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11 (more) tips to encourage unmotivated students

11 (more) tips to encourage unmotivated students

If you’re struggling with ideas to motivate a discouraged student or learner who can’t see the progress they’re making, we’ve got a few tips to share. No single idea is a game-changer on its own; but when used consistently, these are great for putting a smile on those “down” students, and helping them move forward. (And when you’re done, there are more ideas here.)

1. Better student self talk

Teach your students different ways to explain when they are confused or don’t know something. The idea? To remove “I can’t” or “I don’t know” from their vocabulary and have them identify the progress they are making instead. Try:

  • “I found two ways that don’t work and am still trying”

  • “Here’s what I have found out so far”

  • “Here’s what I’d like to ask you”

  • “I have two questions at the moment”

  • “I’m confused about this part”

2. Stay motivated yourself

As a teacher, you’re not off the hook. Keep yourself interested in the art of teaching: study, research, get out of your comfort zone, challenge yourself to use more tech in class (or how to teach well without tech) and learn about different teaching techniques. Generally, shake up the way you generally teach and keep yourself on your toes.

3. Work to your students’ interests

Take time to get to know your learners and their interests. Make a habit of completing a survey at the start of semester, pay attention when they talk about their interests, consider activities that allow for debating interests (iOS vs Android, hiking vs kayaking, backpacing vs all-inclusive), plan opportunities for writing and speaking tasks that center around a freely-chosen topic, and include figures from popular culture in sentences to practice grammar points.

4. Change layout regularly

Give students a chance to work with other students; in pairs, small groups, and as an open class. Regularly change these options, including going outside every now and then. Doing this appeals to different learner types (introverted students may be more comfortable working in pairs, kinesthetic learners prefer to be on their feet, etc). By the same token, do allow your students time to work with close friends as well, which can also be motivating.

5. Know what to say

Some people just know what to say to help others when they are feeling discouraged. Try these ideas (especially for young learners).

  • You’ve worked so hard.

  • You must be very proud.

  • I know it’s challenging, but you almost have it.

  • That’s a great suggestion.

  • Great remembering.

  • You guys worked it out together!

  • You’re a creative thinker.

  • Thanks for working so hard.

  • You did it!

6. Provide a “why”

Write a goal for the lesson on the board when beginning, explain why certain topics are being studied, and go over the lesson’s goal at the end of the class to show your students what they learned and through which activities. This provides a roadmap and points out progress—which is very motivating.

7. Encourage goal-setting

Older learners can gain tremendous motivation from setting and reaching their own goals. Of course, these must be realistic and personalized. Teach them to take their major objective (“I want to move to Canada in two years to study at university”) and break it into semesterly and monthly goals. Then, share tips for evaluating their progress. (These teacher tips for self-evaluation are a good place to start!)

8. Be clear with instructions

When using the course book, ensure you give very clear instructions, provide an example, and allow students to ask any questions they may have before getting started. Feeling discouraged because you didn’t understand an exercise is easily resolved.

9. Lean into competition

Healthy competition can be a great morale booster for the class. Use grammar games, whiteboard games, or word games and a simple points system to up the ante.

10. Leave the textbook aside

Surprise your students, using video, podcasts, going outside, using songs, bring in instruments, use realia, or let them use their devices.

11. Give “the right” feedback

Refrain from over-correcting during class, which only draws attention to errors. Instead, provide points to work on alongside positive feedback. Incorporate peer feedback, self-evaluation, or a sharing moment when students can tell the class about something they achieved or are proud of that week.

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