75 Quick Tips for Motivating Students

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Author Bio: Julia G.Thompson ‏(@TeacherAdvice). Best-selling author of First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide, Consultant, Teacher. Virginia · juliagthompson.com

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Although it’s only common sense that motivating students is a complex activity that needs plenty of time, thought, and effort to succeed, this list can serve as a quick reminder of some of the most important aspects of motivation. While many of these brief tips may only be common sense, when used with care and deliberation, they can make it easier for us to encourage our students to want to work hard and succeed at the tasks we set before them.

  1. All learning must have a purpose. Teachers and students should work together to establish long-term goals so that the work is relevant to students’ lives and driven by a purpose.

  2. Students need the skills and knowledge necessary to complete their work and achieve their goals. Help students achieve short-term goals to develop the competencies they need to be successful.

  3. Specific directions empower students. When students know exactly what they must do to complete assignments, they will approach their work with confidence and interest.

  4. Students want to have fun while they work. Teachers who offer enjoyable learning activities find that students are less likely to be off task.

  5. Offer activities that involve higher-order thinking skills. Students find open-ended questions and critical thinking more engaging than activities involving just recall of facts.

  6. Curiosity is an important component of motivation. When students want to learn more about a topic, they will tackle challenging assignments in order to satisfy their curiosity.

  7. A blend of praise and encouragement is effective in building self-reliance. Teachers who offer sincere praise and encouragement establish a positive, nurturing classroom atmosphere.

  8. A combination of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards increases student focus and time on task behavior. When used separately, both types of rewards motivate students. However, when teachers combine them, the effect is much greater.

  9. Involve students in collaborative activities. When students work together, motivation and achievement both soar.

  10. Start with assignments that your students can achieve with ease. Success builds upon itself. When students see that they can accomplish what you ask of them, they will want to continue that success.

  11. Celebrate often with your students. After all, their successes are your successes. You do not have to dedicate lots of time to formal celebrations. A simple posting or display of good news, a class signal that allows classmates to acknowledge each other in positive way, or a quiet word with individual students will all establish a positive tone.

  12. Be as consistent and as fair as you possibly can. Students of all ages are quick to react negatively when they detect even a small hint of suspected unfairness. They will shut down quickly when this happens.

  13. Post motivational signs, mottoes, and other messages to encourage students to give their best effort.

  14. Reward effort as well as achievement. It is important to make sure your students see the link between success and effort.

  15. Create a risk-free environment in which students can risk trying new things without fear of failure or ridicule.

  16. Tell your students about your confidence in their ability to succeed. Tell them this over and over.

  17. Teach your students how to set measurable goals and how to achieve them. Model this for students. Set goals as a class and have students set small daily or weekly goals until it is a habit and part of the culture of your classroom.

  18. At the end of class, ask students to share what they have learned. Often, they are not aware of how much they have really actually achieved until they have the opportunity to reflect.

  19. We all know that open-ended questions and assignments can serve as sparks to deepen critical thinking skills. They can also serve to motivate students to work hard because of their intrinsic interest and risk-free nature. Open-ended questions and assignments are a respectful way to demonstrate your faith in your students’ ability to tackle tough work.

  20. Teach your students how to handle the failures that everyone experiences from time to time. Help them understand that they can learn from their mistakes as well as from their successes.

  21. Formative assessments can be helpful tools for those teachers who want to empower their students to believe in themselves. Use a variety of assessments to help students evaluate their progress and determine what they need to accomplish to finish assignments.

  22. Offer the entire class a reward when they meet an agreed-on goal.

  23. Use tangible rewards such as stickers or new pencils.

  24. Write positive comments on papers.

  25. Change an onerous chore into a pleasant one by allowing them to work on it together.

  26. Hold a weekly contest.

  27. Ask your students their opinions by surveying them from time to time.

  28. Provide an authentic audience for your students’ work.

  29. Display their work.

  30. Have students work on solving a real-life problem.

  31. Incorporate their interests as often as possible.

  32. Chart small successes so that students can see that small successes create large ones.

  33. Encourage students to compliment their classmates.

  34. End class with an intriguing  joke, riddle, poem, or question.

  35. Take photos of your students working.

  36. Have students teach the material to each other.

  37. Bring in interesting objects for students to use as part of a lesson.

  38. Play games.

  39. Arrange for students to mentor younger students.

  40. Provide opportunities for peer tutoring.

  41. Teach a different study skill each day so that students will find it easier to do their work well.

  42. Use visual demonstrations such as graphic organizers or illustrations to make the work easier to understand.

  43. Time students as they think for thirty seconds before responding to a question.

  44. Give them puzzles to solve.

  45. Slowly give clues to the answer to a question one clue at a time.

  46. Have students wear fictional name tags related to the lesson.

  47. Have students sort items into categories. Take the time to get to know your students as people.

  48. Use a kind voice when speaking with them.

  49. Set up your classroom where you can walk around to every desk.

  50. When a student speaks to you, stop what you are doing and listen.

  51. Be clear about your role as a teacher who will enable students to achieve their dreams.

  52. Use humor. Laugh when funny things happen in your class.

  53. Show your appreciation for the good things your students do.

  54. Stress that you won’t give up on your students.

  55. Allow your students to get to know you. Often our students are convinced that we sleep in the teachers’ lounge all night and eat only lunchroom food. They need to see your human side.

  56. Agree with your students as often as you can.

  57. Move your desk to the back of the classroom if you can. This small action signals a student-centered attitude on your part.

  58. Call parents or guardians when good things happen.

  59. Share your feelings with your students and allow them to share theirs.

  60. Use positive language with them. Be careful not to appear overly negative or critical.

  61. Take notice of the special things that make each student unique.

  62. Stop and chat with pupils anytime: when you are monitoring their progress, in the hall or cafeteria, or even when you are away from school.

  63. Create opportunities for success every day.

  64. Speak to every student each day. Include everyone in class discussions.

  65. Make pens, paper, and extra books available when students need a loan.

  66. Set aside an afternoon or morning for “office hours” when you can provide extra help for those students who need it.

  67. Offer small perks whenever you can.

  68. Be sincere, generous, and tactful in your praise.

  69. Keep students busily involved in interesting work.

  70. Talk with students when you notice a change in their behavior or attitude. If a normally cheerful student, for example, seems distracted or upset, there’s a good reason for the change.

  71. When students confide in you, follow up on it. Ask about how they did on the history test that was troubling them or check to see if their grades have improved in math class.

  72. Be concerned enough for their futures to help them set long-term goals.

  73. Involve pupils in projects that will improve the school or community.

  74. Stress that you and they have much in common: goals, dreams, and beliefs.

  75. Focus on students’ strong points, not on their weaknesses.

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