it is very interesting . I personally think children have two personalities, one at home and the other in the class. Therefore, I totally agree with you when you say that we can/should influence a child's behaviour. Each and every child has different capabilities, and and a lot depends on our attitude towards them by having an open mind of dealing with each student differently. We should observe them, and give positive feedback which goes a long way in developing their self esteem.

Submitted by Ismailalsmail on Sun, 09/04/2016 - 13:51


I completely agree with you. I only think that your recipe can also be applied in the adult classroom and still work perfectly. The only thing that I wanted to say is that there must be some differences in the way you do this with YLs because you can never tell how well the things will go.

Submitted by Samyk on Mon, 10/31/2016 - 14:22


Hi Carol, I just read this article and watched your presentation on The SECRET. It's made me much more aware of the link between positive self- esteem and learning. Your insights into the importance of giving specific praise and catching students being good (CBG), are especially good learning points for teachers. Only if a student feels positive about him/her self will he be open to learning and to being influenced. Additionally, adding relevant context and content, help students relate to new language and to remember it. I'm a little unclear about how popular poems, rhymes songs etc help students develop their own cultural identity. For example, Humpty Dumpty, Hickory Dickory Dock & Jack and Jill. Their origins might be British but they really don't refer to the Queen or a famous British landmark. So is it really, because these help students familiarize themselves with British popular traditional poetry, stories etc ? Or is it because it helps them, on some sub-conscious level to relate to their own cultural identity and the songs they hear while growing up. They see the distinction and therefore, realize they are different and unique. What are the disadvantages or advantages of using English translations of popular songs, rhymes and stories from within their own culture? Specifically from the point of view of learning a language. Thanks and looking forward to your response. Sameera

Submitted by Samyk on Mon, 10/31/2016 - 14:40


Hi Carol I find your insights about the link between self -esteem and learning especially useful. Children learn when they feel good about themselves. I just read this article, and watched The SECRET, and your comments about catching children being good (CBG) and giving specific praise are very helpful for teachers. I’m also much more aware of the importance of teaching language in context and using appropriate content. Thank you for this. I am a little confused about how culture plays a role. I understand that introducing traditional English rhymes and songs, for example Hickory Dickory Dock, Humpty Dumpty etc., help kids develop a cultural identity. They understand the differences between their culture and the English culture because, on a sub-conscious level, they compare what they hear growing up to what their English counterparts hear. However, what are the pros and cons of using translated versions of their own traditional poems and songs? Would that not help them in helping them learn the language better? They probably have a familiar cultural character or poem, could we not use that to our advantage to teach them English? I would appreciate your comments. Thanks! Sameera

Submitted by H. Burcu on Tue, 11/15/2016 - 17:40


Hello, Thank you for such an informative article. It made me think how complex human beings are, no matter how young or old. It seems that there are so many layers that a teacher needs to consider. I truly believe in the power of positivity and the way it helps to improve the channels of communication. I agree that, through the use of multiple intelligences and the use of real content, along with the universal themes in culture, "entry points" can be established. I am looking forward to practising what I've just learned. Kind regards, Burcu

Submitted by Kate Burt on Thu, 11/09/2017 - 11:51


Hello Carol It's a real relief to read this article and also watch your video about The Secret. I am at odds with one of my classes and, to make it worse, I know that a lot of the problem is to do with me. Being mindful in the classroom is a help at times but it doesn't always get me to a long-term solution. Once I’m out of the classroom I find it difficult to make the space to reflect on my teaching and the problems at hand. I hope reading and watching more things like this and my upcoming TYLEC help me to improve my reflection habits. Do you also address the importance of developing positive self-esteem for teachers in any of your material? Thank you!

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