Some tips on motivating learners

Motivation is seen as one of the most important factors

In my experience motivating learners is essential no matter what your learners are like, whether they are adult or young learners. All students are self-oriented and many can be emotional, easily distracted or get bored.

We have to work out some ways of developing their short and long-term motivation. The former fluctuates and depends on their mood, state or current situation. For example, our students may feel unwell and, thus, they will pay little attention to what we are saying. It seems obvious that we need to create tasks that are appealing to all learners, show relevance of those and be responsive to our learners’ contributions and needs in general.

Long-term motivation might be quite hard to maintain, especially when we work with younger learners whose goals are far from obvious. One of the possible solutions is to build a habit of setting achievable goals. We also need to listen to the voice of our learners, ensure use a lot of positive reinforcement and enable our learners to make informed choices and feel a sense of achievement.

What do we do to motivate learners?

We may use some tricks to grab their attention. For example, we may show them a picture, use a piece of music, a quote or an anecdote. When they get hooked, we want to ensure their interest by involving them into a variety of activities with the right level of challenge. On the one hand, if they feel the activity is too difficult, they can easily get frustrated. However, they will lose their motivation if the level of challenge is too low. All in all, make them feel challenged.

Some examples of useful activities

  • Guessing games (using a magic bag or a mystery box)
  • Giving a Story a Title (for example, listening to a teacher telling an anecdote and competing for the best title)
  • True/False Tasks (including student-generated statements)
  • Memory Games (including pelmanism)
  • Making a Poster (a relatively short brainstorming or a longer project work)
  • Categorising (ranking, prioritising and other similar tasks)
  • Answering questions (open questions will help learners be more productive)
  • Personalised activities on a variety of topics
  • Activities with an element of CLIL (craft, maths, songs etc)

If you work with a group of mixed-ability, try to arrange group work so that everyone can contribute according to their talents and abilities. Keep everyone engaged. Keep an eye on all students and ensure equal participation. Stronger learners might dominate if you forget to remind them to take turns.

Finally, monitor to collect information about their performance. Praise everyone for their contributions, effort, good attitude and good language use. According to Skinner, ‘language is a set of habits’, which means our learners are likely to remember the language their teacher approved and they want to use it again to get praised.

Some other teaching Tips

  • Set regular achievable goals
  • Help learners develop a habit of record keeping
  • Recycle what they have studied
  • Set relevant homework
  • Promote peer teaching
  • Ensure learners can correct themselves
  • Use progress reports to show their achievements and help them set new goals

Some recommended websites with useful motivating activities and great ideas for teachers:

Sandy Millin’s blog

Helen Chapman’s blog

British Council website

Super Simple Learning website

Carol Read’s blog