Got an unmotivated student? Try these 12 tips
No matter how cohesive the class, there’s usually one student who just isn’t, let’s say, feeling it. But what can you do with an unmotivated student? Turns out, quite a lot. Check out these 12 tips, specifically chosen for language teachers.
1. Identify their “type”
Your class is a mix of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners; who lean towards extroversion or introversion; and identify with one of nine Enneagram, 16 Myers Briggs, and any number of “types” from other personality frameworks. *Whew!* Due to all this diversity, it’s natural that each student’s learning preferences differ. While you can’t deliver a personalized lesson to each learner, you can reach them better by committing to using different teaching techniques throughout the semester. And they don’t have to be complicated: try mixing up group with individual work time; including moments of hands-on, visual, or aural learning; and offering students chances to lead, choose, compete, or go outside. Or, reach out to your Director of Studies for support in implementing opportunities for blended learning or task-based learning.
2. Stop effusive praise
Michael Linsin of Smart Classroom Management recommends giving students specific, honest feedback – and then leaving them alone. Catch your student in the act of good work, no matter how small, he suggests. Tell them (in a normal voice, no exaggerated excitement!) that they are doing well. Use specifics: “Great introduction,” “yes, that’s exactly right,” “spot on description,” “great use of the passive tense”. Interestingly, he advises that you then simply walk on off without looking back. You see, unmotivated students sometimes expect effusive praise and have grown immune to it. By giving specific feedback and letting students continue their work, this approach aims to plant the seed of pride in a job well done.
3. Highlight the positive
Your unmotivated student has probably experienced failure recently. Celebrate their wins and help them see the positives of their studies: increased vocabulary, more fluid speaking, increased reading ability, better pronunciation, leadership skills, grammar—the list goes on. You know that something will apply to your student; but do they?
4. Foster a threat-free classroom
Because fear isn’t an effective motivator, students who worry about the wrath of their teachers and parents aren’t likely to thrive. Support your most anxious students and learn what has grown their anxiety. Maybe they have an overbearing parent, are having a tough time at work, or are a sleep-deprived new parent? Make your classroom a positive place by being supportive, positive, and enthusiastic.
5. Take the focus off extrinsic motivation
Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy writes that extrinsic rewards can actually hamper motivation when applied to complex or creative activities. Instead, she suggests teachers learn to focus students’ attention (and their own classroom approach) on an activity’s intrinsic value.
6. Embrace routine
Using a series of predictable moments to “hook” your lessons on can be comforting to students, and give a sense of control to the unmotivated. Ideas include starting class by checking homework; playing soft music while students are engaged in individual work; including a “word of the day” moment; or ending class with a familiar warm-down activity.
7. Encourage friendly competition
When used well, competition is a powerful motivator. Use games to review grammar points and vocabulary—but always encourage lightheartedness: this will keep students “with you for the ride” and work to keep the atmosphere positive.
8. Get out of the classroom
Does your academy have a garden, cafeteria, computer room? Hold the occasional class there. However, if physically moving your students isn’t possible, try “getting out” of the classroom by including music, films, and podcasts in your lessons, or inviting special guests (such as an expert in a field you’re studying) to teach a guest lesson.
9. Allow choice where possible
Whether choosing between completing a listening or reading activity; selecting an assignment topic, or which problems to tackle first, some unmotivated students will dig into the chance to own their class experience. This sort of technique is easier to employ when students are involved in creative, longer-term activities, or task-based learning, which naturally provide more opportunities for decision making.
10. Try the 2×10 technique
Simple in its effectiveness, the 2×10 technique involves talking for two minutes, each day for ten days, with a student with challenging classroom behavior. But what do you talk about? Anything they want to. Why? Because you’ll learn about your student, create rapport, and perhaps even pinpoint what has been troubling them.
11. Give responsibilities
Younger students will enjoy being in charge of a particular classroom job; such as wiping the whiteboard, handing out worksheets, or distributing counters. Older students can help lead games, write homework on the board, or “teach” a five-minute class on a topic of their choice.
12. Track progress
When it comes to our progress, human beings are usually quicker to see the negative over the positive. Tracking student progress helps learners uncloud potentially untrue perceptions of their own development. Use diagrams, simple charts, or color-coding and literally show your students how far they’ve come. Of course, this habit will come in handy for you when it’s time to do your own teacher self-evaluation.