Motivating Students Motivation plays a crucial role in a

Motivation plays a crucial role in a successful transfer of language learning. Many teachers even attribute more importance to motivation than to ability and intelligence in mastering information (Lile). Thus, activating students' motivation to learn directly affects their success in learning. An ESL teacher should seek to awaken motivation in students and thereby maximize the profitability of their learning experience. A teacher should endeavor to instill 'intrinsic' motivation in students ' self-motivation that comes from within the student. However, teachers must often employ 'extrinsic' motivation ' external rewards or consequences of performance and behavior. Sometimes this external motivation is the only way to foster intrinsic motivation.

The intention and purpose of motivation is 'to capture the [student's] attention and curiosity and channel their energy towards learning' (Lile). Yet, because motivation is 'multi-factorial' (Hussin et al.), many different variables must be considered in efforts to motivate students. Research indicates that motivation is closely related to positive teacher and student attitudes and an environment that fosters these attitudes creates optimal conditions for a transfer of language learning. Indeed, an environment that is conducive to learning becomes paramount in the quest to motivate students. Cummins states that although various techniques can be employed in an attempt to ignite students' motivation, 'techniques and strategies will be effective only when teachers and students forge a relationship of respect and affirmation; when students feel that they are welcomed into the learning community of the classroom.'

A huge number of factors influence the creation of a productive learning environment. To begin with, it is important that students find themselves in a non-threatening, non-stressful environment. Krashen discusses the importance of a learning situation with a 'low affective filter' ' an environment in which anxiety does not present a barrier to learning and where students feel secure (Lile and Hussin et al.)Often, the most prominent factor that defines and shapes a learning environment is a student's relationship and interaction with the teacher. According to Cummins, 'respect and affirmation are central to motivating second language learners to engage actively and enthusiastically.' A teacher's presence should emanate the care, encouragement and respect that are necessary to a situation that promotes learning. Moreover, teachers should demonstrate that they see potential in students. 'Positive energy affirming a belief in the students' ability develops a comfortable atmosphere for students in the classroom' (Lile).

The situation established by the teacher and the learning environment can be further improved in through teaching methods and the types of student attitudes that are encouraged. For example, based on extensive research (including the work of Gardner and Lambert, Crookes and Schmidt, Garner and Tremblay, Oxford and Shearin), Hussin et al. suggest various types of classroom activities that can promote student motivation. Activities that are communicative, group-based, and enthusiastic can help sustain student interest in learning a language. Indeed, increased student participation can greatly augment motivation. ESL teacher Karen Bordonaro advocates the strategy of 'empowering students to see themselves as active and necessary participants in their own learning' and making them stakeholders in the classroom. Also, it is important to provide material that is relevant and meaningful and potentially related to out-of-class activities (Hussin et el.) When material in the classroom validates a students' sense of self, it is far more likely to stimulate their interest and motivation. Another important classroom strategy is clearly explaining activities and goals. With a solid understanding of what is asked of them, students will be more comfortable and perform better. Also, presenting a vision of what is achievable can foster a motivational learning environment.

Sometimes encouragement will be necessary to maintain the positive attitudes necessary for motivation. Continuous positive reinforcement and positive energy are fundamental to keep students enthusiastic. It can also be beneficial to follow ESL teacher Upendran Subrahmanian's example. He suggests taking measures to help ESL learners see their own improvement. In understanding the advances they have made, learners are less likely to become discouraged and thereby unmotivated.

Given the fundamental role that motivation plays in the ESL classroom, teachers should strive to establish a community of cooperative learners and build encouraging, supportive relationships. In this atmosphere, many strategies can be employed to target the various factors of increasing motivation in students.


Bordonaro, Karen. Encouraging Students to Become Stakeholders in the ESL Classroom. The Internet TESL Journal, vol. V, no. 9, September 1999.

Cummins, Jim. Negotiating Identities: Education for Empowering in a Diverse Society (Chapters 3 and 4: pp 51-96). Ontario, CA: California Association for Bilingual Education, 1996.

Harris, Robert. Some Ideas for Motivating Students. Virtual Salt. 2 March 1991.

Hussin, Supyan, Nooreiny Maarof and J.V. D'Cruz. Sustaining an Interest in Learning English and Increasing the Motivation to Learn English: An Enrichment Program. The Internet TESL Journal, vol. VII, no. 5, May 2001.

Lile, William. Motivation in the ESL Classroom. The Internet TESL Journal, vol. VIII, no. 1, January 2002.

Subrahmanian, Upendran. Helping ESL Learners to See Their Own Improvement. The Internet TESL Journal, vol. VII, no. 4, April 2001.