Skip to Content

Using life-wide learning to develop students’ self-directed learning capabilities and bolster their confidence in language use


Developing students’ self-directed learning (SDL) capabilities has been a major concern of Chan Sui Ki (La Salle) Primary School. English teachers of the school would like to develop Key Stage 1 students’ SDL capabilities, and concurrently, enhance their confidence in using English. In 2019/20, they made use of a life-wide learning (LWL) activity as a lever to develop P3 students’ SDL capabilities and increase their confidence in using English outside the classroom.



Strategies used

Two major strategies were deployed to build up students’ SDL capabilities and confidence in using English, speaking in particular.

  1. Creating an authentic context for students to use English through LWL
    LWL enables students to extend their learning outside the classroom, and to achieve some learning targets that are not easy to achieve through classroom learning alone (Education Bureau, 2019). To this end, English teachers organised a visit to a fast food shop to enable students to apply what they had learnt in the English lessons in a real context and to increase their confidence in speaking English beyond the classroom.

  2. Incorporating SDL elements into the LWL activity to develop students’ habit of and competence in learning on their own
    English teachers used a four-step process to design the SDL tasks for students to develop an SDL habit and become more competent in learning by themselves.

  3. The four-step approach adopted for designing SDL tasks to be completed before and after the LWL activity

What happened

Unit chosen
“Buying Food at McDonald’s”
Unit objectives
  1. To teach students vocabulary about food and drinks and the simple past tense for writing a recount of the visit to a fast food shop near the school
  2. To develop students’ SDL by incorporating an LWL activity into the unit design
Major tasks in the LWL activity
Students were required to:
  • apply their mathematics knowledge to calculate the total amount needed for the order before the visit; and
  • converse with the cashier in English during the visit to make their purchases successful using “May I …”

Before the visit

Students completed different SDL tasks to prepare for the visit to the fast food shop.

SDL elements
Major tasks done
Setting learning goals
  • Before the unit started, students completed a KWL chart to:
  1. activate their prior knowledge about food and drinks at a fast food shop (please refer to the first column of the chart); and
  2. enable them to set their learning goals through writing down the food items they wanted to learn (see the second column of the KWL chart).
  • Before visiting the fast food shop, students were asked to write down two goals that they wanted to achieve during the visit. The goals that students set could be related to positive values and attitudes, proper behaviour and/or language use.

Students setting their goals to achieve during the visit (unedited work)

Selecting own learning resources and strategies
  • Using the KWL chart, students identified and selected the learning resources or strategies (e.g. books, the Internet, a personal visit to the shop) that could help them learn more vocabulary about fast food items.
  • Teachers also encouraged students to browse the official website of the fast food shop they were going to visit. Through the website, students could learn the vocabulary about the food and drinks that the shop provided through authentic materials.
  • Students used different strategies to learn English words. Some of them used drawings to help themselves remember the word meanings more easily and effectively while others wrote the definitions of words in English to tackle unfamiliar words. A student also wrote “raibeeeena” next to the drink name “Ribena” on the order list to pronounce the name.

  • Students using drawings and definitions to tackle word meanings (unedited work)

    Another strategy used by a student to pronounce a drink name (unedited work)

  • Key Stage 1 students may need more teachers’ support when developing their SDL capabilities. In view of this, teachers prepared a dialogue between a customer and a cashier for students to practise on their own before the visit.
Self-evaluation and self-management
Monitoring learning progress
  • Students were encouraged to keep practising and to memorise the useful phrases in the dialogue so that they would not need to refer to it when making purchases during the visit.

During the visit

After completing the preparation work, students visited the fast food shop to purchase food and drinks. During the visit, they needed to apply what they had learnt in the classroom such as using “May I …” to order food politely. In addition, students had to observe the cashier’s manners used for helping customers and to record the observations after the visit.

A student’s observations and evaluation of the cashier’s manners (unedited work)

As the conversation with the cashier in the real purchase could be different from the dialogue prepared for practice, students needed to listen to the cashier attentively and respond naturally and simultaneously while making the order.

Snapshots of students’ visit to the fast food shop are shown below:

Students visiting a fast food shop near the school

Students using English to order food and drinks at the fast food shop

After the visit

SDL tasks were assigned to students for monitoring and evaluating their own learning.

SDL elements
Major tasks done
Self-evaluation and self-management
Monitoring learning progress
  • Students wrote a recount of the visit to the fast food shop. To develop students’ habit of monitoring their writing, teachers designed a simple self-assessment form for them to check their writing against the task requirements before they submitted their own recounts.
Evaluating learning outcomes
  • Students reflected on the visit to the fast food shop. In this task, they needed to assess if the goals set before the visit, including language learning and behaving well during the visit, were achieved.

  • A task sheet for students to reflect on their two goals set before the visit and behaviour during the visit

  • Students used an evaluation form to reflect on their language use and performance in the LWL activity.
  • Using the KWL chart, students reflected on what they had learnt from the lessons/unit/self-learning (e.g. food items, quantifiers).


Infused SDL elements into the school writing curriculum
Having gained some experience in developing Key Stage 1 students’ SDL capabilities, English teachers infused some SDL elements into the school English Language curriculum in P2 in 2020/21. P2 students learnt to set their own learning goals before writing, and to use a checklist to review their writing against the task requirements. They were also provided with some online resources such as videos to expand their vocabulary repertoire about, for example, activities and seasonal clothes.

Increased enjoyment in learning

As observed throughout the visit, students actively engaged in the LWL activity. They showed their enthusiasm about using English to order food and drinks at the fast food shop. After the visit, an informal interview with students was conducted to find out their level of enjoyment in the activity. Students gave a thumbs-up sign to express enjoyment. Through this enjoyable learning activity, students’ motivation to learn English inside and outside the classroom was enhanced.

Students giving the thumbs-up to the LWL
activity to express much enjoyment in it

Enhanced students’ language skills
The project provided ample opportunities for students to apply the English input in a variety of tasks, resulting in the enhancement of their language skills.

  1. Their vocabulary repertoire related to food and drinks was expanded. In the informal interview conducted after the visit, students shared that they had learnt some new vocabulary items such as “medium” and “muffin”.
  2. The recount of the visit revealed that students could use their observations on the cashier’s manners as the supporting evidence to back up their main points in writing. Appropriate connectives such as “because” were also used to show the relationship between the opinion and the supporting evidence.

  3. A student writing about the cashier’s manners with supporting evidence in the recount (unedited work)

  4. Students were able to use the simple past tense to write the recount as well as self-reflection. From the excerpts of the recount and the self-reflection, students used “thought”, “was”, “talked”, “had” and “spoke” appropriately.

  5. A student using the simple past tense to write the self-reflection (unedited work)

  6. Based on the observations on students’ performance during the visit, students showed their confidence in using English to make purchases. When the food they wanted to order was not available, students were not nervous but able to use English to change their food order immediately without teachers’ assistance.

Nurtured students’ learning skills and self-directed learning capabilities
With teachers’ support, students were able to evaluate their learning goals in their self-reflections. In the excerpt below, the student provided a concrete example to support why he/she was able to fulfil the second goal – being polite during the visit.

A student’s self-reflection on how the learning goal was achieved (unedited work)

Also, students could apply the same learning strategies in different contexts. Students were asked to use drawings to indicate what they wanted to buy during the visit to the fast food shop, and the same strategy was applied effectively when they completed the food order list.

The same learning skill applied in a different context (unedited work)


Using an LWL activity to motivate Key Stage 1 students to learn English and integrating SDL elements into the activity design have yielded very fruitful outcomes on learning and teaching. With the experience gained through the project, the English panel will continue to organise LWL activities at other levels to enhance students’ confidence and competence in using English in a variety of contexts outside the school, and develop their SDL capabilities with a view to improving other learning and language skills such as reading.


The Education Bureau. (2019). Life-wide Learning Grant [EDB Circular No. 16/2019]. Retrieved from:

Thornton, K. (2010). Supporting self-directed learning: A framework for teachers. Language Education in Asia, 1(1), 158-170. Retrieved from

Chan Sui Ki (La Salle) Primary School
Janet HO (Language Support Officer)