How can we motivate and engage our learners? How can we make sure that our students show up in the language classroom not because they ‘have to’ but because they ‘want to’? Intrinsic motivation (that comes from a genuine ‘love’ for learning languages not just for passing the exams and obtaining a degree) is one of the keys to success in a language classroom.

    So what are the different strategies teachers can implement in order to ‘instil’ motivation and enthusiasm to their ss?

  1. Showing enthusiasm

    The attitude of the teacher is a crucial factor in building motivation in the language classroom. To foster learner motivation, teachers need to feel motivated themselves and pass this on to their ss: primarily through their voice, their gestures and movement. When teachers show genuine interest in the lesson, ss are more likely to become more eager to participate in the learning process.

2. The topics covered should be relevant and interesting

    It is important for ss to learn English in an interesting rather than a pointless context. My personal advice to teachers out there is not to stick religiously to the coursebook. Lesson aims can be more effectively achieved if the lesson is relevant to the students, if the focus is shifted a bit from the lesson plan in the teacher’s book and begins to cover topics that our learners find interesting and exciting. A simple way to do this is by presenting ss with realia that attract their attention and by ‘activating their schemata’ through topics for discussion that they can relate to.

3. Using a wide variety of materials/activities/media

    Variety kills boredom. Different types of tasks, hands-on activities, group work and games can easily grab our students’ attention and keep them focused. While I do believe that a somewhat predicted lesson structure could be very beneficial to the learners, ‘expecting the unexpected’, i.e. knowing that the teacher will always bring in something new and exciting to the lesson automatically increases curiosity and thus the students’ ‘motivation levels’.

4. Making the learning experience enjoyable

    Creating a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere in the classroom is certainly going to add up to learner motivation. Discipline issues can of course arise in all language classrooms. But if teachers manage to find the right balance, then I believe that a friendly, positive attitude through the use of humour and positive appraisal can be extremely beneficial to the learning process.

5. Providing challenges to the learners

    The key is to make learners actively involved in the lesson process: to make them think and ‘discover’ what the lesson aim is through interesting tasks, ‘mini goals’ and group work. When learner autonomy is promoted and ss are seen as ‘language detectives’, apathy and boredom stop being an issue and this keeps the lesson ‘flow’ going.

6. Consulting ss about the overall teaching approach. Addressing their specific needs.

    This is something I have tried and tested in my language classrooms and has proven to be extremely useful. I do believe though, that the age as well as the number of ss plays an important role here. I have to admit that this has been more effective in small classrooms of 5-6 learners and not very young ones.

In order to get into our students’ mentality and discover what topics could really interest the majority of the class, teachers could either ask for their feedback during their lesson or come up with a simple questionnaire for ss to fill in. This could give a very useful insight on the specific likes and dislikes of the students. By getting to know them better, teachers will be able to focus more on what the ss really want.

    An active participation from the learners’ part in the selection and even the design of the activities could also foster motivation as the ss somehow adopt a leading role in the lesson planning and take on to some extent the teacher’s role and duties. (This of course depends on their level and age group). This feeling of autonomy that involvement instils upon our learners increases their self-confidence as they feel that they are participants in the decision making process and therefore have a more important role and identity in the language classroom.

7. Making the lesson aims clear

    It is important for ss not to feel perplexed or misguided at any point during the learning process. They are more likely to feel motivated if they know exactly what they are doing in each step and what the overall aim of the lesson is.

    Depending on their level, learners should also be encouraged to take responsibility and set their own personal ‘lesson goals’, through the encouragement of self-reflection, of discovering what they enjoy in the lesson and where they should shift their focus in order to gain more knowledge from the language classroom.

8. Demonstrating learner progress

    Providing motivational feedback, celebrating success and displaying the students’ work is also extremely helpful. Satisfaction is increased as learners feel encouraged and proud of what they have achieved so far.


Published by Joanna Nifli

Greek-Canadian ELT teacher and freelance translator with work experience at the United Nations and the European Parliament. Holder of an MA in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (MA TEFL), the Cambridge CELTA and an MA in Applied Translation Studies from the University of Leeds. Interested in innovative pedagogies in language education, TESOL, teacher training, applied linguistics and related topics

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