21 Simple Ideas To Improve Student Motivation

by TeachThought Staff

The best lessons, books, and materials in the world won’t get students excited about learning and willing to work hard if they’re not motivated.

Motivation, both intrinsic and extrinsic, is a key factor in the success of students at all stages of their education, and teachers can play a pivotal role in providing and encouraging that motivation in their students. Of course, that’s easier said than done, as all students are motivated differently and it takes time and a lot of effort to learn to get a classroom full of kids enthusiastic about learning, working hard, and pushing themselves to excel.

Even the most well-intentioned and educated teachers sometimes lack the skills to keep kids on track, so whether you’re a new teacher or an experienced one, try using these methods to motivate your students and to encourage them to live up to their true potential.

21 Simple Ideas To Improve Student Motivation

1. Give students a sense of control

While guidance from a teacher is important to keeping kids on task and motivated, allowing students to have some choice and control over what happens in the classroom is actually one of the best ways to keep them engaged. For example, allowing students to choose the type of assignment they do or which problems to work on can give them a sense of control that may just motivate them to do more.

2. Be clear about learning objectives

It can be very frustrating for students to complete an assignment or even to behave in class if there aren’t clearly defined objectives. Students want and need to know what is expected of them in order to stay motivated to work. At the beginning of the year, lay out clear objectives, rules, and expectations of students so that there is no confusion and students have goals to work towards.

3. Create a threat-free environment

While students do need to understand that there are consequences to their actions, far more motivating for students than threats are positive reinforcements. When teachers create a safe, supportive environment for students, affirming their belief in a student’s abilities rather than laying out the consequences of not doing things, students are much more likely to get and stay motivated to do their work.

At the end of the day, students will fulfill the expectations that the adults around them communicate, so focus on can, not can’t.

See also 60 Non-Threatening Formative Assessment Techniques

4. Change your scenery

A classroom is a great place for learning, but sitting at a desk day in and day out can make school start to seem a bit dull for some students. To renew interest in the subject matter or just in learning in general, give your students a chance to get out of the classroom. Take field trips, bring in speakers, or even just head to the library for some research. The brain loves novelty and a new setting can be just what some students need to stay motivated to learn.

5. Offer varied experiences.

Not all students will respond to lessons in the same way. For some, hands-on experiences may be the best. Others may love to read books quietly or to work in groups. In order to keep all students motivated, mix up your lessons so that students with different preferences will each get time focused on the things they like best. Doing so will help students stay engaged and pay attention.

6. Use positive competition

Competition in the classroom isn’t always a bad thing, and in some cases can motivate students to try harder and work to excel. Work to foster a friendly spirit of competition in your classroom, perhaps through group games related to the material or other opportunities for students to ‘show off’ their knowledge or skills.

7. Offer rewards

Everyone likes getting rewards, and offering your students the chance to earn them is an excellent source of motivation. Things like pizza parties, watching movies, or even something as simple as a sticker on a paper can make students work harder and really aim to achieve. Consider the personalities and needs of your students to determine appropriate rewards for your class.

8. Give students responsibility

Assigning students classroom jobs is a great way to build a community and to give students a sense of motivation. Most students will see classroom jobs as a privilege rather than a burden and will work hard to ensure that they, and other students, are meeting expectations. It can also be useful to allow students to take turns leading activities or helping out so that each feels important and valued.

9. Allow students to work together

While not all students will jump at the chance to work in groups, many will find it fun to try to solve problems, do experiments, and work on projects with other students. Social interaction can get them excited about things in the classroom and students can motivate one another to reach a goal. Teachers need to ensure that groups are balanced and fair, however, so that some students aren’t doing more work than others.

10. Give praise when earned

There may be no other form of motivation that works quite as well as encouragement. Even as adults we crave recognition and praise, and students at any age are no exception. Teachers can give students a bounty of motivation by rewarding success publicly, giving praise for a job well done, and sharing exemplary work.

11. Encourage self-reflection

Most kids want to succeed, they just need help figuring out what they need to do in order to get there. One way to motivate your students is to get them to take a hard look at themselves and determine their own strengths and weaknesses. Students are often more motivated by creating these kinds of critiques of themselves than by having a teacher do it for them, as it makes them feel in charge of creating their own objectives and goals. See Metacognitive Prompts For Students To Reflect On Their Learning.

12. Model enthusiasm for learning!

One of the best ways to get your students motivated is to share your enthusiasm. When you’re excited about teaching, they’ll be much more excited about learning. It’s that simple.

13. Know your students

Getting to know your students is about more than just memorizing their names. Students need to know that their teacher has a genuine interest in them and cares about them and their success. When students feel appreciated it creates a safe learning environment and motivates them to work harder, as they want to get praise and good feedback from someone they feel knows and respects them as individuals.

14. Harness student interests

Knowing your students also has some other benefits, namely that it allows you to relate classroom material to things that students are interested in or have experienced. Teachers can use these interests to make things more interesting and relatable to students, keeping students motivated for longer.

15. Help students find intrinsic motivation

It can be great to help students get motivated, but at the end of the day, they need to be able to generate their own motivation. Helping students find their own personal reasons for doing classwork and working hard, whether because they find material interesting, want to go to college, or just love to learn, is one of the most powerful gifts you can give them.

16. Manage student anxiety

Some students find the prospect of not doing well so anxiety-inducing that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. For these students, teachers may find that they are most motivated by learning that struggling with a subject isn’t the end of the world. Offer support no matter what the end result is and ensure that students don’t feel so overwhelmed by expectations that they just give up.

17. Make goals high but attainable

If you’re not pushing your students to do more than the bare minimum, most won’t seek to push themselves on their own. Students like to be challenged and will work to achieve high expectations so long as they believe those goals to be within their reach, so don’t be afraid to push students to get more out of them.

18. Give learning feedback and offer chances to improve

Students who struggle with classwork can sometimes feel frustrated and get down on themselves, draining motivation. In these situations, it’s critical that teachers provide effective learning feedback to help students to learn exactly where they went wrong and how they can improve next time. Figuring out a method to get where students want to be can also help them to stay motivated to work hard.

19. Track progress

It can be hard for students to see just how far they’ve come, especially with subjects that are difficult for them. Tracking can come in handy in the classroom, not only for teachers but also for students. Teachers can use this as a way to motivate students, allowing them to see visually just how much they are learning and improving as the year goes on.

20. Make things fun

Not all classwork needs to be a game or a good time, but students who see school as a place where they can have fun will be more motivated to pay attention and do the work that’s required of them than those who regard it as a chore. Adding fun activities into your school day can help students who struggle to stay engaged and make the classroom a much more friendly place for all students.

21. Provide opportunities for success

Students, even the best ones, can become frustrated and demotivated when they feel like they’re struggling or not getting the recognition that other students are. Make sure that all students get a chance to play to their strengths and feel included and valued. It can make a world of difference in their motivation.

This is a cross-post from onlinecollegecourses.com

18 thoughts on “21 Simple Ideas To Improve Student Motivation”

  1. Sandro Riegos

    i wonder if you ever have worked in a public school, with 40 students around, and very quarrelsome students. if you have, can you tell me how? .

    1. coursera offers an amazing online course. In the title it says it is for ‘rookie teachers’ but anyone would benefit.

  2. just a suggestion sandro riegos, its what we do outside of the class that changes what happens inside the class. just a like a ball game, what happens out of the court will affect with correlation to what will happen in the game

  3. Christina Cyr

    I think you ask some thought-provoking questions. I personally believe that it is the
    teacher’s occupation to inspire their students to learn. I realise that in
    today’s society it is not easy to motivate students, let alone to inspire them.
    Reality is that teachers today must work to understand and motivate a new kind
    of digital learner. Today’s “connected” generation is used to instant
    gratification via their personal computers, mobile phones and gaming consoles. Moreover,
    there seems to be heaps of professional development for teachers with regards
    to various aspects of teaching (curriculum, assessment, differentiation) yet, none
    on inspiring success in our students. think as teachers, we ought to occasionally re-examine our educational philosophy;the reasons we teach. When I first started teaching, I was determined to make a difference and to foster a love of learning.

    Experience has taught me that students are more interested when tasks are authentic and relatedto their reality. Besides, students should be active in their learning and have
    some elements of choice. Personally, I try to create positive connections with
    my students and show them that success is possible. Additionally, I ensure that
    I share my enthusiasm for teaching while anticipating that it will inspire an enthusiasm
    for learning.

    1. Dear Christina,

      I have started a revolutionary idea here in my country to motivate people/students and push them to dream. I need your suggestions. If you can please add me on skype: cyberusman, my email is usmanusmani86@gmail.com
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  4. Student Motivation – Within the UK – Yorkshire – I taught
    in a early learning school within a classroom of 27 vertically – grouped
    children, ages 4-7. Intrinsic motivation occurred as a result of the age
    range intentionally. Generally, the philosophy is – younger children look
    up to older children and want to do what they are doing. Older children
    look back and feel a sense of accomplishment and re-call when they were that
    age and learning new things for the first time. The system has its
    merits and issues, but I felt this is an interesting example of intrinsic motivation.

  5. I really enjoyed looking over this list of motivatational tools. I enjoyed the change of scenery especially since our day is so long starting at 8:50 and ending at 4:10. The students might have a chance to go to the Kindergarten room for reading buddies, the home ec room to cook, outside for a softball game, a hike or a picnic outside by the lake, or helping to clean up the church for a special event. Making things fun is so important in keeping my students organized. This year I have a group of 14-16 year old who have low skills, attendance and some behavior issues. All of these suggestions seem like they will work on some or all of the students. I think knowing your students and some of their situations is so important so you can tell when something isn’t right or whether or not some motivation idea will work for them. Giving students a change to choose their questions was a new suggestion for me and when I tried it for the students some did all the questions when they usually did barely any – letting them have a choice worked for those students. Thanks for posting these simple reminders.

  6. Sagarika Sahana

    Truly, it is an intrinsic motivation that is needed far more than what we usually would try to infuse our child with, something heavier or (would be appropriate to say) boring. Parents and teachers both are quite responsible for child motivation; yes a consistent one being always with them to teach or tell they want.

    Child’s engagement, defining them with goals of their life (gradually approaching them towards), making them learn in variable (pleasant; yes beyond the classroom sometimes) environment with more practical teaching & social experiences – and much more like displayed here, a great inspiration for child in one or another suitable way.

  7. Really great ideas to improve student motivation. Teachers can play a big role in motivating and encouraging their students to be a successful at all stages of their education and be a better student.

  8. Abel Journeyman

    Just wish to say your article is great, and timely too.

    The clarity in your post really shows your expertise on Motivating Students.

    With your permission allow me to grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please carry on the gratifying work.

  9. Robert Woodard

    With all due respect, what you propose has very limited viability for me and even worse, it exacerbates my problems as a teacher. I have worked across a variety of the spectrum of instruction and what worked in the leafy green suburbs with relatively normal students doesn’t work with the specific population I deal with today. Even worse, my evaluation process fails to recognize this and put your site out as a cure all with a complete lack of understanding and empathy for those of us who don’t have the luxury of simply needing to motivate bored students.
    While I recognize sports and academics are two different animals, motivation is a highly developed skill and I applaud you for trying to teach people some tools. What I resent and I understand the implicatins of that word, is that is is not properly differentiated and clearly articulated as not being effective in all settings. Your immediate response is likely to be denial along with finding that one or two urban EBD programs where someone is actually using what you to some good effect. If it can’t be replicated, then it isn’t evidence. At least that is what I teach my middle schoolers.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. So you suggestion, then, would be to clarify that this approach only works for specific sets of student populations?

    2. You appear to be taking this rather personally. “Resent”? “complete lack of understanding and empathy”? The staff was writing from its world view, which may not be your world view. So? Take from this article what works for you, and the leave the rest. Or, quite possibly, you may have run your course in your chosen profession, because your bitterness seems to have taken the wheel.

  10. I have developed a learning theory, which I feel will provide two large cognitive tools for students and adults. I feel this could greatly improve education for all. I have pasted a brief outline of my learning theory below. I will send my complete theory to all on request.
    This article shows how our individual environments greatly affect ability and provides tools to continually change and improve learning, motivation, and mental/emotional health. This represents a very new and much better approach for education, teachers, and students. It redefines our average stress in a very new way, composed of many layers of mental work (far beyond simply needs or immediate problems). It redefines our average stress as many layers of past, present, future – experiences, values, needs, responsibilities/concern for others, and other areas: anything that creates unresolved mental work and is maintained in the mind as layers of mental work, which take away real mental energy. This also includes many (some very faulty) weights and values created from a young age onward, which may create beliefs or cores from which other conflicts will remain and add to other maintained layers of mental frictions or conflicts. It shows how our individual environments are very different for all of us, creating a continuum of many essential and “non-essential layers of mental work” that are maintained by our minds and “can be more permanently reduced” to continually improve thinking, learning, reflection, and help improve mental/emotional health. These many maintained layers of mental work take away real mental energy from all of us.
    1. It provides education with a way to improve thinking, learning, stability, and motivation to learn (mental reward received for mental work expended), providing much needed hope for both low and high achieving students.
    2. It shows how our layers of average stress accumulate to create psychological suffering and shorter reflection time that has led to many student and adult deaths each year from drug/alcohol abuse, and suicide, some with violence. This theory provides a way to more permanently reduce layers to both reduce psychological suffering and also increase reflection time, thus reducing many harmful escapes and student deaths each year.
    3. It shows why Males are falling behind due to more harsh treatment and neglect from society and why Females are surging ahead due to more protection and support. It provides a way to better understand this problem and provides a way to help correct this problem. This will provide education with a very wonderful approach to improve student learning and motivation to learn using the variables creating differences in achievement by gender, then using the tools gained from this knowledge to help all students improve their lives. – Now I present my learning theory for all to read.

    I see abstract thinking, learning and intelligence made up of environmental variables, not a genetic one. I see the amount of mental energy as having a major effect. I see length of reflection time as another major factor. I see pace and intensity as important for more clearly seeing and manipulating ideas. I also see the amount and complexity of our developed mental frames for a – given area as also very important
    1. As for the amount of mental energy: I have redefined our average stress as many maintained layers of mental work from our past, present, and future – experiences, circumstances along with many weights and values we develop from a young age that may greatly add to our many layers of mental conflicts which take up real mental energy. Some of us are working with many more or less layers of mental work and so will have to work harder to receive the same mental reward. Try to see an upright rectangle representing our full mental energy. Now beginning at the bottom, begin drawing in many narrowly spaced, horizontal lines representing our many layers of mental work. The space we have left over shows our leftover mental energy for approaching new mental work. I feel the more abstract the mental work we are attempting, the more “free mental energy we need to achieve that abstract learning”. This shows just how our individual environments greatly affect thinking, learning, motivation and mental health.
    2. I feel we need to have in practice and the means (using the above picture of average stress) to think more long-term and with longer reflection times to gather more information from various area in our mental frames to understand, learn, and appreciate more abstract reasoning, thoughts, and ideas. I feel the “length of the space leftover in the upright rectangle” shows our length of reflection time and longer term thinking provided we are also taking advantage of a more correct pace and intensity in approaching that mental work.
    3. I feel for abstract thinking we all need to govern more correctly our pace and intensity in approaching newer mental work, especially more complex or abstract work, requiring more mental energy. I feel there is a more proper dynamics in approaching newer mental work and complex/abstract work where we slow down even to the point of simply reflecting on the information at hand and slowly bringing together our knowledge and skills to slowly build on those more complex ideas. So abstract thinking is “not fast thinking, but more slow, deliberate and analytical”.
    4. I feel we all may have some areas where we can think in more abstract ways due to having more accumulated and more complex mental frames in the areas we are examining. When I say mental frames I am saying more constructive understandings of knowledge and connections to certain areas of study. When we do not have those previously established accumulated mental frames, we can do very well in our abstract thinking, but the time element will be longer in order to slowly develop the mental frames we need to analyze, understand, and use our accumulated mental frames to more readily. My learning theory shows how our individual environments create many differences in developments in all of these areas, not genetics. My learning theory is for all to read and have much hope for continually changing and improving our lives over time.

  11. We must look beyond our current ideas for improving learning. 1. We must redefine our average stress as many maintained layers of mental work from many past, present, future – experiences, circumstances, needs, along with different weights and values given to us from an early age which may act as magnets for other accumulating layers of mental work. Try to visualize an upright rectangle, representing our full mental energy. Then begin at the bottom, drawing in narrowly spaced, horizontal lines to show many (innumerable) layers of mental work. The space leftover represents our leftover mental energy for thinking, learning, and *motivation to learn – mental reward for mental work expended. This shows us how our individual environments, not genetics, greatly affect thinking, learning, motivation, and mental health. We cannot simply relax or use meditation to lower those layers. Those layers are made up of real mental work. When we relax or use meditation, we are only temporarily turning off our mental faucet to those layers. When we attempt a new mental work, our minds turn that faucet back on so those layers are simply recharged. We can however, all, slowly begin to understand the elements of our lives, past and present, which are creating those layers. We can then slowly begin to understand, resolve, and make little changes in some weights or values to more permanently reduce layers to continually improve and change our lives. This is very important, for it releases students and adults from the terrible myth of genetic permanence being taught in our schools today. This is creating stagnant students as early as the second grade. This is also creating many harmful escapes from dropouts to drug/alcohol abuse and suicide due to the feelings of hopelessness those teachings are creating in our students. A second variable/tool is the more correct dynamics of pace and intensity in approaching newer mental work with regard to developing mental frames more properly to allow for more long-term motivation, intrinsic reward in mental areas. Our current and false beliefs in genetics are used to push students to work hard regardless of the sound principles of approaching newer mental work more slowly at first. This very improper push to simply work harder, only creates more exaggerated mental energy expended, which hurts thinking, learning, and motivation also. Sadly the higher the layers of mental work students bring into the classroom, the more this feeds harmfully into improper pace and intensity in approaching new mental work. For boys, the much more aggressive treatment, they receive to make them tough from an early age, creates higher maintained layers of mental work; higher muscle tension which hurts handwriting/fine coordination; more activity; and more harsh treatment from the false belief they are controlling themselves. The much less kind, stable and little verbal interaction/support for fear of coddling is also hurting boys by creating a much lower social vocabulary; poor communication skills; and much more social emotional distance from parents, teachers, and others who are creating this treatment of boys. By showing students how their individual environments greatly affect thinking, learning, and motivation, not genetics, students and adults will have much more respect and esteem for themselves and others. By providing tools to continually change and improve their lives, students will then have “hope” of improving and becoming newer persons over time. This will release students from that god-awful myth of genetics in ability and provide much needed hope for all.

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