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Hope and cognitive development in an English as a second language classroom

Susanna Haink, a PYP teacher at International School of Stuttgart, Germany

This article promotes using the agents of hope to optimize learning in the English as a second language classroom.

Over the past decade more and more information has become available on the influence hope has on academic performance. In this sense hope is not regarded as an emotion but rather as a personality trait.

As an English as additional language (EAL) teacher I am very aware of the emotional condition of students after they moved from one country to another; having been torn away from all that was dear and known to them. This culture shock could have devastating effects on developing personalities and could also block learning. In order to ensure academic growth teachers also need to provide an environment to their students that fosters high levels of hope. Fortunately there are numerous ways to do so.

Through research on this topic I have come to the conclusion that there are 3 main carriers of hope as far as our EAL students are concerned: (i) a sense of belonging (ii) a sense of determination to reach your goals and (iii) the ability to develop effective plans to accomplish your goals. By creating an environment where this could take place students will experience self-efficacy, which is another crucial agent of hope.

In our school, EAL teachers support students within the main classroom and additionally small groups of students are pulled out of class for EAL lessons. My focus in this article is on the groups pulled out of the main classrooms. I will use a grade 2 group in the following example.

We start the year off with a group building activity to create a sense of connection to one another. One example is reading the Elmer story (Elmer by David McKee). It is a well-known story and the EAL students relate to it effectively. By leading the group in a discussion of what animal students think could represent the EAL group one can create a situation where they can learn many animal names in an authentic manner. We explained to the students that this particular animal will be a symbol for the EAL group and that they will make a coordinating piece of art to decorate the EAL classroom door. Children are usually excited by the prospect of painting and decorating their classroom door.

The teacher next leads the group into planning how to draw the animal they have chosen, how big it should be, and how to divide it into different parts so that each student has a piece to paint. A list is created of everything that has to be done in order to reach their final goal and every student is aware of the single goal the group has in mind.

For students new to English this project serves as an introduction to animal names, colours and shapes as well as body parts. More proficient students benefit from the modeled sentence structure and spelling for the different steps to achieve the group outcome. This way, both students new to English and those already proficient can improve their English skills while working together.

Students then use speech bubbles to make their animal talk in all the languages that are represented in the group. Here, the student’s self-efficacy is promoted by giving them the opportunity to be authentic in what they want the animal to say in addition to choosing the language.


Susanna has been a primary school teacher for the past 16 years. She has many years of experience in teaching at secondary schools in South Africa and her focus has always been on helping students learn additional languages. She is now mainly concerned with the holistic well-being of children both emotionally and educationally. Susanna is an author and illustrator of picture books. You can follow her on Twitter at @Haink2 and read her blog posts at


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