7 Simple Strategies for Cultivating Reflective Learners

Reflective learners actively think about and analyze their thoughts, feelings, and actions. Moreover, they use these experiences and insights to make decisions to improve their learning.

This not only leads to a more effective and positive learning experience but also enhances our personal growth.

A reflective language learner constantly asks themselves these questions:

  • “What did I learn today?”  
  • “How did this help me work towards my long-term language goals?” 
  • “In what situations did I struggle to express myself effectively?” 
  • “What language learning methods or techniques worked well for me today?”

By asking these kinds of questions, we can learn from our past. The result is that we make better decisions about our future learning and continuously grow and improve.

“Reflection is indicative of deep learning, and where teaching and learning activities such as reflection are missing… only surface learning can result.” (Biggs 1999 in King 2002)

So the question is, how can we help our students reflect more on their learning to reap the rewards?

How can we:

  • help them identify their strengths and challenges?
  • be good at problem-solving?
  • be open to change and trying new things?
  • see challenges as learning opportunities?
  • manage their emotions effectively and, at the same time, show empathy and understanding towards others?

This guest blog post was written by Lisa Wood.

In this blog post, I’ll share 7 simple but powerful strategies to help students do exactly this. They’ll not only make progress faster, but they’ll also feel generally happier and more fulfilled.

1. Setting Clear Goals:

Firstly, get students to identify their language learning goals, and what they really want to achieve. Make sure they’re specific about their objectives, whether it’s fluency, reading proficiency, or any other goal. 

I highly recommend students set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound). As this will help them keep focused and on track.

Another useful strategy for setting goals is backward goal setting. Start with the long-term goal and work backwards to set the “stepping stone goals” to get there.

There is an interesting blog post — “How to Use Backward Planning” by Tetyana Skrypkina.

2. Keeping a Learning Journal:

Encourage students to use a journal or digital note-taking app to record their language learning experiences.

They can write about what they learned, the challenges they faced, and also any aha moments they have. 

3. Regular Self-Assessment: 

Get students to evaluate their progress. This can include self-testing, quizzes, or conversational assessments. You can find free ones on the British Council website, Quizlet, Kahoot!, Quizizz, etc. 

Help them identify their strengths and challenges to guide their focus to areas that need improvement.

And of course, remind them to celebrate when they achieve their small goals! This will help you stay motivated.

You can read a blog post on this topic by Tetyana Skrypkina: “The Power of Small Wins.” This blog post was written based on research studies.

4. Reflecting on Studying Habits:

Encourage your students to examine their study routines and habits to check if they suit their learning style. Another point they should consider is whether they’re consistently putting in the necessary time and effort. And of course, remind them to take a regular break!

They can also think about the time of day when they are most productive for language learning. If they’re an early bird, then learning in the morning would work better. On the other hand, if they’re a night owl, leaving their language practice until the evening is a good idea.

5. Feedback

Encourage them to get feedback from their teacher or other learners. This can give them new ideas and insights and help them improve faster.

Joining language learning communities or forums to interact with others who are on a similar journey is also a great idea. I can’t emphasize the power of community enough (that’s why I’ve joined lots, and I created one for English learners!). There are lots of free groups on platforms such as Facebook (for adult learners, of course!).

6. Experimenting with Different Resources:

Nudge your learners to try different language-learning resources. Textbooks are only one resource (and you don’t have to use them!). There are so many more resources out there: apps, podcasts, videos, language exchange partners, etc.

They should reflect on which resources are most effective for their learning style and find ways to make learning enjoyable. One way to do this is to incorporate their interests or hobbies into their language practice.

Check out my blog post, “Learn English Without a Textbook,” for more inspiration to share with your students.

7. Make Time for Reflection:

And finally, dedicating time regularly, e.g., weekly or monthly, to reflect on their language learning progress and goals is a must!

Based on these reflections, students can change their learning strategies to be more effective and efficient in the future.

Making time for reflection is something most of us find difficult.  However, if we do it well, it can actually save us time!


In a nutshell, being a reflective learner is a valuable skill not to be ignored!

It can help our students progress faster and more effectively in their language learning journey. 

Identifying what’s working and what’s not in our language practice makes learning more effective and efficient.  And this, in turn, leads to a more positive learning experience and helps us feel generally happier and more fulfilled.

“Reflection leads to growth of the individual—morally, personally, psychologically, and emotionally, as well as cognitively”. (Branch & Paranjape, 2002, p. 1187)

Used sources:

Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia. (2021, March 10). Reflective learning. ECU Intranet. https://intranet.ecu.edu.au/learning/curriculum-design/teaching-strategies/reflective-learning#:~:text=Reflective%20learning%20typically%20involves%20looking,surface%20learning%20into%20deep%20learning 

This post was written by

Lisa Wood is an English teacher, Neurolanguage Coach® and founder of Your English Self. She helps learners stuck at intermediate level push past the plateau to feel more comfortable, confident and happy speaking English.   

Contact Lisa

Leave a Reply

Skip to content