Seven Principles For Lessons, Life and Learning.

Education & Technology

“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The non-existent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.”

Nikos Kazantzakis


It’s good for teachers to be focus on what they truly care about so that their students will also learn how to care about the important things in life.

As a teacher I care about the deeper communicative purpose of language as opposed to the shallower objectives of simple information exchange.

This means that I care about why and how we communicate. I believe that the real reason we communicate is to grow as people and to make a difference in this world, little by little. We grow through creativity and we teach by helping students to fully express themselves.

We cannot teach languge if we ignore feelings, experiences or personalisation.

Our students cannot speak their minds if they cannot express themselves.

They can’t express themselves if they don’t create.

They can’t create if they don’t believe in themselves or if we don’t give them a chance.

When they start to create, they begin the journey of a life well-lived through a language well-learnt.


This article is a follow-up to my recent TESOL Greece presentation which encapsulates what I think is important and what I think we can do about it as language teachers.

Because this mother of all topics is so important to me, and following requests for more information, I’m just going to start with the bigger picture here and then write a series of smaller articles dealing with separate principles, tools and teaching ideas.

My original idea was to create seven multi-media lesson plans for teenagers based on the seven principles which are beautifully described in a book called

The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective Teenagers” by Sean Covey.

As I was reading this book, each principle inspired in me creative ideas for empowering teengers to express themselves holistically through the focused use of multi-media and collaborative learning.

As one thing leads to another, the seven ideas turned into 25 and the multi-media tools turned into 45.

Luckily the seven principles remain the same – just seven.


Therefore my presentation is based on seven principles, a number of lesson ideas related to each principle, and a number of multi-media tools related to each lesson.

Why multi-media?

The beauty of these lessons and ideas lies in the fact that most or all of them can work without technology.

As Rakesh Bhanot says;

“Sometimes you have to
be extremely old-fashioned to
be innovative”.

Yet, this does not mean we shouldn’t utilise the interactive capabilities that technology bestows upon the student-artist. If you work from the vantage point of your own personal teaching values, you can ensure that technology will become  significant in the learner’s  quest for self-expression.

Multi-media makes creativity fun, novel, cool, brain-friendly and very, very easy.

Beyond that it makes student creations very, very beautiful, meaningful, easy to store, share, co-create and publish.

Technology and multi-media take us beyond the limitations of pen and paper – and we want to take our students’ hearts and minds beyond the limitations of poor communication.

I’ll summarise the thinking behind my presentation here and follow up with my new series on lesson plans through multi-media on a weekly basis.

1) Personalisation.

There’s a lot we can say about this. The more sensitive we are as teachers, the more intuitive and caring, the closer we can get to understanding our students, perhaps.

But this is an unnecessary ideal or an impossible one to live up to in large class situations. That’s why the most practical and effective way is to guide students through challenges.

That way they can paint their own personalities for us and we don’t need to carry the burden of perfectionism, exaggerate our own sense of responsibility or get burnt out in an imperfect world.

The first few slides explore the inner realities of the teenage mindset and go on to link inspiraton to resilience and helping students to remain grounded and confident through nurturing the roots of selfhood.

While that may sounds fancy or unpractical it’s as simple as helping them to find their own values in much the same way children learn values through bedtime stories at night. We don’t have to be psychologists, just a little bit humanisitic.

1) Be pro-active

Students mindmap ideas on what it means to be pro-active or reactive. As a teacher you can reflect upon why this might be important. It also includes ideas for polling, discussion forums, storytelling, developing visual literacy through creating interactive posters, and exploring issues of control/confidence through inspiring multi-media challenges.

Students express themselves throught the media of photo collages, bulletin boards, infographics and laterally-enhanced presentation tools.

2) Begin with the end in mind.

This obviously leads students into developing their own visions of themselves as well as focusing on outcomes – extremely practical for projects, deadlines, responsibilities and making them feel confident in planning their agendas, assignments, exams, motivation and achieving goals.

Ideas around this include having students make  videos of their future selves and/or having them create personal mission statements through tools that the students choose themselves. These tools may facilitate the creation of poems, memes, comics, word clouds or songs. There are also lessons for discovering talents, setting goals, and building up resilience.

3) Put first things first.

As teachers we’d like our students to have the ‘right’ priorities. See slide 5 for the various teenage ‘life centres’ that can become unbalanced, obsessive or problematic.

Here students learn about comfort zones versus courage zones ( Covey 2011).

Comfort zones cause us to procastinate and develop bad habits whereas as courage zones excite us and allow us to make fearless mistakes.

This can get students beyond the paralysing consequences of too much peer pressure, exam pressure, teacher or parent pressure.

Here they can begin a journalling project on weekly goals to stretch themselves into the creative space where magic lies. Students can share goals, journal their ideas publicly or privately, discuss the things we can control or can’t control and develop significant  insights into how control concepts can change everything.

4) Think win-win

Here students learn about compromise and co-operation through roleplaying conflict situations and creating comic dialogues of the role play. Think about how this can have a spill-over effect into the evolution of their language goals, your teaching objectives, classroom dynamics, socialisation and taking them beyond the edges of their own fears.

5) Seek first to understand, then be understood

Students discuss an inspirational teen video ( my sample comes from Fluency MC) , create their own videos or raps, record themselves talking about personal experiences, post their podcasts on story newstreams such as Storify, listen to each others stories, ask clarifying questions, give feedback and summarise.

Apart from developing empathy and deeper listening skills, I’ll leave it up to teachers to think about how these activities can have a impact upon language acquisition and natural expression in the target language.

6) Synergise

Synergy in this sense refers to developing your classroom eco-system through collaborative diversity. The idea is to use collaborative multi-media tools for collaborative class projects such as class radio shows, blogs, slideshows, stories and collaborative poetry.

This is an area I have looked into very deeply in the past few years, and where I’ve experimented with various dynamics and concepts around learning environments.

I can develop this further in my series and also link back to previous articles and presentations on this topic.

7) Sharpen the saw

This is about nurturing body, brains, heart and soul – thus preparing students holistically to own their own language and live their own lives.

Ideas include creating class recipe books or magazines, building virtual class libraries (and real ones, of course), engaging in random acts of kindness through educational social media or class environments , creating friend  videos, and using free online mindmap resources to lead students on a continuous path of self-discovery ( amazing language development potential)

Finally, all of the multi-media tools have active links in the presentation. You can begin experimenting now or wait for my weekly posts on exploiting each tool and idea more deeply.

The only thing missing is a voice-over narrative. As the presentation is quite rich and muti-faceted, I’ve decided to create a companion presentation with a detailed narrative – to kind of recreate the actual presentation itself. I will upload this as part two on slideshare and embed it into future articles.

Also remember that my ideas are simply branches of associated thought and experiments from a teacher’s heart. The good news is that they come from a very experienced teacher’s heart;)

The point is not to see the ideas as prescriptive in themselves. The biggest thing to take away is the concept of using principles to ground teenagers in an optimistic reality that is both safe and daring.

You can use other equally effective principles or other kinds of multi-media technology.

We are not priests, priestesses or psychologists so we cannot and should not take over the moral development of any child. However, humanistic and creative principles can help them to help themselves.

They can make their own difference to themselves and each other.

Sylvia Guinan

is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.

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