TEFL Motivating Students

Motivation is necessary to keep students happy and interested amidst a language learning situation that progressively challenges them. If there are no motivating factors present, learning becomes plain hard work. Behavioral problems in the classroom often, or always, seem to be linked to the lack of motivation (Lile). Intelligent students are often out-performed by less bright students with high motivation (ibid). According to Steers and Porter (cited in Suslu, 2006), motivation can be characterized as: needs or expectations, behavior, goals, and some form of feedback.

Basic motivational conditions need to be present before motivational strategies can be successfully applied to students to effect positive goal-related behavior (D?rnyei, 2001:31-49).

?Appropriate teacher behaviors essentially involve positive attitude. Motivating students is definitely a form of caring expressed through enthusiasm for the language being learned; competency in the ESL content to a sufficient depth; acceptance of students? personalities and respect for their values and opinions; and high expectations for students? success, which the teacher communicates to them.

?A pleasant and supportive classroom atmosphere: ensures students don?t need to feel anxious or insecure. Language learning can be one of the most ?face? threatening of subjects. Students have to produce work using a rather limited language code and often in a very public manner. A student?s anxiety can be reduced by a norm of tolerance for mistakes, presence of humor and teacher?s actions.

?A cohesive learner group with appropriate group norms for co- operation and ?group goals?. Such classroom dynamics are facilitated by opportunities for students to learn about each other and collaborative tasks combined with regularly changing the groupings and appropriate teacher actions.

Classroom motivation is an ongoing process which even in the presence of the basic motivational conditions will not automatically produce student motivation, unless the teacher generates initial motivation and once this is well on the way, enlists other motivational strategies to maintain it (D?rnyei, 2001:51& 71).

John Keller?s ARC model (cited in Oz) describes four motivational concepts: (A) Attention, (R), Relevance, (C) Confidence and (S) Satisfaction, which can be readily adapted to the language classroom. The integration of these elements into lesson plans can address fundamental learner needs over the long-term.

Intrinsic interest in the activity, the topic and task to be done not only arouses initial motivation but can sustain it (D?rnyei, 2001:72). The teacher must hold learner?s attention by planning stimulating activities. Interest can be factored into activities through novelty, problem solving, exotic and fantasy elements, personalization of content, game-like techniques and competition which must not be taken seriously, tangible outcomes and humor. A variety of teaching strategies which match the different learning styles of the students must prevail (Oz). Clear teacher instructions are essential in the EFL/ ESL classroom because explanations are given in another language and are more apt to create anxiety (Huang). Demonstrate tasks rather than explain them (D?rnyei, 2001:79).

The content of the course must have relevance to the learners? current situation. Needs analysis techniques can aid the choice of materials and teaching contexts that are personalized to the students´ ages and life experiences (Ibid p.66). Relevance is most important for adults; topic interest for teenagers and teacher approval for young children.

Tasks need to be attainable whilst challenging, yet not overtaxing. Teachers need to match the learning materials and tasks to students´ abilities, to continually instill learner confidence. Provide students with regular experience of success and task contribution as well as encouraging feedback, including genuine praise that fosters realistic ideas about competence (Thanasoulas, 2004),.

Satisfaction or a sense of progress: provide clear markers of success for students, by using quite frequent measurements such as questioning individual students, short quizzes, corrected homework or even a simple checklist of tasks that the students would want to be able to accomplish (Thanasoulas, 2004). Various rewards can be motivational tools, but the key to their benefit depends on the way they are dispensed (D?rnyei, 2001:130).

Goal-setting for short-term and specific learner goals is also needed to maintain motivation (Ibid p. 81). Not only to pass tests etc., but private aims such as reading a chapter of a book every week or learning ten new words everyday. Jill Hadfield offers some activities that help students set goals for themselves and for the group (1992: see pp 134-140). Generally, students of all ages benefit from knowing what?s going to happen at different stages of a task, as well as why they are doing something (Cameron, 2001:58).

Unmotivated students result in underachieving students (Oz) and a teacher with low morale. Teachers motivate and teach as much from their actions as with the content they teach. The ultimate aim of a motivationally-sensitive teacher is to instill learner autonomy. For this to happen, students need a positive attitude to the language being learned, to the learning process, and to themselves as learner. Teachers commonly have to motivate groups, thus they must carefully manage classroom dynamics. Variety is always important, not just in tasks alone but teacher presentation style, learning materials, degree of student participation and classroom layout. ?Motivating? may be equated with ?interesting?.


CAMERON, Lynne. 2001. Teaching Languages to Young Learners. Cambridge University Press. UK

D?RNYEI, Zoltan. 2001. Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

HADFIELD, Jill. 1992. Classroom Dynamics. Oxford University Press. UK

HUANG, Judy. ESL Motivating Students: Communication. tml

LILE, William.T. Motivation in the ESL Classroom. OZ, Kip

Author: Dane Yoeman

Date of post: 2007-04-04