Most ESL students need more than just a desire to learn language to help them get through the difficult nuances, exceptions, and challenges that await them in learning English. As a teacher to adults in an IEP, I realize that most of my students are motivated by their need to advance in careers or in education, but I find that this doesn’t usually happen at the pace they expect it to. At this point is when a strong dose of teacher inspired motivation can help them to keep going on their English journeys. Therefore, I want to give a few ways to help teacher inspire their students to be motivated to learn English in and out of class.
1. Get excited – If you aren’t excited about your class, no one else will be. Of course, teaching the 3rd conditional for an hour isn’t inspiring to most ears, but it is the teacher’s job to make it interesting. Bring in props, wear costumes, act silly, make jokes. Do whatever it takes to make English exciting without sacrificing the core principles of sound instruction.
2. Experiment – I have done many activities that have failed, but changing mid course is okay if something is not working out. I have found that students appreciate the fact that a teacher is trying something different if they know that the teacher is doing it for their good. Most of the time, they don’t mind taking a detour from the normal routine as well. Try games, contests, championships, and fun activities to mix up the classroom.
3. Vary your tone- We tell our students not to be monotone, but sometimes we are the worst culprits of this language sin. A little syllable and word stress goes a long way. Get quiet in order to get the attention of students, then get louder to drive home your points.
4. Ask questions – Don’t simply lecture the whole class! By asking students questions, the teacher makes them feel valued and respected. This is not common in many cultures, and could set your class apart from many classes that your students have taken in their home countries.
5. Be unpredictable – Routines are great, but as the idiom says, “Variety is the spice of life.” I teach classes for two hours at a time, five days a week, so doing the same thing each day will not cut it as heads will droop and students begin to catch up on the previous night’s sleep. Switch up the order of class. If you usually teach grammar first, jump to writing or reading first for one day. Of course, you don’t want to do this too much, but sometimes it helps when the students are obviously disinterested.
6. Break out of the textbook– Nothing is worse than painfully going through every single exercise in a long textbook. This may be good for some, but many will grow weary of this in long classes ( I speak from experience). Make the textbook a resource and not a prison. Use it in creative ways. Cut up exercises and have students relay the answers back and forth to you. Call out random #s from an exercise and ask students to answer those questions. Try to do anything but the student #1, question #1 format every time.
7. Play Games – Lecture and pair work only go so far in a long class setting. Games are a great way for students to engage with content and learn how to work as teams. Here are some good resources to help you “gamify” your classroom.
Also, here is a great article written by colleagues of mine, Sarah Petersen and Ana Kim, on creating an “excellent” game for language learning students.
All in all, it is important to remember that the messenger is sometimes just as important as the message, and though you or I may be teaching correctly, we may not be inspiring or engaging out students. If my students are not motivated, excited, or interested, the problem may lie inside of myself. In fact, I am the easiest person that I can change. I hope that these tips give you some ideas on how to motivate those in your classes.