Cans, Wants, and Wills

Concept image of a Calendar with the text: Lessons Learned

This activity is meant to be a student’s journey to self-regulation (see Schunk & Zimmerman, 1997). The activity can take place at any time during the school term and is meant to awaken in students the desire to achieve their goals one step at a time. Hence, the process to self-regulation is the goal.

Ways to Achieve Self-Regulation

The process of self-regulation works in a continuum in which students continuously assess their Cans, separate these from their Wants, and set goals in the form of Wills statements.

Incorporating the Activity in the Course

At the beginning of the term, the activity could be used as a goal setting activity. For the middle of term, it could help students reflect on their accomplishments and to calibrate their expectations. At the end of term, it can be used as a tool for self-assessment; in other words, students would be able to look back, reflect, and create a new set of goals.

The Cans

These are the students’ actual abilities – ‘the can statements’ that align with the levels of language proficiency. The statement might look something like this: “I can write a ‘Thank you’ note.”

The Wants

These are the set of skills students hope to achieve. These could include language functions such as asking for clarification or social situations such as opening a bank account. A Wants statement could be: “I want to write a letter to the editor about [here students would add the topic].”

The Wills

These are the strategies and commitments students set for themselves. They are not to be confused with outcomes. Instead, Wills statements are process and action oriented – whether they relate to applying for a job, engaging in small talk or asking for directions. Wills statements should also be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-permissible. The guiding question for a Wills statement could be, “What must I do to accomplish my Wants, considering what I Can do now?”
Hence, Wills statements would be very specific to each student. Examples of Wills statements could be, “I will read one letter to the editor every morning” or “I will write, rewrite, revise, edit, and proofread the letter I write to the editor about [here students would add the topic].”


For real beginners, this activity may start half way through the term; the teacher would need to gage the best time and mediate the task. The idea is for the teacher to instill self-regulation skills by providing ways for students to gain autonomy through strategies that promote accountability.

By the Way. . .Here is one Wills statement all students could include:

I will take my journey to English as my own, attend classes, and practice as much as possible to reach my goals one step at a time.

Your turn

What strategies to promote self-regulation have you found useful in your classroom?


Hi, my name is Cecilia. I love taking part in good brain awakening discussions. Blogging, I find, lends itself for that. I also believe in sharing my skills through scholarly practice, which is why I write regularly and have presented at several conferences, including TESL Ontario, TESL Toronto, CALL, and at Seneca College. My M.A. in applied linguistics along with my skills and experience have led me to my current position at Centennial College, where I teach English and ESL in the School of Advancement. I'm truly passionate about what I do: teaching, writing, creative expression, and helping my students (both L1 and L2) gain agency and take control of their own learning. Thank you for your readership and I look forward to reading and answering your comments. You can find me on Twitter @capontedehanna


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