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December 2019 - Year 21 - Issue 6

ISSN 1755-9715

How to Motivate Lower-level Students in Korean EFL Context

Kyungsook Kim has been teaching English at private English institutions and an elementary school for about 20 years. Email: 



There are privileged groups who get exposed to the early English education environment in Korea. As an English teacher, how can I challenge those who start a little later or lower-level students and positively motivate them to try harder in English class?

One-fourth of the students graduated from English kindergartens and another one-fourth of the students only expect to study from alphabet letters in the first-grade class of one private elementary school. They are about to be split into two different levels when they become third graders. Then, they gradually lose their interest since they feel no special reasons to speak in English in EFL. (Maeng & Lee, 2014)


Overall English education in Korea

The competitive English education atmosphere developed as the students from foreign language schools and autonomous high schools could get easier tickets to good universities and then to elite groups in Korea. Early exposure to English is a trend with parents, which makes distinctive gaps among students at Korean elementary schools.



If only students can continue to pursue learning English, they can finally achieve it. Successful language learners are those with good motivation and attitude, not the talented (Naiman et al., 1978).

I need to proceed with this strong image of success carved in my students’ minds. My suggestion is to visualize positive thinking by looking at the good result of their effort in their mind’s eye and also to picture the whole smooth process of it (Arnold,1999). The image of the successful reader and the feeling of understanding the main characters from the whole different world in every detail.


Extensive reading

There is no better way to improve students’ English proficiency than extensive reading (Day R. 2004). There are easy graded readers and also many of my students' favorite books have been translated from the original English books.

With probably a short 15 minutes of reading at the beginning of the class, it can help students engage in reading extensively and gradually by using a library program. As Jane Arnold (1999) mentioned, “visualization can prepare the existing schema to facilitate comprehension or enrich production in the language learning process.” And then to make a meaning while they proceed with more words and short phrases. (Waring, 2007)



Around this time of the year, right before the entrance exam for college, it is a popular theme for a radio announcer to encourage test-takers to picture the image of success with their eyes closed with slow music on. It helps them to calm themselves down before the test and to get prepared for the test.

It may take teachers a whole class time to provide visualization lessons after reading a short book in the 40-minute class at elementary school. However, this could encourage students to continue to challenge reading afterwards.



Arnold, J. (1999). Visualization: language learning with the mind’s eye in Arnold, J. (ed) Affect in Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Elley, Warwick, Brian Cutting, Francis Manguhhai and Cynthia Hugo "Lifting Literacy Levels with Story Books: Evidence from the South Pacific, Singapore, Sri Lanka and South Africa. 7 May 2007

Naiman, N., Frohlich, M., Stern, H.H. and Todesco, A. (1978). The Good Language Learner. Toronto, Ontario: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

Maeng, Unkyoung & Lee, Sangmin-Michelle. (in press). EFL teachers’ behavior of using motivational strategies: The case of teaching in the Korean context. Teaching and

Teacher Education (2014). Retrieved from

R. Day. (eds.) (2004) Extensive Reading Activities for Teaching Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Waring, Rob "Graded and Extensive Reading-Questions and Answer". The Language Teacher Online 7 May 2007


Please check the Methodology and Language for Primary course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the How to Motivate Your Students course at Pilgrims website.

Tagged  Voices 
  • ELT in Korean Primary Schools: Three Common Methods
    Yoo Jimin, South Korea;John Breckenfeld, USA

  • Korean English Language Education: My Experience Learning English
    Minjeong Namkung, South Korea

  • When Experience Is Silenced...
    Quinton Stephen, South Korea

  • Native or Second Language Speakers, It Makes No Difference
    Lyman McLallen, USA

  • How to Motivate Lower-level Students in Korean EFL Context
    Kyungsook Kim, South