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Motivated Students as a Key to Successful Teaching

Motivated Students as a Key to Successful Teaching | ITTT | TEFL Blog

This academic discourse will examine the concepts of motivation in an ESL classroom, through the lens of some motivational theorists such as John Schumann and John Keller. According to Kreitner ( 1995 ), “Motivation is the psychological process that gives behavior purpose and direction”. Dalton E (1974) stated that “ Motivation refers to how urges drives, desires, aspirations, and strivings or needs direct, control or explain the behavior of human beings. From the definitions quoted above, one can conclude that without motivation, there’s inertia at the level of human ability and energy. There are four kinds of motivation: intrinsic, extrinsic, instrumental, and integrative.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Frankline N. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

These views were further discussed by renowned scholars around the world, among them John Schumann and John Keller. John Schumann, (1986) propounded the Schumann’s Acculturation model in second language acquisition. He identifies two main variables that influence every learner's motivation viz: social and psychological. He expatiates that the social and psychological distance between the second language learner and the target language is a major determining factor in the extent to which the language learner will acquire the target language. The speech of the second language learner is restricted to communicative function(Schumann 1978, p 76). He further adds eight social variables: social dominance, assimilation, enclosure, cohesiveness, size, congruence, attitude and intended length of residence. Additionally, four main psychological variables according to Schumann adds to the motivating factors (language shock, cultural shock, motivation, and ego) which the learner has to overcome to acquire the target language and identify himself with members of the target language group.

adult students

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John Keller American Educational Psychologist 1979) surmises that second language acquisition is grounded in the expectancy-value theory, which purports about perceived success and perceived satisfaction of personal needs. This model stipulates that people will engage in an activity if they believe they will succeed at it, and it will satisfy their personal needs. The views raised above are indicative of the fact that every second language learner is motivated bypersonal and societal variables. To sustain this spirit, the content of an ESL course should beone that is capable of letting him meet up with his aspirations. Hence this brings us to establishsome congruence between Schumann’s Acculturation Model and Keller ARCS model. They include:

  • Attention
  • Relevance
  • Confidence
  • Satisfaction


John Keller argues that every ESL lesson should be designed such that it grabs the undivided attention of ESL learners. The course instructor is expected to initiate active participation in an ESL classroom by getting learners to participate actively through a series of interesting learning activities such as role-play, simulations, etc. This makes the learners easily get assimilated into the language immersion process. In addition to this, the course instructor should take into consideration the various learning methods and make predispositions. A fun-filled classroom will help ease the tension and stress which often characterizes the process of second language acquisition. Using specific examples and letting learners brainstorm to solve problems by themselves could be a booster and enhancer of motivation in an ESL classroom.

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Once the learner's attention has already been gotten, the learners must be made to see how relevant the course is in meeting their aspirations. This can be done through the use of concrete language to which the learners are familiar with daily, thus using their current experiences to enhance their progress is a generally welcomed idea among learners in an ESL classroom. More to this, the learner should see the current worth of the course in their day to day activities. It is equally important for the course instructor to be a model for the students. This motivates learners to work harder thus emulating desired model behavior.

esl calss


To keep the learners motivated, the course instructor must build in them a great deal of confidence. This can be achieved by painting a vivid picture of what is expected of the learners during the course. Components like knowing the prerequisites for success, assessment and evaluation criteria at the beginning of the course are very important. The course instructor should develop strategies to build and mold them naturally and gradually to succeed through the course. Positive feedback and making the learners see that their success depends mainly on their efforts is equally advised. The absence of these variables hampers motivation adversely.

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Lastly, the learner has to feel a sense of satisfaction through the course and every lesson to keep his motivation alive. The learner has to find learning as rewarding or satisfying be it through his achievements or just from verbal praises. This is attainable by letting the learners use the target language in as many real-life situations as much as they can, thus seeing its usefulness. It is equally necessary that the course instructor uses positive reinforcement and feedback to motivate the learner to keep doing their best. However, Keller warns against patronizing the learner by over rewarding them for easy tasks.

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From the write up above is evident that everyone motivated to learn a second language still needs motivation in the process of acquiring the language. Therefore it is the role of an ESL course instructor to sustain such momentum of motivation in an ESL classroom. The learner's motivation may come from his desire to feel a sense of belonging among speakers of the target language ( Schumann's model ), most importantly it is the role of the teacher to sustain such motivation by applying the aforementioned tenants of John Kellers ARCS model.

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