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1-Word New Year’s Resolutions for ELT

by Tomiko Breland |

It’s the new year, and a great time to reflect on the previous year while planning for the next in the form of New Year’s resolutions. Though we don’t need a special occasion to set a goal, the beginning of the year provides us with an easy, measurable timeframe for progress and achievement. The practice of setting of New Year’s resolutions goes back to the 1600s, but the idea of setting—and failing to keep—New Year’s resolutions was already widely satirized at the beginning of the 19th century (Merriam-Webster, 2022).

In the Japanese culture, one way people celebrate the New Year is with Kazikome: This is the “first writing” of the new year, on 2 January, in beautiful calligraphy paintings of an auspicious single word. My own children, this year, chose the words positivity and empathy. The idea of choosing one word to focus on for the new year has recently become increasingly popular in some countries, in part because it’s much easier to adhere to a broad idea than a narrow objective. Help your students cultivate a growth mindset this year by setting a simple goal for 2023: Focus on one word. A single-word resolution can

  • provide you with guidance as you navigate challenges throughout the year,
  • serve as a reminder of your values and intentions, and
  • offer some flexibility when pursuing specific goals.

This is a great beginning of the year activity that works for all ages and levels, for both students and for teacher professional development. (If you want to use this activity with your staff, simply replace every instance of students or learners with teachers.) It’s also a great task for multilingual learners of English because they can focus on a limited set of related vocabulary, work with their classmates, and practice multiple skills.

Provide Background

Begin by asking your learners how they celebrate the new year with their families or in their cultures. What traditions do they observe? Then, provide some background on New Year’s resolutions, if necessary. Here are some good places to start, depending on your students’ English proficiency levels:

Note: If you need to provide the text at multiple levels, or your learners have emerging proficiency, plug it into Rewordify or TextCompactor to create simplified versions of your text.


Model the process of choosing a meaningful word. Talk openly about the word you’ve chosen for the year, and explain why you chose it, what it means for you, and how you hope it will guide you this year.

Share the poster the students will be making later in the activity so that they know what to expect. Here is my example. Because of my Japanese heritage, I’ve included my chosen word (health) in both Japanese and English. I then used the different sections to

  • define the word, using definitions I liked;
  • describe why I chose the word and how I plan for it to affect my choices;
  • draw motivating and related pictures; and
  • write out specific phrases related to the word and my goals.

Have Students Brainstorm

Next, have students decide what they want to focus on this year. Do they want to focus their year on reflection? Positivity? Change? Connection? Here are some good words to get started with; you can write some of these on the board to get students started:

Change Words Connection Words Self-Care Words Positivity Words
Evolve Listen Health Smile
Explore Compassion Simplicity Appreciate
Persist Empathy Focus Gratitude
Adventure Love Breathe Joy
Forgive Consideration Relax Harmony
Patience Friendship Balance Beauty
Brave Kindness Exercise Happy
Lead Service Release Dream

Break your students into groups and have them brainstorm their own words. They should be free to use words in their home or preferred language. Also be sure they have access to dictionaries.

After about 5 minutes, regroup and have students report out what they’ve chosen and why. Alternatively, you can allow students to choose three words that appeal to them and, for homework, have them think about which one they want to select. In the next class meeting, students can talk about their chosen word in small groups.

Put It On Paper

For a final activity, have students create a poster focused on their word. (Download the poster worksheet here.) They could include words, pictures, drawings, and so on. If you’d like to make the posters digitally, there are plenty of great digital poster makers out there (try CanvaVisme, or Piktochart).

Follow-Up Activities

Here are some activities to try once your students have finished their poster:

  • Practice the future tense (I will…, I plan to…, I am going to…)
  • Introduce idioms related to the new year and making resolutions for future growth, such as:
    • Turn over a new leaf
    • Ring in the new year
    • Out with the old, in with the new
    • To stick to [something]
    • To kick off the new year
  • Practice speaking by breaking students into small groups. Have them each speak for 1 minute, without stopping, about their word—why they chose it, how they hope it guides their choices this year, and so on.
  • Have student pairs interview each other about their word. Then, have each partner report to the class what they learned.

Do you have other new year activities you use successfully with your multilingual learners of English? Please share in the comments, below!

Reference (2022). New year’s resolutions: A pretty old practice

About the author

Tomiko Breland

Tomiko Breland is TESOL managing editor. She received her BA in English from Stanford University, her MA in writing from Johns Hopkins University, and her certificate in TESOL from Anaheim University.

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