Motivational strategies for the foreign language classroom

How can we increase our learners’ ‘goal-orientedness’ and intrinsic motivation?

Here are 8 motivational strategies for the language classroom that will help us keep our learners’ self-confidence and willingness to participate in the lesson at high levels

There are many ways by which teachers can positively affect both the intrinsic and the extrinsic motivation of their learners. As Dornyei (2001:116) points out, ‘teacher skills in motivating learners should be seen as central to teaching effectively’. Teachers need to come up with ways in order to create the basic conditions to increase learner motivation and maintain it in high levels. This of course will depend on each classroom’s specific needs, on the students’ level, linguistic background, the reason they are learning the foreign language and their specific learning preferences.

Dornyei’s (2001:131) “Ten Commandments for Motivating Language Learners”

Dornyei, Z. (2001). Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

  1. Creating the conditions for motivation

    A lesson that is relevant and meaningful to our learners will most definitely help increase their willingness to participate. Promoting learner creativity will also kill boredom and boost their motivation. We must give them the opportunity to share their interests, their ideas, whatever excites them with the rest of the class. We should let them use their imagination to come up with stories, role plays, games, quizzes. This way they get the chance to learn the foreign language and construct knowledge in a context that is meaningful to them.

The role of task variety and authenticity:

    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 certain 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’.

Interesting and relevant topics:

    It is important for our students 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 our learners with realia that attract their attention and by ‘activating their schemata’ through topics for discussion that they can relate to.

2. Making the curriculum relevant – personalizing the learning process

Making the lesson aims clear:

      It is important to always have in mind the specific goals each student wants to achieve , the topics that are interesting and relevant to them and to try to incorporate them in the curriculum. Our students should also not feel perplexed or misguided at any point during the learning process. They are more likely to feel motivated if they know what they are doing and what the aim of each 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.


   3. Increasing our learners’ self-confidence

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.

Encouraging positive self-evaluation

Dornyei (2001:134) suggests three ways of doing this:

  • “Promoting attributions to effort rather than to ability”
  • “Providing motivational feedback”
  • “Increasing learner satisfaction and the question of rewards and grades”

4. 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.

5. Focus on learner autonomy- Promoting the ‘feeling of involvement’

Benson (2000) suggests five types of practice for fostering learner autonomy

  • Resource-based approaches (independent interaction with learning materials)
  • Technology-based approaches (independent interaction with educational technologies)
  • Learner-based approaches (encouraging learners to set their own goals)
  • Classroom based approaches (focus on group work)
  • Curriculum based approaches (learners in control over the planning and evaluation of the curriculum)

   Teachers should also always keep in mind the students’ specific needs and goals. ‘Extrinsic’ motivation particularly in exam-oriented language classrooms is an important key to success. 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 students 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 students 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 instills 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.

6. Reducing classroom anxiety- 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 humor and positive appraisal can be extremely beneficial to the learning process.

7. Developing a good relationship with the learners

    Lowering learner inhibitions-respecting the different learning styles

     It is important to remember that participation during the lesson is beneficial as long as it is not stressful. Some students may not be willing to interact with others. We must therefore carefully examine our students’ different learning styles and focus on what our learners could benefit from. We need to be able to direct our teaching towards our learners’ strengths and offer personal focus and guidance to our students. We must carefully examine and monitor our learners and adjust our teaching in order to satisfy their learning styles and needs.

    8. Showing enthusiasm for the lesson:

    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 students: 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.

    Different levels of motivation mean different performance levels. Our students have to be intrinsically motivated in order to be willing to participate more actively during the lesson. Teachers must be an influential raw model to their learners and to try and instill to them the passion in learning a foreign language. We have to prove to them that English is useful, easy and fun. By rewarding their efforts and praising them, we automatically give a confidence boost to our learners. This feeling of achievement brings a deep sense of pleasure to the students and fuels the learning process. Their intrinsic motivation will be increased and they will be more willing to participate in the lesson, not because they have to but because they want to.


Benson, P. (2000). Teaching and researching autonomy in language learning. London: Longman

Chambers, G.N. (1999). Motivating language learners. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters

Dornyei, Z. (2001). Teaching and Researching Μotivation. England: Pearson Education Limited.

Dornyei, Z. (2001). Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Dornyei, Z., and Murphey, T. (2003). Group Dynamics in the language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Hadfield, J. (1992). Classroom Dynamics. Oxford: Oxford University Press

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Best Ed Lessons

The Best Free Educational Lessons for Homeschool, Primary, Middle and High School Students and Teachers - we are non-profit, no fees, no ads

Caroline Hynds, Freelance Editor

Content editor and copy editor based in Brighton & Hove. Professional Member CIEP, Avallain Author accredited.

Dewisant's Blog

Smile! You’re at the best site ever

Secret ESL Teacher

Diary of an ESL Teacher

Matthew Kutter

Instructional Design - ESL & TESOL Education


Archive of seminars for educators scheduled weekly at


Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Henry Ford

All about ELT

Expect the unexpected


TESOL International Association advances the quality of English language teaching worldwide

ELT Connect

FREE resources and networking platform

Teachers Together

Helping new English Language Teachers in their profession


“The mind is like a sponge, soaking up endless drops of knowledge." - Robert M. Hensel

Unite ELT

Unite English Language Teachers Branch

ELT for beginners

Tips and resources to help you succeed

Transformations of an EFL teacher

Reflections of an English as a foreign language teacher..

English-Language Thoughts

English-Language Thoughts

TEFL Planet

All things TEFL and beautiful!

%d bloggers like this: