Second language acquisition researchers have identified motivation as one of the most important factors in language learning success. In the November Teacher’s Corner, we will explore motivation and how EFL teachers can positively affect this psychological aspect of English language learning.
What is Motivation?
Motivation is what ignites our desire to begin a task, and it helps us sustain the effort required to work toward and achieve our goals. While several models have been developed to describe motivation and its components, motivation is often classified as extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation comes from external sources such as receiving a reward or avoiding a punishment. Student grades are examples of extrinsic motivation in the classroom. In contrast, intrinsic motivation originates from within; intrinsic motivation leads people to do things because they find them enjoyable, interesting, or exciting. For instance, many language learners find activities related to popular culture (music, news, sports, etc.) or games intrinsically motivating. As we will see this month, EFL teachers can use classroom strategies that incorporate both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
Motivation and the EFL Classroom
Motivation is critical to English language learners’ success due to the length of time and amount of effort required to become proficient. Initially, motivation leads students to apply themselves during language learning activities. Ideally, students will then see positive effects from their efforts, such as enjoying the learning process, receiving constructive feedback and good grades, and improving their language abilities. Any of these positive outcomes may further motivate students to continue working toward the long-term goal of developing English language proficiency.
Fostering motivation can be a challenge for all teachers, but it can be especially difficult in EFL settings because EFL learners often have fewer opportunities than ESL students to use the language in a meaningful way. This relative lack of language input and output in EFL settings can be caused by limited chances to interact with proficient English speakers, limited availability of language learning resources, limited instructional time, and large class sizes. Also, in some cases, EFL is a mandatory subject that is taught with a rigid curriculum. Students in these contexts may not think that English language learning is interesting or relevant to their needs.
The good news is that by becoming more aware of factors that affect student motivation, EFL teachers can increase motivation levels through:
- using motivation-building instructional and classroom management approaches
- raising students’ awareness of what personally motivates them
- encouraging students to develop and apply self-motivation techniques
While we can’t address every topic associated with student motivation this month, we will:
- Reflect on what motivates us as language learners, increase our awareness of factors that affect student motivation, and consider how this information relates to our classroom practices. In the Week 1 teacher reflection exercise, motivation-related factors are grouped into these four categories:
- Instructional design
- Promoting learner autonomy
- Creating a positive classroom environment and culture
- Teacher behavior and knowledge
- Goal setting, student interests, and self-awareness
- Student reflection and self-assessment
- Using healthy competition student choice, and rewards to extend learning beyond class time
To begin this month’s Teacher’s Corner, we will think about motivation and our own language learning experiences, review factors that can affect student motivation, and reflect on how we currently address student motivation in our classrooms and what we might do differently in the future.
You can do this reflection activity on your own or with a group of fellow teachers. If you work in a group, you might learn a few new motivational techniques from your colleagues!
- Reflect on what motivated them during their own language learning experiences
- Increase their awareness of factors that affect student motivation by reviewing and reflecting on a list of questions related to:
• Instructional design
• Promoting learner autonomy
• Creating a positive classroom environment and culture
• Teacher behavior and professional knowledge
o Blank paper
o Pencil or pen
o A timing device, watch, or clock o Reflection worksheet (provided)
- Print out and complete the reflection worksheet. Discuss your responses with colleagues if working in a group.
- If desired, write a short reflective journal entry or personal action plan based on what you learned from this activity.
- Review the additional resources below related to building student motivation.
- Smile! You just increased your professional knowledge and (we hope!) rekindled your enthusiasm about an aspect of teaching – both of which can contribute to building student motivation. ☺
For additional instructional design tips related to motivation, check out these resources and many others available on the American English website:
- November 2014 Content Spotlight - using games in the classroom
- June 2015 Teacher’s Corner - making learning fun with information gap activities
- Webinars in the American English webinar series, including:
- Podcasting for the Classroom – building 21st-century skills, personalizing learning, and supporting learner autonomy (see PDF to download)
- Lesson Planning 101 – objectives-focused planning, incorporating student interests, using a variety of materials, involving students in assessment
- Adapting Materials to Meet Your Classroom Needs – creating materials that incorporate student interests, student preferences, and culturally relevant content
For more ideas about promoting a positive classroom environment and classroom management see the April 2015 Teacher’s Corner.
Also, English Teaching Forum contains numerous journal articles related to motivation, including the effects of teacher behavior, improving teacher subject-matter knowledge, and promoting learner autonomy. Build your professional knowledge by searching the journal’s archive for relevant articles!
This week's teaching tip illustrates how to use beginning-of-course questionnaires to encourage students to think about these motivation-related questions:
- Why are they learning English, and how does it relate to their goals and interests beyond the classroom?
- What do they hope to gain from this course?
- What topics and learning approaches appeal to them?
- What can the teacher do to support their learning and build their motivation?
This questionnaire activity can be conducted after the teacher has presented an overview of the course goals and objectives.
Intermediate and above. The example questionnaire provided with this teaching tip can be adapted to suit other students by adjusting the language level, the number of questions, and the ratio of multiple choice/"tick the box" options to free-text, open-ended responses.
- Teachers will have a collection of student-generated data to inform motivation-oriented decisions related to instructional design, building learner autonomy, creating a positive classroom community, and their own classroom behavior.
- Students will increase their awareness of what motivates them to study English; this awareness can help them make choices about their learning and can be used as part of goal-oriented self-motivation strategies.
ASSOCIATED MOTIVATION FACTORSInstructional design: incorporating student interests and learning preferences; personalizing learning
Promoting learner autonomy: encouraging goal setting and reflection; encouraging learner self-awareness; developing self-motivation strategies
Creating a positive classroom environment: understanding learner preferences about grouping styles and cooperative learning
Teacher knowledge and behavior: understanding student perceptions and preferences about teacher behavior
- Whiteboard or chalkboard
- Markers or chalk
- Pencils or pens
- Questionnaires (an example questionnaire is provided)
- Adapt and modify the example questionnaire to suit your student's needs, culture, and course content. The example questionnaire is designed for an upper intermediate, secondary integrated skills class.
- Print or photocopy the questionnaire, preparing enough copies for each student. If possible, prepare two-sided copies to save paper.
- Write "motivation" on the board. Ask student volunteers to define this word, giving prompts and asking clarifying questions if needed. (Example definitions: what makes us try to do something; something that makes us work to achieve a goal).
- Tell students they are going to think about what motivates them to study English, their overall and course learning goals, topics they might want to see in course materials, and how they like to learn. Explain that they will use a questionnaire (survey) to complete this process.
- Ask a student volunteer to pass out the questionnaires. Ask students to write their names at the top of the page. Tell students to wait to write their responses until after you explain the questionnaire's content.
- Direct students' attention to the "Goals and Motivation" section at the top of the questionnaire. Tell students they will set some general goals today using the questionnaire. Explain that setting goals and thinking about them can help motivate students when they face difficulties or challenges while learning English. Explain that you will collect and keep the questionnaires so students can review and think about their goals halfway through the course and at the end of the course.
- Explain that Item A (Overall, I study English because…) relates to long-term goals and reasons they study English. Ask students to share a few example answers to Item A, and write them on the board (for instance: …I want to study at a university in an English-speaking country, …I want to be a travel agent and I need to be able to speak to foreign customers at my job, etc.).
- Tell students that thinking about answers to Item B (Learning English helps me/will help me…) can help motivate them because it connects what they learn in the classroom to their everyday lives. Again, ask a few students to share example answers and write them on the board, reminding the class that answers can relate to both fun and more serious things you can do with English skills (for instance: play online games with English-speaking friends and understand English popular music; communicate with people on the internet and get a good job after I graduate).
- Explain that Items C & D relate to setting shorter-term goals for the current course. Remind them to think about the course content and objectives when they answer Item D (During this course I want to learn…)
- Revisit and consider this data as you make instructional and classroom management decisions during the course. Think about how to use the information to increase student motivation.
- Mention the data you collected to students so they know you took their goals, ideas, and opinions into account; doing this can be inherently motivational! (Examples: In our start-of-course questionnaire many of you mentioned….that you want to improve your confidence in speaking, so today we are going to do [activity X.]/ …that you prefer to work alone; however, we also need to build teamwork and cooperation skills in language class because…/ …that you like to learn through games, so today we are going to work in teams to play a game that will help us practice [grammar topic X].).
- Be sure to return the questionnaires to students at the course midpoint and toward the end of the course. Ask them to reflect on their goals and motivations: Has anything changed? What progress are they making toward meeting their goals? What challenges do they face? How can they overcome them? How do they use their goals to self-motivate in these challenging situations? If desired, turn this reflection process into a short writing assignment. (Again, encouraging reflection, self-assessing progress, and considering strategies to overcome roadblocks are all motivation-building activities.)
Talking about goals and motivation
After students complete the questionnaires, put them into pairs or small groups and ask them to share and compare their goals and motivations for studying English and the course. This brief discussion activity can help students get to know one another and create a sense of shared purpose, both of which contribute to creating a positive class environment -- another motivational strategy!
This week's teaching tip illustrates how to use an objectives-based checklist that asks students to reflect on and assess their progress. Seeing their own progress, meeting objectives, and "ticking items off a list" is intrinsically motivating to most students. Realizing additional work is needed in some areas can help students set clear follow-up goals. Having a plan to meet learning challenges and a sense of being in control of the learning process can increase student motivation. This checklist also uses positive language to talk about the learning process (e.g., "I'm still working on this" which creates a sense of potential, instead of the de-motivating phrase, "I can't do this".)
Teachers can incorporate “I can” self-assessment forms at the end of a unit, after a project, halfway through a term, or at the end of a course. These checklists can be used either on a regular basis (after every unit, monthly, etc.) or occasionally to add variety to assessment processes.
Intermediate and above.
The example checklist provided with this teaching tip is designed for secondary or adult learners in an upper intermediate class working on a podcasting project about environmental challenges in their community. The concept can be adapted for other contexts by adjusting the curricular content, language complexity, and number of items on the form.
- Reflect on their learning and assess their progress toward meeting learning objectives.
- Identify areas for improvement and consider strategies and tools to improve knowledge and performance.
Associated Motivation Factors
Instructional design: ensuring students understand objectives; highlighting both strengths and areas for improvement in assessment practices
Promoting learner autonomy: encouraging students to reflect on their learning and progress toward their goals; encouraging learners to select tools and strategies to meet goals
Teacher behavior and knowledge: using positive language to talk about the learning process
Pencils or pens
“I can” checklist (example provided)
Using the example as a guide, adapt the “I can” checklist to reflect your learning objectives. You can include objectives related to:
Other subject-area knowledge (e.g., science or math) in content-based instruction contexts
21st-century skills such as technology use
Interpersonal skills such as working in a team or taking turns
Academic skills like taking notes during a lecture or setting/meeting deadlines
Critical thinking skills and strategy use
As you make the checklist, you may need to simplify language used in your lesson plan objectives to make them accessible to students.
Print or photocopy the checklist (one per student). If printing the checklists isn't possible, create a large checklist to display and let students copy the content onto their own paper.
Answer any questions students have about the form. Provide support, as needed, while students fill out the forms.
- Introduce the “I can” checklist and explain how to fill it out:
- Ask a student volunteer to pass out the forms.
- Tell/remind students that in addition to receiving feedback from the teacher or their peers, “reflection” (thinking about one’s learning journey) and “self-assessment” (rating or evaluating one’s own learning) are also important skills to develop. Explain these two terms as needed. Also mention that these processes involve thinking about the learning process (how they learned) and progress (what they learned/are able to do).
- Review the objectives in the checklist and describe how to complete it. Explain that honestly assessing one’s own progress can be difficult, but that they should try not to be too easy or too hard on themselves as they complete the form.
- Explain the last two items related to (1) things students enjoyed/found interesting about what they learned and (2) selecting tools and strategies to improve their knowledge or performance. For the tool/strategy selection question, consider prompting students to give a few examples of tools and strategies they have previously used or discussed in class.
- Collect the completed forms. Review them and, if practical, make brief comments to students on the forms. For example, you might add a few words of praise or encouragement related to their self-assessment ratings for some objectives, comment on things students enjoyed/found interesting, or suggest another resource or tool for improvement.
- After reviewing the forms, return them to students. If you use portfolio assessment or keep collections of student work, these forms make great additions. Encourage students to review their self-assessment forms again toward the end of a course so they can see how far they have progressed!
This week’s teaching tip demonstrates how to use a combination of student choice, friendly competition, a visual display with a fun theme, and rewards to motivate students to read more in English.
Students choose English language materials to read from a class library, a school library, or teacher-suggested Internet resources; students can read items during extensive/free-reading periods in class or on their own time outside of class. Students then write short summaries about and personal responses to what they have read. Student reading responses are captured on forms containing a train car-shaped outline. Each contribution is posted on the wall, making an addition to an ever-growing class “reading train.” The reading train serves as a visual symbol that recognizes students’ effort and progress toward becoming avid readers. To motivate students to read in their free time, teachers can conduct a competition and offer small rewards to students who contribute the most “cars” to the reading train in a given time period.
Upper beginner and above
- The example in this teaching tip is designed for younger learners, but the concept can be adapted for older students by creating a “reading chain” that uses forms with plain circles or squares to capture reading responses instead of train cars.
- Teachers can increase the activity’s difficulty by adapting the reading response forms to include more advanced reporting, analysis, and personal response items.
Generate student enthusiasm about reading by:
- Encouraging them to read and respond in a level-appropriate way to materials they choose.
- Encouraging them to engage in extensive reading during class and in their free time.
Associated Motivation factors
Instructional design and promoting learner autonomy: incorporating student choice; encouraging self-directed learning
Creating a positive classroom environment: creating healthy competition and using a reward system; recognizing/celebrating student progress with a classroom display and reward ceremonies
Teacher behavior and knowledge: conveying enthusiasm about reading in English as you explain and manage the reading train
- Whiteboard or chalkboard
- Markers or chalk
- Level-appropriate English language reading materials
- Reading train engine printout (example provided)
- Pencils or pens
- Crayons or markers (optional)
- Reading train” response forms (example provided)
- If you don’t already have a classroom library from which students can borrow materials, create or curate a set of English language reading materials that are age- and level-appropriate for your students. Considering seeking help from your school librarians, who may be able to provide a list of available English language materials; the librarians may also be able to order or locate resources for you, if needed. If your students have access to the Internet in the classroom, in the school library, in a computer lab, or at home, you can create a list of acceptable online reading resources for them. Be sure to review the American English website for free e-reading materials to include on this list.
- Adapt the reading train response form if needed. You can use the example form provided with this teaching tip, or you can create a similar form that is tailored to your reading objectives and learner level. Print several copies of the form; keep a stack of them available near the classroom library or in a folder in a known location in the classroom. If copying forms isn't possible, create a master form to display in the classroom and let students draw the train outline and copy the form content onto their own paper.
- Prepare the area on the wall that will feature the reading train. You can print, color, and post the train engine (provided with the example response form) to be the front of the train. Post a few blank response train car forms behind the engine to illustrate how the train will look as it grows.
- Decide the reading train contest rules, timeline, and rewards: Each car on the reading train is worth one point. Pick a minimum number of points students must have in a given timeframe. (Example rules: all students must earn two points per month by reporting on two books read during in-class extensive reading time; students who read more than the minimum number collect more points. At the end of the month, the three students with the most points get a small reward such as extra points on a quiz, a homework pass, their name displayed on a “Reading Superstars” board, candy, etc.). You can also offer a cumulative reward if desired (the top reader for the term gets a new book, set of pencils, etc.).
- Prepare to draw or electronically display a large version of a blank response form on the board as you explain the idea to the class. (Procedures – Step 3)
- To get students excited about reading, explain that you are going to work together to build a “reading train” over the course of the term. Direct them to look in the area in the room where you have posted the train engine and example cars. Tell them that while the train looks very small right now with just an engine and a few cars, all of the students in the class are going to help it grow as part of a reading contest.
- Explain that each time students read an English language book outside of class or during free reading/extensive reading time in class, they can add a car to the reading train by completing a response form.
- Display a large version of the response form on the board (example form shown here; adapt as needed for your students):
- Demonstrate how to complete the form: explain each field on the form and work together with students to write in the needed information for a book the class has all read (a book you have read aloud, an assigned book from earlier in the course, etc.). Tell students they can decorate their train cars with crayons or markers before they turn them in for review.
- Explain the contest rules you set during the preparation phase: tell students that each car on the train (each book read) gives the reader a point; set the minimum number of points required for each reader in the given timeframe; explain how to earn more points; and explain the contest rewards.
- Explain where students can find acceptable reading materials (class library, school library English language books, approved online e-books, etc.). Emphasize that they can choose any book from acceptable sources that seems interesting or exciting. The goal is to have fun and read a lot!
- Show students where blank response forms will be kept (or how to make their own form if you are using that option). Tell students where and when they should turn in completed forms for you to review and post on the wall.
- Answer any questions students have about the contest.
- As the contest progresses, review and post student submissions on a regular basis. To keep students engaged, be sure to occasionally direct their attention to the reading train: praise the class for how it is growing, ask students to talk about the books they’ve read, give updates on which students are in the lead, and encourage others to make an effort to add to the train before this round of the competition ends.
At the end of each contest timeframe (monthly, end of term, etc.), celebrate the winners in front of the class by having a brief ceremony to announce/display their names and hand out rewards. Remind students that reading is its own reward (so everyone wins!), and challenge them to participate in the next round of the contest.