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Motivating students to achieve their goals

Analia RTEFL Contributor
ESL Lesson Handouts - Motivating students to achieve their goals
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When choosing a lesson plan, you have to consider language functions, forms, and activities; however, do you also think about how to motivate your students to learn and achieve their English language goals?

Motivation is one of the most important aspects of language learning. Despite this, some teachers feel helpless to do anything to affect the motivation of their students and some fail to even consider it. In my experience, it is important to consider ways to motivate students as much as possible, even if it might not seem effective with every student all of the time.

What is motivation?

First of all, we need to understand what motivation is, the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and how we can take advantage of these types of motivation in our teaching.

From the cognitive perspective, motivation is the process through which a goal-directed activity is initiated and sustained. In other words, decide which goals to set and which to save for a later date, start working towards them, and strive to accomplish them.

Intrinsic motivation is the force that inspires you to do something because of the potential of it being personally rewarding.  Intrinsic motivation is profoundly beneficial in language learning. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation involves completing a task or displaying a particular behavior because of an external force such as avoiding punishment or receiving a reward.

Understanding the benefits of intrinsic motivation and potential drawbacks of extrinsic motivation can be useful in your teaching career; they have different effects on how your students react and work. Intrinsic motivation is typically more effective over the long-term and will help students achieve their language learning goals. Although extrinsic motivation is helpful in particular situations, especially to encourage young students to do something they may have no interest in, it will most likely lose effectiveness over time.

Consider intrinsic motivation

There are a number ways to trigger a student’s intrinsic motivators. As a teacher, you need to know and, more importantly, appeal to students’ interests, likes, and even dislikes. Ideally, choose lesson plans that have students expressing opinions about their likes and dislikes. Encourage them to participate in conversations and talk about their interests. Record information offered by students and consider it when planning future lessons. Taking a little time to choose appropriate handouts, lesson plans, and topics will be worth the effort; if students are interesting in the theme or topic they will be motivated to participate and maybe inspired to improve their English ability to be able to express themselves more effectively in the lesson.

Students are often not interested in learning grammar rules and studying, but often say they want to learn English to travel, watch movies without subtitles, or follow a sports game; you can work with this.

ESL Lesson Handouts provides a wide variety of handouts and lesson plans that are based on topic, situation, or current events in the news, so it’s easy to find lesson plans that appeal to students’ interests. Typical textbooks just can’t provide this. Check out the ESL Lesson Handouts Library.

Engage students with a “hook”

Remember to make English learning personal by connecting language to something in your students’ lives.  I start every lesson with a “hook” to get my students engaged. Sometimes it’s a story, talking about current events, maybe a YouTube video, or five minutes to share their “exciting news.” This way I show that I am interested in them as individuals. All ESL Lesson Handouts have a topical warm-up activity to start the lesson. A warm-up activity helps set the mood for the topic/lesson and is a good opportunity to assess students’ ability to generate language as well as elicit target vocabulary used in the lesson.  If students struggle, ask questions to encourage participation.  Allow a few minutes for students to complete the activity and continue the conversation if interesting. Elicit information from students who work in pairs to share with the class and discuss if appropriate. Check out the Handouts in the ESL Lesson Handouts Library.

Growth vs fixed mindset

Another way of helping students become motivated is to develop and encourage a growth mindset. A growth mindset learner believes that abilities and talents can be improved on through hard work. They enjoy challenges and know that struggles and mistakes are necessary to improve and succeed. A fixed mindset learner, on the contrary, believes that people are born with or without certain abilities and talents and it cannot be changed. You’ve heard examples of a fixed mindset when weak or frustrated students say “I can’t do it. I’m not good at English!”

One of the most powerful things you can do to encourage a growth mindset is to offer praise for effort and hard work, not for the result. This demonstrates to learners that they are in control of their language learning and hopefully they become intrinsically motivated.

High expectations and clear goals

Setting high expectations and supporting students as they work hard to meet those expectations can be motivating. Outline your classroom and learning expectations clearly. Having daily, monthly, and even yearly goals gives students purpose for working hard.

Students need a comfortable and safe classroom atmosphere, one in which struggling and making mistakes is not frowned upon and even encouraged as part of the learning process. Student should feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes while learning. Collaborative pair and group work will help students digest information and ask questions in a group of their peers; students become active participants in their language learning process.

All students are different

Lessons, activities, and language goals are filtered through our students’ motivation and consequently affects their ability to learn. Remember that all of your ESL learners are different and that everybody is motivated by different things. There’s no magic motivating technique that will work all the time and for everyone; however, with some consideration, reflection, and patience, understanding how to motivate your students will have huge effects on their learning… and your motivation to teach as well!

Analia RTEFL Contributor
Analia is a recently retired EFL teacher with over 40 years of teaching experience and is now an educational writer. She has taught every age of student at every level of competence.

Disclaimer  We aim to provide useful ESL and EFL teaching resources and educational ideas. Our articles are written by educators with extension TEFL experience. They contain only general information about teaching English as a foreign language and are meant purely for informational purposes.

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