How to Motivate Students

Simple Ideas To Improve Student Motivation

- The best lessons, books, and materials in the world won’t get students excited about learning and willing to work hard if they’re not motivated.

- Motivation, both intrinsic and extrinsic, is a key factor in the success of students at all stages of their education, and teachers can play a pivotal role in providing and encouraging that motivation in their students.

Of course that’s much easier said than done, as all students are motivated differently and it takes time and a lot of effort to learn to get a classroom full of kids enthusiastic about learning, working hard, and pushing themselves to excel.

- Even the most well-intentioned and educated teachers sometimes lack the skills to keep kids on track, so whether you’re a new teacher or an experienced one, try using these methods to motivate your students and to encourage them to live up to their true potential.

  • If there is one thing we know about kids, it’s that they have short attention spans and prefer now to later. This is especially true at the beginning of the year.

  • Teachers, more than any district or schoolwide programs, have the most power to know how to motivate students because they’re on the front lines.

  • They can influence students in a way that kids can actually understand: here, now, today, in this room.

    ***Obviously, not enough can be said about parent involvement, but that’s a Top 12 list for another day***

    How to Motivate Students In Your Classroom or School

    1. Praise Students in Ways Big and Small

    Recognize work in class, display good work in the classroom and send positive notes home to parents, hold weekly awards in your classroom, organize academic pep rallies to honor the honor roll, and even sponsor a Teacher Shoutout section in the student newspaper to acknowledge student’s hard work.

    2. Expect Excellence

    Set high, yet realistic expectations. Make sure to voice those expectations. Set short terms goals and celebrate when they are achieved.

    3. Spread Excitement Like a Virus

    Show your enthusiasm in the subject and use appropriate, concrete and understandable examples to help students grasp it. For example, I love alliteration.

    Before I explain the concept to students, we “improv” subjects they’re interested in. After learning about alliteration, they brainstorm alliterative titles for their chosen subjects.

    4. How to Motivate Students: Mix It Up

    It’s a classic concept and the basis for differentiated instruction, but it needs to be said: using a variety of teaching methods caters to all types of learners.

    By doing this in an orderly way, you can also maintain order in your classroom.

    In a generic example for daily instruction, journal for 10 minutes to open class; introduce the concept for 15 minutes; discuss/group work for 15 minutes; Q&A or guided work time to finish the class. This way, students know what to expect everyday and have less opportunity to act up.

    5. Assign Classroom Jobs

    With students, create a list of jobs for the week. Using the criteria of your choosing, let students earn the opportunity to pick their classroom jobs for the next week. These jobs can cater to their interests and skills.

    Classroom Job Examples

  • Post to the Class blog
  • Update Calendar
  • Moderate review games
  • Pick start of class music
  • Watch class pet
  • Public relations officer (address people who visit class)
  • Standard class jobs like Attendance, Cleaning the boards, putting up chairs, etc.

    6. Hand Over Some Control

    If students take ownership of what you do in class, then they have less room to complain (though we all know, it’ll never stop completely).

    Take an audit of your class, asking what they enjoy doing, what helps them learn, what they’re excited about after class. Multiple choice might be the best way to start if you predict a lot of “nothing” or “watch movies” answers.

    After reviewing the answers, integrate their ideas into your lessons or guide a brainstorm session on how these ideas could translate into class.

    On a systematic level, let students choose from elective classes in a collegiate format. Again, they can tap into their passion and relate to their subject matter if they have a choice.

    7. Open-format Fridays

    You can also translate this student empowerment into an incentive program. Students who attended class all week, completed all assignments and obeyed all classroom rules can vote on Friday’s activities (lecture, discussion, watching a video, class jeopardy, acting out a scene from a play or history).

    8. Relating Lessons to Students’ Lives

    Whether it is budgeting for family Christmas gifts, choosing short stories about your town, tying in the war of 1812 with Iraq, rapping about ions, or using Pop Culture Printables, students will care more if they identify themselves or their everyday lives in what they’re learning.

    9. Track Improvement

    In those difficult classes, it can feel like a never-ending uphill battle, so try to remind students that they’ve come a long way.

    Set achievable, short-term goals, emphasis improvement, keep self-evaluation forms to fill out and compare throughout the year, or revisit mastered concepts that they once struggled with to refresh their confidence.

    10. Reward Positive Behavior Outside the Classroom

    Tie service opportunities, cultural experiences, extracurricular activities into the curriculum for extra credit or as alternative options on assignments.

    Have students doing Habitat for Humanity calculate the angle of the freshly cut board, count the nails in each stair and multiply the number of stairs to find the total number of nails;

    write an essay about their experience volunteering or their how they felt during basketball tryouts; or any other creative option they can come up with.

  • Motivate Students Beyond the Classroom

    The idea of cash incentives is a timely yet controversial topic, so I’d like to look at this attempt to “buy achievement” through a different lens.

    It seems people are willing to dump some money into schools, so let’s come up with better ways to spend it.

    11. Plan Dream Field Trips

    With your students, brainstorm potential field trips tiered by budget. Cash incentive money can then be earned toward the field trips for good behavior, performance, etc.

    The can see their success in the classroom as they move up from the decent zoo field trip to the good state capitol day trip to the unbelievable week-long trip to New York City.

    Even though the reward is delayed, tracking progress will give students that immediate reward.

    12. College Fund Accounts

    College dreams motivate athletes; why not adapt the academic track to be just as tangible for hard-working student?

    One way is to keep a tally of both the cash value and the potential school choice each student has earned.

    As freshman, they see they’ve earned one semester at the local junior college.

    By second semester of junior year, they’re going to four-years at State for half the price.

    By graduation, watch out free ride to their dream school.

    13.Give students a sense of control.

    While guidance from a teacher is important to keeping kids on task and motivated, allowing students to have some choice and control over what happens in the classroom is actually one of the best ways to keep them engaged.

    For example, allowing students to choose the type of assignment they do or which problems to work on can give them a sense of control that may just motivate them to do more.

    14.Define the objectives.

    It can be very frustrating for students to complete an assignment or even to behave in class if there aren’t clearly defined objectives. Students want and need to know what is expected of them in order to stay motivated to work.

    At the beginning of the year, lay out clear objectives, rules, and expectations of students so that there is no confusion and students have goals to work towards.

    15.Create a threat-free environment.

    While students do need to understand that there are consequences to their actions, far more motivating for students than threats are positive reinforcements.

    When teachers create a safe, supportive environment for students, affirming their belief in a student’s abilities rather than laying out the consequences of not doing things, students are much more likely to get and stay motivated to do their work.

    At the end of the day, students will fulfill the expectations that the adults around them communicate, so focus on can, not can’t.

    16.Change your scenery.

    A classroom is a great place for learning, but sitting at a desk day in and day out can make school start to seem a bit dull for some students.

    To renew interest in the subject matter or just in learning in general, give your students a chance to get out of the classroom. Take field trips, bring in speakers, or even just head to the library for some research.

    The brain loves novelty and a new setting can be just what some students need to stay motivated to learn.

    17.Offer varied experiences.

    Not all students will respond to lessons in the same way. For some, hands-on experiences may be the best. Others may love to read books quietly or to work in groups.

    In order to keep all students motivated, mix up your lessons so that students with different preferences will each get time focused on the things they like best. Doing so will help students stay engaged and pay attention.

    18.Use positive competition.

    Competition in the classroom isn’t always a bad thing, and in some cases can motivate students to try harder and work to excel.

    Work to foster a friendly spirit of competition in your classroom, perhaps through group games related to the material or other opportunities for students to show off their knowledge.

    19.Encourage self-reflection.

    Most kids want to succeed, they just need help figuring out what they need to do in order to get there. One way to motivate your students is to get them to take a hard look at themselves and determine their own strengths and weaknesses.

    Students are often much more motivated by creating these kinds of critiques of themselves than by having a teacher do it for them, as it makes them feel in charge of creating their own objectives and goals.

    20.Know your students.

    Getting to know your students is about more than just memorizing their names. Students need to know that their teacher has a genuine interest in them and cares about them and their success.

    When students feel appreciated it creates a safe learning environment and motivates them to work harder, as they want to get praise and good feedback from someone they feel knows and respects them as individuals.

    21.Harness student interests.

    Knowing your students also has some other benefits, namely that it allows you to relate classroom material to things that students are interested in or have experienced.

    Teachers can use these interests to make things more interesting and relatable to students, keeping students motivated for longer.

    22.Manage student anxiety.

    Some students find the prospect of not doing well so anxiety-inducing that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    For these students, teachers may find that they are most motivated by learning that struggling with a subject isn’t the end of the world.

    Offer support no matter what the end result is and ensure that students don’t feel so overwhelmed by expectations that they just give up.

    23. Make goals high but attainable.

    If you’re not pushing your students to do more than the bare minimum, most won’t seek to push themselves on their own.

    Students like to be challenged and will work to achieve high expectations so long as they believe those goals to be within their reach, so don’t be afraid to push students to get more out of them.

    24.Give feedback and offer chances to improve.

    Students who struggle with class work can sometimes feel frustrated and get down on themselves, draining motivation.

    In these situations it’s critical that teachers help students to learn exactly where they went wrong and how they can improve next time. Figuring out a method to get where students want to be can also help them to stay motivated to work hard.

    25. Provide opportunities for success.

    Students, even the best ones, can become frustrated and demotivated when they feel like they’re struggling or not getting the recognition that other students are.

    Make sure that all students get a chance to play to their strengths and feel included and valued. It can make a world of difference in their motivation.

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