Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

Why students need to be Han Solo

Luke Skywalker or Han Solo?


Who did you want to be if you grew up watching Star Wars? Who did you fancy more?

Which of the two actors went on to be the biggest star?

Which one of them has a net worth of $210 million compared with $6 million?

All those answers must surely be Han Solo.

Which one would be the best English learner? ……………………………………….

I think the answer would be the same.

Because Han Solo never acted like a student. He just learned stuff.  Luke  needed a mentor and we watched his frustrations with being taught, failing and his weak moments. Even when he got his Jedi on, he ended up cutting off his own hand and screaming. Han might have got frozen in carbonite but he wasn’t diminished in our eyes by crying about it. He was always the finished product –  a hero.

There’s something inherently weak about a classroom situation where the learner depends on the teacher. Here’s Luke learning – successfully. He tries, he fails, he gets guidance and he succeeds. Obi-Wan is a great teacher, Luke is a good student.

Who would you rely on in a fight at this point? (And, as an aside, who is sexier?)

Han Solo was definitely an autonomous learner. Orphaned at a young age, he dropped out of formal education at 8 and taught himself to read. Since he raced repulsorlift swoops (pod racing) well before he went to the Imperial Academy, we can assume he was mostly self taught to fly too.

Just like most of the successful language learners I know.

In over ten years teaching I keep coming up against the same observation. The most fluent people I’ve met were never students in classes; they’d learned by themselves.

They demonstrate the traits and habits outlined by Omaggio (1978, cited in Wenden, Learner strategies for learner autonomy. Great Britain: Prentice Hall,1998, p. 41-42)

  • have insights into their learning styles and strategies
  • take an active approach to the learning task at hand
  • are willing to take risks, i.e., to communicate in the target language at all costs
  • are good guessers
  • attend to form as well as to content, that is, place importance on accuracy as well as appropriacy
  • develop the target language into a separate reference system and are willing to revise and reject hypotheses and rules that do not apply
  • have a tolerant and outgoing approach to the target language

Han Solo is a risk taker. He flies through an asteroid field sure the fleet pursuit  would be crazy to try and follow.

C-3PO: Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1.
Han Solo: Never tell me the odds.

He revises and rejects theories.

[trying to fix the hyperdrive]
Han Solo: Horizontal boosters. Alluvial dampers? Ow! That’s not it, bring me the Hydrospanner. I don’t know how we’re going to get out of this one.

They did get out of  that one. Probably because Han has an outgoing, positive approach towards the success of something. Unlike Luke, who’s more of a pessimist.

Luke: [on first seeing the Millenium Falcon] What a piece of junk!
Han Solo: She’ll make point five past lightspeed. She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid. I’ve made a lot of special modifications myself.

The best thing we can do for our students is to turn them into Han Solos. So I propose pending the last couple of weeks of term before the holidays getting them ready to fly solo over summer.

1. Get students to watch all three films as homework or as snippets in class with appropriate lesson plans to make a lesson/justify killing time. Google tells me there’s a shocking quality of lessons based on Star Wars so create some good ones and post them somewhere the world can find them.

2. Elicit characteristics of both our heroes and evidence for them in the form of actions or quotes.

3. Ask them who they want to be. If you’ve done Number 2 right, they’ll never say Luke. If they do get caught in the Luke trap because he has a lightsaber, get them back on track with the questions about which actor had the biggest career after the films.

4. Ask them how Han Solo would approach the summer if he wanted to master English.

5. Explain about Learner Autonomy.

6. Suggest they buy a self study book on their area of greatest difficulty, or go to an English speaking country and throw themselves into real life situations.

7.  Start a Facebook group for them to keep everyone up to date with what they’re doing. Because nothing happens if it’s not on Facebook. Put this quote in the header:

Look, Your Worshipfulness, let’s get one thing straight. I take orders from just one person: me. Han Solo, 1978







20 comments on “Why students need to be Han Solo

  1. multimaniaco
    June 13, 2014

    Wonderful 😀

  2. Andrew Leon Hudson
    June 13, 2014

    I think it’s worth mentioning that, in the picture at the top there, it’s Princess Leia’s dainty little hand failing to hold back Han’s manly arm. Not Luke’s. I hope. Whatever, he’s getting enough grief here, there’s no need to pile on visually.

    Also, your argument totally fails to acknowledge that, in Return of the Jedi, Han wound up so domesticated by Darth’s Little Princess he was basically mowing the lawn on Sunday while wearing a cardigan she made for him, whereas Luke cut off his dad’s hand and saved the universe.

    • Nicola
      June 13, 2014

      Awwww, were you Luke in your childhood games?

  3. Andrew Leon Hudson
    June 13, 2014

    I don’t recall.

    I’m basically Chewie now.

  4. whatislaate
    June 13, 2014

    I love this, perfect, just wish I’d seen it 3 weeks ago, we’re on our last week next week and have activities planned, oh well there’s always next year!

    • Nicola
      June 13, 2014

      Yes, this lesson is timeless 🙂

  5. Diane Nicholls
    June 13, 2014

    This post makes a great companion piece to this from TEFLGEEK –
    Interesting to see that David’s money is on Luke. Let’s have a heated debate! 😉

    • Nicola
      June 14, 2014

      I like it – Han Solo as Dogme! David sees Luke as the student – which is what I see too, I just don’t think there’s a lot of power or sex appeal in that role. Thanks for the link – I see the geeks are many…but then Star Wars is officially a Cool Thing now I think 🙂

  6. Diane Nicholls
    June 13, 2014

    “Google tells me there’s a shocking paucity of lessons based on Star Wars so create some good ones and post them somewhere the world can find them.”

    I wouldn’t say there was a shocking paucity. Did you try Googling Star Wars in the classroom ESOL? There’s a whole load of resources and ideas out there that could be used to expand your suggestion:

    Lots of worksheets here:

    These from Sean Banville:

    There’s even a website and accompanying Facebook page dedicated to using Star Wars for cross-disciplinary teaching. Not specifically ELT, but good ideas that could be adapted maybe?

    A rich seam…

    • Nicola
      June 13, 2014

      You’re sort of right but I had seen the first two and discounted them thusly.

      eslprintables you have to be a member who also contributes worksheets in order to be able to print other peoples’ work. And I can’t stand breakingnewsenglish and saw that the movie site (which I was unaware of and now know there is another of this type of templated awfulness out there to avoid) was the same kind of (free) absolute rubbish and so also discounted!

      So when I meant paucity, I meant of merit not of quantity. There’s always plenty of crap on the internet.

      I was thinking more of lessons that touched the actual content of the films and the themes and characters….the sort of thing that would make students engage with the films and their lesson. Maybe the last site has more of that, so thanks!

  7. Matthew
    June 14, 2014

    What an excellent post!!! Thanks

  8. Pingback: Breaking Wind English | Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

  9. Joe Pereira
    June 16, 2014

    Mark Hamill has a net worth of $6 Million? And I’ve been feeling sorry for him all these years?

    • Nicola
      June 16, 2014

      That’s not that much compared with the other star!

  10. Joe Pereira
    June 16, 2014

    BTW Nicola, Prentis sounds like an awesome Jedi name- and I thought that long before seeing that you’d written a Star Wars-based post. Strange, the world is.

    • Nicola
      June 16, 2014

      That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said about my name! It comes from the French meaning apprentice so it does fit.No-one can spell it and I’m going to change it when I get married but this blog and EFL will always have to know me as my Jedi name 🙂

  11. richardosborne14
    September 17, 2014

    My goodness, I’m surprised you haven’t attracted more of a geek backlash! Picture a Comic-Con where someone compared Kirk to Picard…

    I think it’s important to remember that learner autonomy is fostered by the teacher. I’ve given advice to students on how they can engage in self-study, to their clear excitement, yet when they’re left to their own devices without any kind of reward or feedback their motivation drops dramatically, often to the point of shutting down.

    The teacher as shepherd analogy is one I think can’t be replaced in any learning environment. We don’t have to be intimately involved in students’ work, and I personally believe strongly in the idea of teaching them how to use journals to note new language and self-evaluate, but I think most students need some sense of communal goal to truly self-motivate.

    So, Han Solo was an irresponsible mercenary, with no goal or direction, until he found motivation in the common goal of saving the universe. Maybe saving his own ass was a big part of that, but to achieve his full potential he needed that feeling of objective and reward. We should never forget the role of the teacher in creating that feeling. (That means we’re Mon Mothma by the way. Yes… I’m a geek)

    • Nicola
      September 20, 2014

      The problem then is students don’t see or feel the reward because “learning English” is often very unrewarding in itself. But only self motivated students really make much progress so there’s a limit to what teachers can do. Han Solo had a clear goal and survival is the biggest motivator. Learn or die….that might work! Tricky to recreate!

      • richardosborne14
        September 20, 2014

        I disagree, I think learning English doesn’t have to be the goal ESL students work towards. Learning to be a better communicator can be very rewarding if the final goal is socializing and making new friends in a language exchange for example. The learning English part can be incidental yet equally successful for students who aren’t self-motivated to study pure ESL materials autonomously. I believe every student has the potential to be inspired somehow, and if ESL materials don’t inspire them but learning English is their goal, it’s up to teachers to discover what inspires them and exploit it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


This entry was posted on June 13, 2014 by in ELT, Learning English and tagged , , , , , , , .
%d bloggers like this: