The Principles of Working on Student Motivation
Besides the thousands of things they have on their minds (personal problems, health issues, daydreaming, etc.) and the temptation to just chat with their neighbors in the classroom, students can also be easily distracted by their smartphones. Distraction is not the only obstacle to the class, boredom and absenteeism don’t help the class either.
To prevent those behaviors, students need to be motivated, which is every teacher's challenge. While all students have different backgrounds and expectations, the teacher still has plenty of resources to tease students' attention and increase their participation.
How do you keep students motivated in the English class? This essay lists and elicits a few possibilities to explore to motivate students to learn English as a foreign language.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Melanie P. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
1. Build rapport with students
Rapport is the connection a teacher makes with the students: when they like and trust their teacher, they tend to do their best in class. Therefore building rapport with students is an effective way to increase their motivation.
The first step would be for the teacher to properly introduce him/herself, with name and background. This is a way to show respect to the students and also make easier the following steps of the course where the teacher has to get to know the students. As they are allowed to meet their teacher as a person, students tend to be attentive and can get quite curious.
I would say my name, where I am from, how I learned English and then let them ask me whatever questions come to their mind, without feeling obliged to answer all of them. If they are too private or irrelevant, I would put them aside explaining why.
The second step is about getting to know the students: their interests, their hobbies, and goals. Asking them about what they like in life, what are their inspirations and what they aspire to become is an essential step in building rapport, as students will feel considered, understood and cared for. Asking students a few questions, conducting a mini-survey that each student has to fill, asking students’ parents are as many options that a teacher can use to get to know the students better. Not only this will help build rapport, but this will also help the teacher in creating adequate lesson planning where subjects are related to students’ lives.
During the classes, it is important to use eye contact, voice and gesture properly. It is all about making students feel comfortable and confident as they are learning new skills. Smiling and making individual eye contact enables the teacher to make a positive connection with each student within a second. Having a calm reaction to their misbehavior without showing too much emotion such as frustration or confusion will also help to build rapport with the students.
Building rapport helps tear down the walls that usually make teachers and students strangers to one another, and can impact all aspects of the class experience, especially students' motivation.
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2. Make the class interesting
A thing that I think is too often overlooked during an English course is the explanation of the benefits of learning this new language. I have been studying English for more than ten years - never a teacher did explain how could English change my life.
Explaining the benefits of learning English to students is essential since they are more likely to be interested when they understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. Being the most commonly spoken language in the world, English unlocks many possibilities such as getting a better job (especially in developing countries) and being able to travel the world and live abroad.
Therefore I think that one of the first classes with new students could be about what they want to do with their lives. Whether they want to become a famous singer or an engineer, it will be easy for the teacher to draw parallels and explain how learning can help them reach their goals. This would be a great Kickstarter to get students motivated for the whole course.
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In the same way, students are hardly motivated to talk about something they’ve never heard of or never experienced. On the other hand, they feel more involved and tend to participate more when they can relate to the topics discussed in class. Therefore the teacher must get to know the students and to systematically choose topics that they can understand and relate to. Eg. A class about how to find a job might be less relevant to a 13-year-old than a class about phone usage.
As long as the teacher manages to make a connection between the class and students’ lives, motivation will be high.
3. Have fun!
Sitting in a classroom can be frustrating, repetitive and boring. Therefore it is hard for students to stay motivated if all classes are similar and if the learning experience tends to follow a routine.
A good way to regain students’ motivation is to surprise them as often as possible. Changing the class arrangement is one option, but I believe the teacher has many other possibilities to explore in lesson planning to keep the students on their toes. Each phase of the class (Engage, Study, Activate) can involve the use of different materials and skills (speaking, writing, reading, listening), and each class can be different from the previous one.
Although it is still important to keep a certain structure so students don't feel lost at the beginning of each class, I believe that breaking their routine is an effective way to motivate them.
This is closely related to making the whole class experience more fun! Learning games and activities are amazing tools to stimulate students! As they genuinely enjoy the activity, they are more likely to step out of their comfort zone, participate more and absorb a lot. Another benefit is that they are a great opportunity to develop a teacher’s creativity; according to students’ responses, the teacher can then create new materials tailored to their needs. It is all about creating a comfortable and positive environment the students want to be a part of. When the teachers and the students are happy to participate, the whole class experience is enhanced!
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Nonetheless, the teacher has to be wary not to lose control over the students. Excitement can sometimes take over and students could even forget they're in class.
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