Grit – motivating students

A couple of weeks ago I posted on “grit” as the key element to being successful not only in learning languages, but also in life in general. The basic idea was that there is no proven correlation between success and IQ or innate talent. The one thing that became clear from research was that the key to success was grit – “passion and perseverance for your long term goals” (Angela Lee Duckworth).

Since publishing the original post, I’ve been meaning to put the theory into practice. I finally managed to do so two days ago, and I wanted to share with you below the lesson procedure I used. I deliberately chose this 1-1 student as the first guinea pig, because she’s repeatedly expressed her concern about her supposed lack of flare for languages. She’s also started to doubt whether she can improve.

Overall, the student responded very positively, and was really keen to learn more about the subject. So, I’m planning to weave in some more on motivation and good learner traits (see my post on MORE learners) in the future classes. Of course, only time will show whether my student’s newly-sparked “grit” will persevere.

If you end up using the lesson plan or something similar with your students, please do let me know about the reaction, feedback and effects. I’d be very curious to know whether we can actually teach our students to be grittier and more determined, and whether this in turn can improve their progress.

Lesson aims:

  • learn how to listen better to TED talks through predicting the content and reading the speaker’s bio note
  • discuss the concept of grit and motivate the student to learn

Lesson procedure:

  1. Speaker Orientation: (NOTE: Set a strict time limit and if highlight the students should note down whole chunks of language rather than single words) You are going to listen to Angela Lee Duckworth’s TED talk. Before you do so, prepare for the listening by reading her short bio. Read the text quickly and write down 5 expressions (2 – 4 words) that will help you remember it. Retell the text to your partner/teacher.
Angela Lee Duckworth“In her late 20s, Angela Lee Duckworth left a demanding job as a management consultant at McKinsey to teach math in public schools in San Francisco, Philadelphia and New York. After five years of teaching seventh graders, she went back to grad school to complete her Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is now an assistant professor in the psychology department. Her research subjects include students, West Point cadets, and corporate salespeople, all of whom she studies to determine how “grit” is a better indicator of success than factors such as IQ or family income”. (
2. Listening for details  (0 – 3mins): Listen to the first part of the video and tick the information from the bio you hear. Write down any additional information about Angela.
3. Relistening: Which part of the video was particularly difficult/interesting? Choose at least 1 you would like to listen again to?
4. Reflection: (NOTE: If you have a large group, either get the students to use smartphones in pairs so that each pair chooses their own part of the video, or decide on 1 or 2 as a whole class) What did we do before we listened for the first time? Did reading the biography make it easier for you to understand the video? Why?
5. Topic schema activation: What key concept(s) is Angela going to talk about? What do you think “grit” means? What makes people successful in your opinion? What is more important: talent or hard-work?
6. Listening for Gist  (3:00 – 3.28): (NOTE: Don’t let the students take any notes at this point) Listen to Angela. What is “grit”? Don’t worry about understanding every word. Focus on the general meaning.
7. Listening for Detail and Lexis: Listen again and write down some key words that Angela uses to describe what “grit” is. Don’t worry about the correct spelling. Check any new words with your teacher. Discuss again what you think “grit” means. If possible use the words you noted down.
8. Reflection:
  • What is the purpose of exercise 5? How does it help you understand the video?
  • How is task 6 different from task 7? Which is more difficult?
  • What tips for better listening have you learned today? How can you apply them at home?
9. Listening for Detail and Lexis 2: Listen again and complete the quotations with appropriate words. Use one word per gap.
  • “Grit is passion and _______________ for very long-term ________.”
  • “Grit is having ___________. Grit is sticking with your future — day in, day ______, not just for the week, not just for the __________, but for years — and working really hard to make that future a __________.”
  • “Grit is living life like it’s a ___________, not a sprint.”
10. Discussion:
  • How do you understand the concept of “grit”?
  • How is it related to/different from motivation and determination?
  • Do you have “grit”? Do you know anybody who does?
11. Discussion 2: (NOTE: I used pictures of Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Oprah Winfrey and Walt Disney, but you can use any others, as long as they show people who became successful despite having been turned down or failed miserably at the start) Your teacher will give you pictures of some famous people. Who are they? What is the connection between them?
12. Discussion 3:
  • What makes people successful?
  • Which is more important: talent or grit?How can you cultivate grit?
  • What can you do personally to become more gritty?

NOTE: One possible follow up is to do ‘going to’ and write down a list of things students can do to be more gritty.

Another logical follow up would be to ask the students to watch a TED talk and use the listening techniques practised in class to help them understand it better. Next class they report both on the content of the video and on their experience using the techniques.


5 thoughts on “Grit – motivating students

  1. Thanks, Larry. I'm glad you like it.
    I've done this lesson a couple of times and it puzzles me that most students still insist that talent is more important than grit (especially in terms of learning a language). Why do you think this is so? And what's your take on grit vs talent debate?

  2. Mmnm I think grit would help many students achieve a 'reward' out of reach to simply 'talented' students (RADA students for example, or an advanced TEFL literary class) try sonnett 34 by Shalespeare and you'll see what I mean: gift it your gritty students and they'll probably be grateful.

  3. Of course, believing that talent is more important than grit makes a good excuse for all of us if we find something is hard to do. Clearly, talent plays a role, but, as research as shown, practice (particularly “deliberate practice”) can go a long ways towards maximizing whatever talent we all have…

  4. It is a bit of a lame excuse, I agree. Easier to blame it on the supposed lack of talent, then on your own lack of motivation and hard work. I also agree that talent in language learning has been given to much prominence. Of course, some people might be more talented than others, and perhaps you do need that elusive spark to speak a foreign language on a native level, but whether you're talented or not, you need to work hard. And if you work harder than others, you might overtake the talented but lazy individuals. What do you think? How do we get this message across to our students?

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