Proven Ways to Motivate Students 

The extrinsic motivation is provided, for the most part, by the teacher. Teachers need to teach their courses with a sense of urgency. Learning then becomes a matter of life and death. Their life depends on how well they learn.   Life depends on how great a learner one is. The more we learn, the better the quality of life we will be able to enjoy. The teacher must empower the student in such a way that the student is able to apply the material to real life situations and to real life problems that can be solved with the knowledge gained in their learning. Motivation empowers a student. It makes the student thirsty to learn more.           

            I was teaching English at a class in a community college and I told them it was indispensable that they learn how to write and proofread well so that they could advance in their careers. One of my students boasted to her boss about how much she was learning in my class. Her boss told her, “Well, why don’t you see if you can find any errors in this letter I wrote?” My student found 24 errors. Her boss’s reaction? She promoted her as her assistant and increased her salary. Talk about motivation. The entire class was motivated by her story. What she learned made money for her. Isn’t that a better goal than a grade in the course? When students experience success from what they learn, they become intrinsically motivated to learn.           

            Teachers should answer all questions that students ask. If they don’t know the answer, they should tell them that they will get back to them with an answer. When you don’t answer questions posed to you, you are losing their interest in you and in the subject you are teaching. When questions are answered it gives the teacher credibility and the answer gives the student confidence to ask more questions. 

Return any work that students hand in to you, in a timely manner. Teachers should not take four weeks to return their student’s work. They need positive feedback about how well they are doing. This motivates them to do better if they are failing in the coursework.           

            Teachers are responsible for inspiring love for their subject in the hearts of their students. I remember that my ninth grade science teacher would draw diagrams on the chalkboard in colored chalk. He would wash his chalkboard and we would see him washing it prior to the beginning of our class. He washed his chalkboard because he believed it was refreshing for the eyes of the students. One day he drew a car engine on the chalkboard to illustrate how pistons work in a car engine. Oh, to have more teachers like him. Needless to say, in my assigned homework I would also try to draw detailed diagrams. I received good grades as a result. I loved science. My math skills were lousy. I had lousy math teachers, otherwise I would have become a scientist.           

            Have your students write a lot. Have them check each others’ writing. Have them read their papers in front of the class. They like to show off. Have them speak in front of the class. Have them listen to each others’ ideas and let them react to what they hear. Give them projects where they have to use critical thinking and work in groups. Get them to think about your ideas and the ideas of others. Teach them how to do all of that. Those are all ways to motivate them and prepare them for the business world.           

            Students need to learn the value of what they are about to learn. Why do we need to learn this? What will learning English, for example, do for them in real life?  How does English apply to other fields of study, the home, the workplace? What is the motivation behind learning anything? 

            Grades and degrees have their value. College helps to a degree. If you have a degree and you know nothing, the world will find out about it quickly and they will let you know. The medieval ages produced many master carpenters, master stone cutters, and many other craftsmen who did incredible work. They built cathedrals that are still standing. The emphasis in learning was to be able to do what you were taught to do. It was not about grades. Students must learn the material and motivation is what will move them to do the hard work necessary for this. If only we had more time in the classroom to really make a difference in education. Twenty weeks for a course is not nearly enough time to teach a subject.           

            That’s why there is this great invention called a handout that is a great motivational tool. The beauty of the handout is that the student can re-read it to his heart’s content. He can punch holes in them as I instructed my students, and put them in a binder. They can refer to them when they have a research paper to write. I gave them many handouts. When they missed class they would ask for them by title and I would have them ready for them. What I did not have time to cover in class, the handout would teach. It was an extension of my teaching. It motivated them.