5 Easy Tips to Motivate Your Students

March 20, 2019

Contributor: Dr. Kali


What are the Best Ways to Motivate Students?

Find Their ‘Why’

Motivating students 180 days through the school year is no easy task! During the course of the year, you are tasked with inventing innovative lessons, engaging activities, and organizing resources needed to reach all students’ skill sets. On top of that, you have administrators visiting your classroom to find evidence your students are learning through your teaching. Nerve-wracking!


So how do you keep students motivated and engaged, while impacting their learning? Answer: Start the spark, and Mine Their Light! 


Remember those elementary days sitting behind your desk fiddling and fidgeting with any thingamajig you could get your hands on to keep you entertained? Or in high school when your 49-minute block actually lasted as long as every detail of the 500-year Roman Empire (nothing against this empire, of course)?


As teachers, we are experts in various daily lessons while wearing multiple hats throughout the day, one of which is the entertainer. Your students staring at you (wide-eyed or sleepy-eyed, take your pick) are all composed of dynamic personalities (yes, even the quiet ones) with varying, impactful life events you somehow tend to coordinate, manage, and lead simultaneously in class.


How could you possibly reach all of your students so they are engaged in the learning when some days you can barely make it through the day?

Kids these days are motivated by diverse things

Whether it be an internal or an external drive or just being able to play with some technology. We are all driven and motivated by distinctive passions. So are the kiddos. How do we reach that inner spark students are harboring to get them motivated and mine and cultivate what will get them engaged in the learning?


Student motivation could be classified as two types: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. One type Mines Their Light, the other utilizes band aid fixes. But really, who cares as long as the students are learning and I can get through another day. What’s the difference? It’s astronomical! Let’s dig deeper.


Extrinsic motivators are generally, great short-term incentives. At times, it can even magnify the rewards and punishment system. They include rewarding good behaviors and efforts through external sources such as pizza parties, free homework passes, or having lunch with the teacher. These are great short-term incentives because you can set the schedule when they will get the reward they work toward, but also leaves you with trying to come up with something more spectacular next time.


Secondary students have additional external motivators such as parent pressure, getting into a college, or even graduating. But these extrinsic motivators do not necessarily drive students. At least not long-term and can backfire because they may suddenly decide they can’t stand the taste of pizza (yes, this really happens).


Intrinsic motivators, on the other hand, are long-term incentives. By saying long-term, they are incentives that get to the core of what is driving the students. It reaches their “why”. In other words, find what they are most passionate about and use this to Mine Their Light. Sometimes all you see is the tip of the iceberg, not what lies below the water.

But you’re saying wait a minute. You are crazy, you’re telling me I need to know what every student in front of me is passionate about? How will I ever do that? Well, why not ask the kids! You are allowed to adapt your lessons at any point during the year. You’re also allowed to try new things in your classroom. As a matter of fact, that might make you more passionate and cultivate your light!

The up-front planning might take time, but the dividends of finding students’ passions can make managing behaviors and learning easier…not to mention being able to differentiate instruction. Have the kids fill out a short survey, do one-on-one conferencing with them, take a poll using technology to find out what the kids are passionate about and what they like. It doesn’t take long to review what they’ve given you. In fact, it will probably be very interesting. Here are five ways you can turn their passion into motivation for learning.

5 Easy Tips to Motivate Students…

1. Make it Real

Why not incorporate some of what they share with you into examples within the lesson and how they might be able to apply this in real life. For example, like most people, I love to travel. The 500-year Roman Empire I talked about earlier? The history teacher engaged us within the four walls of the room by conducting an open-book ‘round-robin’ reading every class that could not have turned me off more. Test on Friday.

However, I was super excited to go to my English class and learn about Rome. Why? Because she connected Rome, Mythology, and history by sharing adventures and pictures about her trip to Rome and how she actually was able to visit this real place and see it for herself. She made the class feel like we were there with her. Now write an essay incorporating all of these factors as if you were living in A.D.  350. Bingo! Lessons like this ignite the spark.


2. Illuminate Student Passions to Engage in Learning

This one is easy. Incorporate student feedback into your lesson. Make lessons real to students by using examples that are pertinent to them and they are passionate about. Like in number one above, but use their examples from their surveys. Illuminate their personal passions to engage in the learning.


3. Inquiry-Based Student Centered Lessons

Let go of some of your control. Yes, scary, but doable. Allow students the ability to explore mini-topics within your lessons. For example, if you are teaching a lesson about the Civil War, group students into pairs and have them complete two or three research assignments related to the Civil War such as a journal entry, reading and writing articles, and creating a meme or comic strip.

One group of students could do it around Shenandoah Valley, another on Grant versus Lee in Petersburg, and another group on Sherman’s March. All of those are related to your lesson, but it’s all about student choice to keep them motivated about which topic they want to be explorers. Have them become experts.


4. Be Inspirational and Promote Growth Mindset

Do not be afraid to share your own experiences and successes outside of your teaching that have made you successful. You don’t have to share all of your personal stuff, but when you share some of your little struggles and successes, that becomes incredibly inspirational to the students. They see you as human. Sharing expands their growth mindset because it provides real-life knowledge and experiences that you have shared as a person. It will drive them to have their own successes.


5. Building Relationships with Students by Doing the Small Things

Building relationships with your students is key to them wanting to learn. Sometimes it’s the small things like making eye contact, conferencing with students, or actually sitting down in a chair when you’re checking on them working on projects. Be mindful if you’re wearing a frown or a smile, or if your arms are crossed as opposed to open. Don’t forget to say hi in the hallways. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to tell the kids while their learning that “this is important”.

These are just five ways that give you a jumpstart to mining their lights. It makes it personal for the kids and it shows them that you’re interested not only in them learning, but their success overall. Remember you are a partner in learning. Help them find their passion for learning.

If you would like to expand on any of the five ways in which you have motivated students or wish to contribute to additional ideas, feel free to leave comments below and share this blog on Facebook.


Dr. Kali has been an educator for 17 years and holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA and a C.A.G.S. in Educational Administration. She was a secondary classroom teacher for seven years and became a 5-12 Science Department Head for the last three years as a teacher. As an educator, she received prestigious state and national awards including the National Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Award, and the Mass BioTech Grant. She is presently a district-wide PreK-12 administrator in the high performing State of Massachusetts (9 years) and has focused a lot of time on elementary education.


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