Motivation Skills for Teachers

Try our quiz: How Self-Motivated are You?

Following on from our page on Teaching Skills, and as you become an established teacher, you may find that you need a range of different strategies to keep your students motivated, especially when they become tired or distracted.

Our pages on Motivation Skills and Self Motivation cover this topic more generally, but there are a number of particular, specific ways that you can do this whilst teaching.

This page lists some powerful motivational techniques that can be used while teaching, aiding both the short and the long term motivation of students.

Short-Term Motivation Techniques

These techniques can be used during a teaching session to keep your students motivated and help them to focus and concentrate.

State Clear Objectives

At the beginning of a session it is usually helpful to clearly state what you expect your students to learn.

It is much easier for students to keep going if they are aiming to ‘explain why A wrote a letter to B’ rather than to ‘examine the deepening relationship between A and B'.

State Clear Timings

It is also useful to tell you students how long a particular exercise or part of the class is likely to last.

If your students know that you will be starting a practical session at half past the hour, they are less likely to waste time wondering what the equipment at the front is for.

Vary your Lessons

If you always follow the same routine of talking through a topic and then making students answer a question sheet individually, they'll get bored.

However, if, for example, you can show your class a relevant short film and then get them to brainstorm their ideas in groups to put on a poster, they will use different skills and learning approaches. Experiment with different modes of teaching and discover what works best for your group.

Use Learning Incentives (Bribery!)

Use a ‘carrot and stick’ approach.

Telling your students that they can play a learning game at the end of the lesson if they have done the necessary written work can help to keep them on task.

Learning incentives can be particularly powerful for subject areas which are difficult for the students to relate to. Answer their question: 'Why do I need to lean this?'

Assess Their Learning

Warning your students that there will be a quick spot test at the end of the session or the start of the next one, may help to ensure that they listen to you.

A quick test of ten basic questions can tell you a great deal about their level of engagement, and the praise that you offer to the best scores will be encouraging.

Long-Term Motivation Techniques

Although short-term motivation can help get you and your students through a teaching session, longer-term motivational tactics have the potential to be a lot more powerful.

Create a Good Atmosphere in your Sessions

Students are most likely to do well if they offer encouragement to one another and if they feel that they can make mistakes without being mocked or told off. They are unlikely to take risks unless they are supported in doing so.

Praise those who try and don't tolerate those who discourage others from trying.

See our pages on Building Group Cohesiveness to discover how to develop healthy group norms, and The Art of Tact and Diplomacy to help you to make all your students feel that they are valued.

Relate Current Outcomes to a Future Exam or Assessment

Telling your class roughly what grade or score they are likely to get by working at their current level is often highly motivating, especially if it is lower than they would wish.

Talking to the class as a whole means that everybody is involved and the motivation of the group is likely to improve as a result.

Explain how they can Improve

This is most effective if you can offer feedback to the students individually.

If students consistently miss out finer detail or answer questions too slowly and don’t reach the last one, make sure that they know this. Finding that they can improve their grades by trying some simple techniques can be a great encouragement for them more generally.

Our page on Giving and Receiving Feedback will give you some ideas.

Build Rapport

Students generally want to do better for teachers that they like.

It may be worth asking particular students to stay behind for a brief discussion with you: they may be happy to raise concerns with you individually and in private that they would never raise before others.

For further information and ideas see our pages on Building Rapport and What is Empathy?

Talk to Colleagues

If there is a particular student whose performance worries you, it might be worth finding out if you are the only one with concerns.

If a specific teacher is in charge of their pastoral care, they should know about your worries and might be aware of an explanation for them, such as a family or health issue.

Talk to Parents

If you teach children, you will have some kind of parent-teacher conference during the school year. This can be an ideal time to either ask parents to support you in encouraging a student to work harder, and/ or to gain insight into any situation outside school that may be limiting their performance. Sometimes these can bring up contentious issues.

See our pages on Active Listening and Reflecting and also on Communicating in Difficult Situations for help with this.

Reflect Performance Fairly

If you consistently tell your students that they need to work harder, even when they have performed well for you, they will become very disenchanted.

Similarly, excessive praise for an easy task may encourage them to believe that they can get away with anything.

Be honest and realistic with your feedback

Differences between Students

It can be hard for less able students to stay motivated if no amount of work brings them a top grade.

Similarly, able students may feel cheated if an average student is celebrated for achieving the kind of good mark that they manage all the time.

It may help if you can offer students a ‘target grade’ so that they feel assessed in terms of their own ability.

Setting target grades requires good knowledge of your students and may be done best in consultation with colleagues, but it is worth it if your students feel that they are aiming at something realistic and achievable for them.

Your ultimate goal as a teacher is not just to give your students some knowledge but to aid their development as individuals.

See our pages on Personal Empowerment and Personal Development for inspiration.

Hopefully they will develop a Lifelong Learning mindset so that they never stop growing as individuals.