5 Tips To Improve Your Student Motivation

Tips to improve student motivation

Published on: Mar 22, 2017

Imagine you had to sit still and listen to someone talk on and on for hours at a stretch. What are the chances that you’d lose interest and zone out at some point? Probably quite high, right?

Now, let’s take it up a notch. Imagine you had absolutely zero interest in what was being said to begin with. Perhaps you’re struggling to understand what’s going on. Or maybe you fail to see how what you’re hearing could ever be useful to you in your day-to-day life. Your motivation has probably just dropped another notch, hasn’t it? As teachers, encouraging and motivating students is a constant challenge. You can have the best lesson plans and learning materials in the world. But if your students aren’t engaged, no learning is going to happen.

In this post, you’ll discover five actionable strategies you can use to motivate your students in the classroom and encourage them to learn.

1. Vary The Pace Of Your Lessons

Human concentration is naturally wired to last for only so long, after which we start to lose focus. In prehistoric times, this was an evolutionary advantage, because it kept us safe. Unfortunately, in the modern classroom it can become your worst enemy.

You can work around your students’ peaks and dips in concentration – and even use them to your advantage – by varying the pace of the lesson. Use warm up routines to introduce the topic and get your students into the right mindset. A classic technique is to ask students to identify mistakes you’ve deliberately included in the material. This sparks their curiosity, which puts the brain into a state that’s more receptive to learning.

You can split your students into teams or even make them compete against each other. There’s nothing like some healthy competition to encourage more students to participate. Or, for a more energetic version, get your students to catch Catchbox before they can answer.

You can also break things up and lighten the mood throughout a lesson by using the element of surprise. Besides, telling a joke or showing students a funny video right after you deliver an important piece of information floods the hippocampus with dopamine, which has been found to aid memory.

2. Use Different Teaching Media

Not all students absorb knowledge in the same way. Some enjoy listening to an explanation or losing themselves in a book. But, for others, learning is all about using their senses of touch and smell. Research shows that it’s not intelligence, but the learning process that determines students’ future abilities. This makes it all the more important to ensure you’re not using a one-size-fits-all approach.

Use different media and provide your students with a range of different experiences. Games, role-playing, experiments and field trips provide an added dimension to your lessons and ensure all your students are equally engaged and invested in the learning process.

3. Put The Material In Context

But, when will I ever need this in real life?

Why should I even bother? As a teacher, you’ve probably been faced with variations of these questions at least a few times in class. And, let’s be real. They’re legitimate questions to ask. As human beings, we tend to take most interest in what we find personally valuable. Unfortunately, traditional curricula often devote a substantial amount of time to theory. This can seem so far removed from your students’ daily lives it can quickly demotivate even the brightest of the bunch.

In a study conducted by the University of Virginia, two groups of students were given a science assignment. One group was asked to write a summary of what they learned in class, while the other was asked to write about how what they learned was useful in their daily lives. The second group reported a lot more interest during classes. More to the point, they achieved much higher grades.

Here are some simple strategies you can use to put the material in context:

– introduce the topic by asking your students to discuss a real world problem;

– explain the concept using a topic your students are interested in, such as a favourite TV show or movie;

– ask your students to come up with everyday situations where they’d need to apply this knowledge.

4. Connect With Your Students

It’s not enough to care about your students. You also have to show them you do in tangible ways.

Think of your own favourite teachers. If you remember them, chances are it’s because you had a genuine relationship with them. They truly cared about your welfare and always made sure you were doing well. In turn, this made you feel good about yourself and encouraged you to work harder to succeed. Right?

This is no accident. Students perform best when they feel appreciated and know you’re genuinely interested in their well-being. Even a simple gesture like greeting your students by name before class can boost engagement by as much as 27%.

And that’s not all. Difficulties understanding the material or doing the work are frustrating and can lower your students’ self-esteem. Making your students feel comfortable approaching you with their issues means you can help them identify problem areas and correct them immediately. This keeps motivation levels high and boosts your students’ academic performance.

5. Give Them The Tools To Motivate Themselves

While there are many ways you can encourage and motivate your students, nothing is as powerful as motivation that comes from within. As effective as motivational activities can be, your students will still be aware that an external force (read, you) is trying to influence them. With self-motivation, on the other hand, the students are effectively convincing themselves. Which makes the effect much more powerful and long-lasting.

Here are four ways you can get your students to motivate themselves:

I Ask, don’t tell.

From a behavioural standpoint, you’re much likelier to get positive reactions from your students if you ask them what they’re going to do, rather than telling them what they should or shouldn’t be doing. This is because you’re giving them the freedom to choose their own path.

By contrast, instructing your students to do or not do something makes them feel they lack autonomy. The result is psychological reactance – an emotional state that compels them to act in a way that restores their freedom.

In other words, telling your students they should be paying attention to the lesson makes them want to pay less attention. Who’d have thought. Right?

II Give your students cognitive choices

Psychological reactance aside, nurturing your students’ sense of autonomy also has other long-term benefits. In particular, giving them cognitive choices can help turn their initial engagement with the lesson material into a psychological investment that endures long after they’ve graduated from your class.

As a plus, giving students cognitive choices also makes the material more relevant, which means they’ll perceive it as being more interesting.

There are several ways you can do this. These include:

– involving them in setting learning goals and objectives at the beginning of the school year, at the start of the term or even at the beginning of the lesson;

– getting them to develop their own homework assignment ideas, or allowing them to choose their preferred assignment from a homework menu; and

– encouraging them to share their different thinking processes and approaches to solving the same problem.

III Praise effort, not intelligence

Praising for effort reinforces the idea that achievement comes through hard work. This makes your students want to work harder.

By contrast, praising intelligence can have the opposite effect. Students praised for intelligence become wary of taking risks, because they start to fear they might lose their status as the smartest in the room.

IV Build on the positives, don’t dwell on the negative

Of course, this is not to say you shouldn’t provide negative feedback when necessary. However, you’ll have to strike a balance. Humans tend to respond more strongly to negative feedback, which means you could unwittingly discourage your students if your criticism is too harsh.

Research shows that, for best results, positive interactions should outnumber negative ones by at least three to one. So, the best way to tackle less than stellar efforts is to build on the positive rather than focusing on the negative. Avoid judgmental language. Instead, use words such as “and” or “what if” to suggest improvements in a non-threatening way.

In Conclusion

How do you go about encouraging your students? Are there any ways you use to spark motivation in the classroom which you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments. And if you’ve found this post helpful, feel free to pass it along to your colleagues by sharing on Facebook or Twitter. The more we can do to encourage and motivate our students, the greater their achievements will be.


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