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How to Motivate Students: What NOT to Do

Janelle Cox

Do you know how to motivate students and, conversely, what makes students unmotivated to learn? We all know that on some level, student motivation must come from within, but what can we do as teachers to help motivate our students? These are questions that many teachers often ask themselves in hopes of trying to come up with an answer. Instead of trying to figure out how to motivate students by figuring out what the biggest motivation killers are for our students, I thought we could just ask them. So I enlisted the help from a few of my colleagues and had them set up a meeting with their students. Their goal was to find out what were their students’ biggest motivation killers were, and what could we as teachers do to change it. Here’s what we learned about how to motivate students.

How to Motivate Students: Teachers Talk Too Much

The number-one response that we received was that teachers talk too much. In this day and age, many teachers try and differentiate learning, use cooperative learning groups, and try and utilize technology as much as they can, so this was quite shocking to say the least. Students stressed how hard it was to stay motivated when all they were doing was listening to the teacher talk. Now sure, the students were able to talk in groups, and did get to use technology, but the students said that they thought the majority of the class time was spent with the teacher lecturing.

So even though teachers may think they are putting the focus on the students doing the majority of the work learning, to the students, it’s still not enough. There suggestion was to utilize technology and be in groups even more than they already were.

The Lesson or Content is Boring

This answer was not a surprise to us. All too often have we heard our students say at some point or another, “This lesson is boring” or “Why do we have to learn this?” We understand their concerns because sometimes we are thinking the same exact thing as our students! In order to change this, we must show the students how they can use this content in the future as well as what relevance it has to them right now.

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Unfortunately, there are some topics (that even we may think are boring) that are out of our hands that we must teach. However, what we can control is the way that we teach it, and whether we make it interesting to the students or not. It’s our job to look for ways to make it more interesting for the students. Luckily for us, technology has the ability to make everything look a bit more interesting. Also, we can take some advice from reports whose moto is, “There is no such thing as a boring topic, only boring angles.” As long as you use the right angle to present the information to the students, they will find it interesting.

Students Don’t Comprehend the Content

Another student motivation killer is when the students don’t understand or can’t comprehend the information that we are teaching them. As teachers, our number-one priority is to make sure that our students understand what we are teaching them. One of the biggest complaints that students had was when they told the teacher that they didn’t understand what they were teaching, the teacher tried to explain it to them the same exact way as the first time they asked. What we as teachers can take away from this is to find a variety of ways for our students to learn the content that we are teaching them. As we already know, all students learn in different ways, so this just makes sense to have a few alternatives in our back pocket.

Teachers are not intentionally trying to teach students boring subjects, and they are not trying to talk their ears off. What they are doing is teaching students to the best of their ability. What we can take away from this is to make sure that we are teaching to each child’s unique ability, allowing students an ample amount of time to work with others, utilizing even more technology, not lecturing too much, and finding alternative methods to explain information.

Do you know how to motivate students? Do you have any suggestions? Please feel free to leave your comments and thoughts in the section below, we would love to hear what you have to say.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.