What Are Some Ways to Motivate Your Students to Learn?

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    Every student is different, and it's important to understand what gets them excited. What motivates one student may not motivate another. And while some students are motivated by grades, others are more interested in the process of learning itself.

    Teachers need to find out which type of motivation works best with their individual students so they can be successful in the classroom environment. Here are some ideas that might work well for your class!

    One of the toughest parts about teaching is motivating your students. There are many different ways to go about this, and we hope we can help you find the one that best suits you!

    We have compiled a list of possible techniques teachers can use to motivate their students.   They range from simple things like giving out candy or playing music during lessons all the way up to more complicated rewards systems. So which one sounds good for you?

    This post will provide you with some strategies for motivating your students to learn. These ideas are based on research and practical experience as a teacher. I hope they can help you implement new teaching and learning methods that work for both your students and you!

    How To Motivate People To Learn

    Learning requires motivation. Whether you are a student trying to learn something or a teacher helping students learn, you will need to develop strategies to help motivate learning.

    Student learning will occur in proportion to the effort that a student puts into learning. Therefore, a key task for the teacher is to encourage and promote student effort. This can be a challenge, even if the teacher creates a supportive learning environment, because many of the factors that influence student learning are affected by the student’s overall attitude, likes and dislikes, feelings about a subject, activity or school in general, and personality.

    To improve student motivation, teachers use both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Intrinsic motivators rely on the value of the content and of learning to the student. Extrinsic motivators rely on the value of reinforcers or rewards to the student.


    Overall Incentives

    Incentive can be illustrated by an example of animal learning. A hungry rat placed in a maze will quickly learn to make those turns which lead to food. This is a reaffirmation of Maslow's physiological level need. However, the rat will not take the particular route if the food is not there or is of insufficient quality and quantity to provide an incentive for the rat to go to the food. Thus, an incentive can be regarded as a pulling force, different from a drive, a pushing force.

    Let us now consider the individual’s incentive to learn. The incentive to learn may be innate, or it may be acquired. First, ask yourself this rather interesting question - If a student didn’t have to learn, would he or she wish to learn? There is no simple answer since even those students who don’t enjoy learning in the classroom will continue to learn from life experiences and activities that interest them.

    Also, students who enjoy learning in the classroom may no longer enjoy that learning if there is no longer any achievement. The fact is that learning can be either internally or externally motivated, and different kinds of motivators will influence different learning situations.

    Internal Or Intrinsic Incentives

    There are other incentives primarily within oneself, apart from those already stated. These incentives are mainly connected with the person’s attitude to learning, and therefore, teacher motivation should aim at developing and supporting internal incentives. These incentives can include:

    Pride in doing things well Students can find great satisfaction in a task well done and gain a valuable sense of competence, which in itself can motivate further effort.

    The desire for accomplishment can be seen in statements such as "I have done all those" of “I have done that”. The individual gains a sense of satisfaction when a task is accomplished, and others may gain satisfaction from completing a task.

    Personal ambition -  Some students have a good idea of what they want to achieve later in life, or even just that they do want to achieve and succeed in life. They might value learning to build a future that will bring wealth, prestige, power, and other benefits.

    Competition with oneself - Students sometimes set their own standards and rate of working. By doing this, they are issuing a challenge to themselves and thus providing incentives. They may also measure their success by comparing their achievements or progress to others’.

    A sense of control or power – Students can gain a sense of control and power through developing skills and knowledge. A sense of being able to influence their environment is essential to preventing apathy and learned helplessness.

    A sense of participation and belonging – Working as part of a group or class can give students a sense of belonging and affiliation.

    Personal relationships – Some students are not as interested in belonging to a group as they are in developing positive relations with individuals. For example, students can be very impressed by a teacher and be motivated by a desire to be approved of by that teacher and to make that teacher happy.

    A student might be motivated by having one good friend who is also learning and will often be motivated to do well in areas that involve that other student or where the friend is doing well.

    Values and ethics - Different students may have different ethics or values regarding learning and education. Some may feel that education is critical to later success and to an individual’s sense of worth and status in society. Others don’t see it as important.  Some students are motivated by ethics that include honouring family and respect for adults, whereas others are more motivated by values that stress independence and autonomy.

    External Incentives


    In the classroom, these include rewards, good grades, praise, and any other factor that can introduced into the learning environment. Other external incentives can include social and cultural expectations and values, family expectations, job prospects, or goals that learning can help achieve.

    Tangible rewards can be important motivators. For example, if a student knows they will receive certain rewards for learning or for certain classroom behaviours, that can be a powerful reinforcer. However, tangible rewards are not always the main motivators.

    In the workplace, security and advancement can be just as motivating as money. In the classroom, prestige, esteem, recognition and family approval of effort can be just as important as good grades. Yet reward systems do get results, so they are a valuable part of a teacher’s motivation strategies.

    On the other hand, incentives can demotivate students from learning behaviours. Peer pressure

    can have a significant impact on influencing how much a student will study and learn and how willing he or she is to behave in ways that promote learning.

    Many otherwise capable and motivated students underperform to avoid being called ‘eggheads’ or to fit in with peer groups who do not value learning or succeed in the classroom.

    The Relational Character Of Incentives

    An important part of the motivation is the value to the person of the goal, object, situation, or activity toward which the motivated person is striving. In animal research, the quantity of food in the goal ox will determine the speed of a rat through the maze. Don’t we all work harder for greater reward? This is the relational character of incentives, and unfortunately, it is often overlooked.

    Crespi (1942) demonstrated that rats ran much faster after being shifted from four food units up to sixteen units than after a shift from sixty-four units down to sixteen units.

    Some rats even refused to eat after this cut in reward. The same kind of disappointment was illustrated more dramatically by Tinklepaugh (1928). He trained a monkey to retrieve food which it had been allowed to see placed beneath one of two boxes.

    Tinklepaugh allowed the monkey to see him place a banana beneath one of the boxes, but then he surreptitiously substituted a piece of lettuce for the banana. When the monkey was allowed to choose between the two boxes, it correctly selected the one which was supposedly concealing a banana.

    Finding only lettuce, the monkey turned over the other box, which was empty. The frustration was too much for the monkey; it then threw the lettuce at Tinklepaugh - lettuce is just not good enough when the expectations are for a banana.

    You should have little difficulty in remembering similar examples from your own experience. Keep in mind, though, that a greater reward does not necessarily refer to the amount of reward. It can also refer to the greater value that we place on the reward.

    A rat will not work hard for large amounts of food that it does not like. Similarly, one student might be highly motivated by a B (or high) grade, where another might not consider this worth extra effort. Or one student might be motivated by being given an independent project, while another might be motivated by group work.

    Crucial to motivation is the anticipation or expectation of a desirable outcome. Therefore, we evaluate incentives according to our expectations of outcomes and to the value that we place on those anticipated outcomes.

    Enhancing Intrinsic Motivation

    When a student is motivated to learn by intrinsic factors, the learning becomes its own reward. As a result, the student enjoys learning, and that enjoyment and enthusiasm can remain part of that student’s learning all through life. Therefore, enhancing intrinsic motivation should be the main goal of motivation.

    The motivation that relies on rewards – extrinsic factors – will fall or cease when those rewards are no longer received or when they are reduced.

    There is some research to indicate that reliance on extrinsic motivation actually destroys intrinsic motivation. However, extrinsic motivation can also increase intrinsic motivation if the quality of performance is rewarded, and the task is not very interesting anyway.

    Some ways to enhance intrinsic motivation are:

    • Creating interest and enthusiasm for gaining knowledge –  by relating it to everyday experience or to students’ areas of interest and abilities (e.g. “Today we will look at ways to handle criticism – These can put you back in control of a situation, even if the criticism is intended to be hurtful”).
    • Developing curiosity – by demonstrating something you intend to explain, surprising students, using doubt, contradiction or prediction to lead into a topic.
    • Involving students in a game or simulation can involve students finding their own answers or experimenting or learning about a process by doing.

    Social Reinforcers As Incentives

    In human motivation, social reinforcers such as verbal praise, expressions of approval, and a reassuring smile are more common incentives than food and water, which are important for motivating a deprived animal in a laboratory.

    Parents, teachers, friends and employers all use social reinforcers to motivate for greater effort. So even when grades sometimes seems the primary incentive for learning, social approval may be just as important.

    The motivating power of social incentives tends to lose its value if used indiscriminately. Thus, for example, the teacher who praises everyone and each level of performance finds that such praise subsequently becomes ineffective as a motivator.

    When a student knows that the set standard is high, then the smallest morsel of praise becomes a high compliment, and much effort is put into the task in order to receive this compliment.

    It is not the absolute amount of praise or approval which we receive that establishes the level of motivation, it is how the amount compares with what has been received in the past or what one could reasonably expect to attain.

    The power of social reinforcers is confirmed by research. Biswas found that extrinsic and intrinsic motivators differ between men and women.  Using terms from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, women have a greater need for self-actualization, security and the meeting of physiological needs than men, whereas they have fewer requirements for their social and esteem needs to be met at work.

    It would be interesting to find out how this translates into the classroom. However, some teachers do report that female students tend to meet their primary social needs out of the classroom and that female students often give great importance to meeting esteem needs in the classroom.

    Ways To Motivate Your Students To Learn


    Over the years, I’ve had various students who just don’t seem that interested in learning. Some of them appear lazy, others are disorganized. And occasionally, there’s one who just seems completely apathetic. I have to admit there have been times that I haven’t really been the best at motivating these students. I really do try, but sometimes it’s just overwhelming, isn’t it? Sometimes we feel like nothing we’re trying is making a difference.

    But these students need us to invest in them, believe in them, and inspire them to learn. It will not be easy, but oh, what a joy when we see a previously unmotivated student start to make progress! That smile when they start to realize what they’re capable of us just invaluable!

    How To Motivate Your Students To Learn

    Believe in them. If you don’t believe that a particular student is going to complete his work, he probably won’t. So stop assuming they won’t and start believing that they can and will.

    Be extremely encouraging. Sometimes students who appear lazy are actually discouraged or frustrated that they are having trouble learning. Our words can be extremely powerful in inspiring them, but more importantly, we can encourage them by giving them one-on-one help and showing them that they can indeed do the work and be successful. It can make a world of difference when they see that they are capable of even small successes.

    It’s also important to point out their successes and show them that their hard work pays off, so be liberal with your encouraging words. You can even take it to the next level by creating individualized awards and certificates. (Canva has a great free certificate maker here.) You may never know the powerful effect your encouragement has!

    Make sure your students are the ones who are working. But, of course, the one who is working is the one who is learning, so if you want your students to learn more, make sure they’re actually working in your class, not just listening to lectures all the time.

    Plan times when the students are working, and you walk around to help them one-on-one. Incorporating writing-to-learn is also another easy and powerful way to increase student engagement.

    Use memory work and recitation. I know memory work has fallen out of favor in recent years, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a powerful tool. When your class recites facts or passages together, the students simply cannot help but learn them. And you don’t have to “drill and kill.” You can make it interesting (dare we say “drill and thrill”?) By saying them quickly, varying thestudents’svoicee, varying who says it, saying it throughout the day, etc.

    Make learning fun. You don’t have to be doing intricate activities to make learning fun constantly. Just be passionate about what you’re teaching and let that passion shine through. Tell relevant stories and add in some humor. And simply show the kids that they can do it – Students enjoy learning when they feel that they are successful.

    Be wise with your homework. More homework does not necessarily mean more learning. So be considerate of the students’ family time by only assigning homework that is truly valuable and necessary. When you limit the quantity of homework you assign, you can focus on quality and expect more of your students.

    Expect them to complete every assignment and have logical consequences for when they don’t (preferably something more than simply taking points off. If possible, require them to complete the assignment at some point during the day.)

    Have one-on-one conversations. When a student has a chronic problem, pull them aside and talk to them. Ask questions to try to understand why they are struggling, and ask them what needs to change so that they can be successful. Develop a plan together and then help them stick to it.

    Get the parents involved. I realize that this may sound impossible, but don’t give up on this one quite yet. Sometimes parents who seem to just not be interested in helping their students are actually just at a loss of what to do. So give them some specific things they can do to help their student and see what happens. And when you talk to them, be sure to focus on solutions, not the problems.

    Help your students be more organized. Few things are more demotivating for students than finishing their homework and then losing it. So do everything you can to help them organize their bookbags, binders, lockers, and folders.

    Consider whole brain teaching. If you’re not familiar with whole brain teaching, you should really check it out. It’s hard to explain, but the basic idea is that after you teach a concept, your students then explain it to each other. It’s pretty fascinating and definitely gets the students engaged! So then, even if you don’t want to use the entire whole brain teaching system, consider incorporating parts into your classroom.

    How to Motivate Your Students to Learn
    • Believe in them. ...
    • Be extremely encouraging. ...
    • Make sure your students are the ones who are working. ...
    • Use memory work and recitation. ...
    • Make learning fun. ...
    • Be wise with your homework. ...
    • Have one-on-one conversations. ...
    • Get the parents involved.
    Top 5 Strategies for Motivating Students
    1. Promote growth mindset over fixed mindset. ...
    2. Develop meaningful and respectful relationships with your students. ...
    3. Grow a community of learners in your classroom. ...
    4. Establish high expectations and establish clear goals. ...
    5. Be inspirational.
    Got an unmotivated student? Try these 12 tips
    1. Identify their “type” ...
    2. Stop effusive praise. ...
    3. Highlight the positive. ...
    4. Foster a threat-free classroom. ...
    5. Take the focus off extrinsic motivation. ...
    6. Embrace routine. ...
    7. Encourage friendly competition. ...
    8. Get out of the classroom.
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