Going for the Gold: 12 Proven Strategies for Motivating Students

Going for the Gold
12 Proven Strategies for Motivating Students

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 19,203 views

Not everyone wants to climb Mount Everest.

It’s a long trip, and that’s putting it mildly. But what if you had to get to the top of that glorious mountain before you could earn a promotion? What if the one school you wanted to attend was at the top, and you had to get there before you could enroll? What if you wanted one thing with all your strength, but the mountain stood in the way? For some ESL students, that’s what learning English is like. It is a long journey, and one that takes constant effort and regular replenishment of energy. That’s why it’s important to keep your students moving, to motivate them. When the days get tough, a little boost from you may be all that they need. So how do you do it? Well, here are twelve simple strategies any teacher can employ to help motivate his or her students.

Use These 12 Proven Strategies for Motivating Students

  1. 1

    Encourage Healthy Competition

    Sometimes a healthy dose of competition is all some people need to push a little harder, to go a little further. To motivate your students, try setting up a little competition in class. Divide your students into two teams and award points for performance on in-class activities as well as written work. Keep a running tally, and be sure to reward your winners on a regular basis. Don’t forget to stress that the winning team gets bragging rights.

  2. 2

    Be Serious about Fun

    You can include some serious fun in your classroom, and there is no one right way to do it. Try including games, creative activities, and just plain silliness as often as you can. These activities don’t have to be pointless, either. Lots of games and fun activities can also improve your students’ language skills and making them a regular part of class will keep your students moving forward.

  3. 3

    Change up the Scenery

    Looking at the same four walls of your classroom, no matter how great they look, gets old. Getting your students in a different environment can give them a boost of energy and enthusiasm. So get outdoors, take field trips, go to another classroom in the school - anything to get out of your room. And while you’re at it, change the focal point of your classroom by letting someone else take center stage. Invite guest speakers to talk with your students and give them real life listening and speaking experience.

  4. 4

    Give Positive Feedback

    Don’t just correct mistakes; celebrate successes. Everyone who is pursuing a lofty goal needs to step back and take measure of how far they have come. ESL teachers can easily fall into the trap of over correcting or correcting and failing to point out success in our students. Make it a regular habit to point out the things your students are doing right. Do it every day! Don’t stop correcting their mistakes, but don’t make it the primary feedback you give them. Remember to give positive critique before pointing out areas that need improvement, and then close the conversation with something positive again.

  5. 5

    Make Things Practical

    Books are great. They are important. They are useful. And sometimes they are unrealistic. Most ESL students are studying the language for one of two reasons – to pursue further education in English or to use the language in their professional lives. These are very specific and practical goals for language learning. Motivate your students by making your instruction specific and practical as well. Whenever possible, make sure your assignments are similar to what your students will need to do with English after their language program has finished (e.g. fill out a job application, schedule college courses, write a business letter or research report, etc.). Head knowledge can be discouraging if there is no real application for it. Make sure every lesson you teach has a practical application and your students will be thrilled about everything they are learning in class.

  6. 6

    Vary Your Teaching Style

    Every student has a different combination of learning styles, and that means to reach each of them you will have to hit all of the learning styles regularly. This does more than connect with your students at a foundational level. It makes class more interesting for them. Imagine doing ten written exercises to practice forming the regular past tense. The first and second might be okay, but by the time you get to number ten…boring. Now imagine doing three exercises, playing a game, making a diagram, telling a story, doing a role play, writing a letter, telling a funny story, and watching a movie clip. It’s a little more interesting, isn’t it? And each of those activities can still focus on the target skill while they each hit different learning styles. Be careful not to fall into the trap of doing the same kinds of activities every day. Of course it’s okay to repeat activities, but just make sure you have enough variety to keep your students moving forward.

  7. 7

    Tell Your Students What Your Goals Are

    For some students, all they need to keep them going is knowing their destination. Communicating goals to students means more than just saying you want them to be fluent. It also means letting them know where you are leading them for the school year, the semester, the month, and even each day. Try listing two to three goals on the board each day so students can see that they are achieving these goals and that they are moving forward.

  8. 8

    Take Time off Sometimes

    If all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, you are sure to see plenty of Jacks in a class that never takes a break. Sometimes you just need to have a day off. Have a food day, watch a movie, do other not so driven activities. You don’t have to be serious and in the book all the time to feel like you have accomplished something in class. And while some of these activities may seem like a waste of time, even the fun ones can have a functional language outcome. You don’t have to stress it, either. Just let it happen on its own.

  9. 9

    Teach Students Tools for Learning Not Just Information

    Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. Language learning can be like that, too. If you define a word for your students, great. They have learned a new word. But if you teach them how to discover the meaning of words on their own, well, you get the idea. It may take more effort up front to teach learning strategies as opposed to information, but in the long run it will serve your students better.

  10. q

    Connect Your Students with Native Speakers

    Conversation partners, pen pals, etc. give ESL students a personal connection to someone who speaks English , and that gives them more reason to learn the language. Personal connections are important, and when your students have them, they will be even more motivated for learning to speak English fluently.

  11. w

    Talk Less

    Have you ever fallen asleep in a college lecture? If so, perhaps it’s because your teacher did all the talking. Since students are learning English for communication purposes, get them talking in class. The more they talk and the less time you lecture, the more personal and interesting language learning becomes, and that will keep your students from throwing in the towel in the language learning ring.

  12. e

    Make Class Communicative

    The goal of learning a language is to communicate in that language. If that communication is grammatically perfect, that’s great. But it doesn’t have to be to get the message across. In your class, stress successful communication not flawless grammar and pronunciation. When you do, your students will naturally think less about what they are doing wrong and more about what they are doing right which will make them want to press on toward their goals.

Different motivational strategies work better with different students, but if you make a point of including a variety of them in your classroom, you students will certainly reach the top of the mountain.

And you can feel good that you helped them get there.

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