How to Motivate Students in the Classroom: 12 Tips for Teachers

How to motivate studentsLearning is a lifelong endeavor, and in order to instill and sustain a lifelong love of learning, motivation is a must.

Inspire.
Instill drive.
Incite excitement.
Stimulate curiosity.

These are all common goals for many educators. However, what can you do if your students lack motivation? How do you light that fire and keep it from burning out?

This article will explain and provide examples of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in the classroom. Further, we will provide actionable methods to use right now in your classroom to motivate the difficult to motivate. Let’s get started!

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your students create actionable goals and master techniques to create lasting behavior change.

The Science of Motivation Explained

Goal-directed activities are started and sustained by motivation. “Motivational processes are personal/internal influences that lead to outcomes such as choice, effort, persistence, achievement, and environmental regulation” (Schunk & DiBenedetto, 2020). There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation is internal to a person.

For example, you may be motivated to achieve satisfactory grades in a foreign language course because you genuinely want to become fluent in the language. Students like this are motivated by their interest, enjoyment, or satisfaction from learning the material.

Not surprisingly, intrinsic motivation is congruous with higher performance and predicts student performance and higher achievement (Ryan & Deci, 2020).

Extrinsic motivation is derived from a more external source and involves a contingent reward (Benabou & Tirole, 2003).

For example, a student may be motivated to achieve satisfactory grades in a foreign language course because they receive a tangible reward or compliments for good grades. Their motivation is fueled by earning external rewards or avoiding punishments. Rewards may even include approval from others, such as parents or teachers.

Self-determination theory addresses the why of behavior and asserts that there are various motivation types that lie on a continuum, including external motivation, internal motivation, and amotivation (Sheehan et al., 2018).

How to Motivate Students in the Classroom

Motivating studentsAccording to self-determination theory, there are three basic psychological needs that are fundamental for motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2020):

  • Autonomy
  • Competence
  • Relatedness

Student autonomy is the ownership they take of their learning or initiative.

Generate students’ autonomy by involving them in decision-making. Try blended learning, which combines whole class lessons with independent learning. Teach accountability by holding students accountable and modeling and thinking aloud your own accountability.

In addressing competence, students must feel that they can succeed and grow. Assisting students in developing their self-esteem is critical. Help students see their strengths and refer to their strengths often. Promote a kid’s growth mindset.

Relatedness refers to the students’ sense of belonging and connection. Build this by establishing relationships. Facilitate peer connections by using team-building exercises and encouraging collaborative learning. Develop your own relationship with each student. Explore student interests to develop common ground.

9 Ways Teachers Can Motivate Students

Motivating students while teaching a subject and providing classroom management is definitely a juggling act. Try introducing a few of the suggestions below and see what happens.

Relationships

First and foremost, it is critical to develop relationships with your students. When students begin formal schooling, they need to develop quality relationships, as interpersonal relationships in the school setting influence children’s development and positively impact student outcomes, which includes their motivation to learn, behavior, and cognitive skills (McFarland et al., 2016).

Try administering interest inventories at the beginning of the school year. Make a point to get to know each student and demonstrate your interest by asking them about their weekend, sports game, or other activities they may participate in.

Physical learning environment

Modify the physical learning environment. Who says students need to sit in single-file rows all facing the front of the room or even as desks for that matter?

Flexible seating is something you may want to try. Students who are comfortable in a learning space are better engaged, which leads to more meaningful, impactful learning experiences (Cole et al., 2021). You may try to implement pillows, couches, stools, rocking chairs, rolling chairs, bouncing chairs, or even no chairs at all.

Include parents

Involve parents and solicit their aid to help encourage students. Parents are a key factor in students’ motivation (Tóth-Király et al., 2022).

It is important to develop your relationship with these crucial allies. Try making positive phone calls home prior to the negative phone calls to help build an effective relationship. Involve parents by sending home a weekly newsletter or by inviting them into your classroom for special events. Inform them that you are a team and have the same goals for their child.

Relevance

The relevance of the material is critical for instilling motivation. Demonstrating why the material is useful or tying the material directly to students’ lives is necessary for obtaining student interest.

It would come as no surprise that if a foreign language learner is not using relevant material, it will take longer for that student to acquire the language and achieve their goals (Shatz, 2014). If students do not understand the importance or real-world application for what they are learning, they may not be motivated to learn.

Student-centered learning

Student-centered learning approaches have been proven to be more effective than teacher-centered teaching approaches (Peled et al., 2022).

A student-centered approach engages students in the learning process, whereas a teacher-centered approach involves the teacher delivering the majority of the information. This type of teaching requires students to construct meaning from new information and prior experience.

Autonomy

Give students autonomy and ownership of what they learn. Try enlisting students as the directors of their own learning and assign project-based learning activities.

Find additional ways to integrate technology. Talk less and encourage the students to talk more. Involving students in decision-making and providing them opportunities to lead are conducive to a student-centered learning environment.

Collaborative learning

Collaborative learning is definitely a strategy to implement in the classroom. There are both cognitive and motivational benefits to collaborative learning (Järvelä et al., 2010), and social learning theory is a critical lens with which to examine motivation in the classroom.

You may try assigning group or partner work where students work together on a common task. This is also known as cooperative learning. You may want to offer opportunities for both partner and small group work. Allowing students to choose their partners or groups and assigning partners or groups should also be considered.

Alternative answering

Have you ever had a difficult time getting students to answer your questions? Who says students need to answer verbally? Try using alternative answering methods, such as individual whiteboards, personal response systems such as “clickers,” or student response games such as Kahoot!

Quizlet is also an effective method for obtaining students’ answers (Setiawan & Wiedarti, 2020). Using these tools allows every student to participate, even the timid students, and allows the teacher to perform a class-wide formative assessment on all students.

New teaching methods

Vary your teaching methods. If you have become bored with the lessons you are delivering, it’s likely that students have also become bored.

Try new teaching activities, such as inviting a guest speaker to your classroom or by implementing debates and role-play into your lessons. Teacher and student enjoyment in the classroom are positively linked, and teachers’ displayed enthusiasm affects teacher and student enjoyment (Frenzel et al., 2009).

Perhaps check out our article on teacher burnout to reignite your spark in the classroom. If you are not enjoying yourself, your students aren’t likely to either.

Encouraging Students to Ask Questions: 3 Tips

Asking questionsClassroom processes, such as asking questions and classroom conversation, play a critical role in gathering evidence concerning student learning (Kippers et al., 2018).

Aside from encouraging students to answer teacher questions, prompting students to ask their own questions can also be a challenge.

When students ask questions, they demonstrate they are thinking about their learning and are engaged. Further, they are actively filling the gaps in their knowledge. Doğan and Yücel-Toy (2020, p. 2237) posit:

“The process of asking questions helps students understand the new topic, realize others’ ideas, evaluate their own progress, monitor learning processes, and increase their motivation and interest on the topic by arousing curiosity.”

Student-created questions are critical to an effective learning environment. Below are a few tips to help motivate students to ask questions.

Instill confidence and a safe environment

Students need to feel safe in their classrooms. A teacher can foster this environment by setting clear expectations of respect between students. Involve students in creating a classroom contract or norms.

Refer to your classroom’s posted contract or norms periodically to review student expectations. Address any deviation from these agreements and praise students often. Acknowledge all students’ responses, no matter how wild or off-topic they may be.

Graphic organizers

Provide students with graphic organizers such as a KWL chart. The KWL chart helps students organize what they already Know, what they Want to learn, and what they Learned.

Tools such as these will allow students to process their thinking and grant them time to generate constructive questions. Referring to this chart will allow more timid students to share their questions.

Incentives

Although intrinsic motivation is preferred (Ryan & Deci, 2020), incentives should also be used when appropriate. Token systems, where students can exchange points for items, are an effective method for improving learning and positively affecting student behavior (Homer et al., 2018).

Tangible and intangible incentives may be used to motivate students if they have not developed intrinsic motivation. Intangible items may include lunch with the teacher, a coupon to only complete half of an assignment, or a show-and-tell session. Of course, a good old-fashioned treasure box may help as well.

If students are unwilling to ask questions in front of the class, try implementing a large poster paper where students are encouraged to use sticky notes to write down their questions. Teachers may refer to the questions and answer them at a separate time. This practice is called a “parking lot.” Also, consider allowing students to share questions in small groups or with partners.

Motivating Students in Online Classes

Just as in the face-to-face setting, relationships are crucial for online student motivation as well. Build relationships by getting to know your students’ interests. Determining student interests will also be key in the virtual environment.

Try incorporating a show-and-tell opportunity where students can display and talk about objects from around their home that are important to them. Peer-to-peer relationships should also be encouraged, and accomplishing this feat in an online class can be difficult. Here is a resource you can use to help plan team-building activities to bring your students together.

Game-based response systems such as Kahoot! may increase motivation. These tools use gamification to encourage motivation and engagement.

Incentives may also be used in the computer-based setting. Many schools have opted to use Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports Rewards. This curriculum nurtures a positive school culture and aims to improve student behavior. Points are earned by students meeting expectations and can be exchanged for items in an online store.

To further develop strong relationships with students and parents, remark on the relevancy of the materials and instill a student-centered learning approach that addresses autonomy. You may also wish to include alternative means of answering questions, vary your teaching methods, and implement collaborative learning.

Helpful Resources From PositivePsychology.com

We have many useful articles and worksheets you can use with your students. To get an excellent start on the foundations of motivation, we recommend our article What Is Motivation? A Psychologist Explains.

If you’re curious about intrinsic motivation, you may be interested in What Is Intrinsic Motivation? 10 Examples and Factors Explained. And if you wish to learn more about extrinsic motivation, What Is Extrinsic Motivation? 9 Everyday Examples and Activities may be of interest to you.

Perhaps using kids’ reward coupons such as these may help increase motivation. Teachers could modify the coupons to fit their classroom or share these exact coupons with parents at parent–teacher conferences to reinforce children’s efforts at school.

For some students, coloring is an enjoyable and creative outlet. Try using a coloring sheet such as this Decorating Cookies worksheet for when students complete their work or as a reward for good behavior.

These 17 Motivation and Goal Achievement Exercises were designed for professionals to help others turn their dreams into reality by applying the latest science-based behavioral change techniques. You can consider these exercises to better understand your own motivation or tweak some activities for younger learners.

A Take-Home Message

“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”

C. S. Lewis

While we know how challenging it is to motivate students while teaching our specific subjects and attending to classroom management, we also understand the importance of motivation.

You will have some students enter your classroom with unequivocally developed intrinsic motivation, and you will have students enter your classroom with absolutely no motivation.

Teachers have to be able to teach everyone who walks into their classroom and incite motivation in those who have no motivation at all. Motivating the difficult to motivate is challenging; however, it can be done.

As Plutarch asserted, it is better to think of education as “a fire to be kindled” as opposed to “a vessel to be filled.” In addressing the needs of students with little to no motivation, it will take more time, patience, and understanding; however, implementing a few of these strategies will put you on the fast track to lighting that fire.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free.

References

  • Benabou, R., & Tirole, J. (2003). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The Review of Economic Studies, 70(3), 489–495
  • Cole, K., Schroeder, K., Bataineh, M., & Al-Bataineh, A. (2021). Flexible seating impact on classroom environment. Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology-TOJET, 20(2), 62–74.
  • Doğan, F., & Yücel-Toy, B. (2020). Development of an attitude scale towards asking questions for elementary education students. Ilkogretim Online, 19(4), 2237–2248.
  • Frenzel, A. C., Goetz, T., Lüdtke, O., Pekrun, R., & Sutton, R. E. (2009). Emotional transmission in the classroom: Exploring the relationship between teacher and student enjoyment. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(3), 705–716.
  • Homer, R., Hew, K. F., & Tan, C. Y. (2018). Comparing digital badges-and-points with classroom token systems: Effects on elementary school ESL students’ classroom behavior and English learning. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 21(1), 137–151.
  • Järvelä, S., Volet, S., & Järvenoja, H. (2010). Research on motivation in collaborative learning: Moving beyond the cognitive–situative divide and combining individual and social processes. Educational Psychologist, 45(1), 15–27.
  • Kippers, W. B., Wolterinck, C. H., Schildkamp, K., Poortman, C. L., & Visscher, A. J. (2018). Teachers’ views on the use of assessment for learning and data-based decision making in classroom practice. Teaching and Teacher Education, 75, 199–213.
  • McFarland, L., Murray, E., & Phillipson, S. (2016). Student–teacher relationships and student self-concept: Relations with teacher and student gender. Australian Journal of Education, 60(1), 5–25.
  • Peled, Y., Blau, I., & Grinberg, R. (2022). Crosschecking teachers’ perspectives on learning in a one-to-one environment with their actual classroom behavior: A longitudinal study. Education and Information Technologies, 1–24.
  • Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2020). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation from a self-determination theory perspective: Definitions, theory, practices, and future directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 61, 101860.
  • Schunk, D. H., & DiBenedetto, M. K. (2020). Motivation and social cognitive theory. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 60, 101832.
  • Setiawan, M. R., & Wiedarti, P. (2020). The effectiveness of Quizlet application towards students’ motivation in learning vocabulary. Studies in English Language and Education, 7(1), 83–95.
  • Shatz, I. (2014). Parameters for assessing the effectiveness of language learning strategies. Journal of Language and Cultural Education, 2(3), 96–103.
  • Sheehan, R. B., Herring, M. P., & Campbell, M. J. (2018). Associations between motivation and mental health in sport: A test of the hierarchical model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 707.
  • Tóth-Király, I., Morin, A. J., Litalien, D., Valuch, M., Bőthe, B., Orosz, G., & Rigó, A. (2022). Self-determined profiles of academic motivation. Motivation and Emotion, 1–19.

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