How to motivate students to learn

Nothing is as devastating to a teacher as a classroom filled with indifferent students utterly devoid of ambition.

Nothing is as devastating to a teacher as a classroom filled with indifferent students utterly devoid of ambition. Have you ever been to a classroom where students looked bored to their spine and where the mood was colder than ice? How can we motivate such a class?

Christine Osae

Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist has it that “Without ambition, one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing.” Simply put, ambition is fundamental to learning. If the students are not motivated, their move to do anything academic is minimal; if they do not warm up to the idea of learning, no learning takes place. Clearly, the importance of motivation in learning cannot be underestimated.


To motivate students, connect abstract learning to concrete situations. One of the reasons learners get bored is that they do not see the practical applicability of what they learn in real life. Adopt the case-study method that has proven so effective for business, medical and law school students: apply abstract theories and concepts to a real-world scenario, using actual formulations to analyze and make sense of situations involving real people and real stakes. Take learning beyond the four walls of the classroom using news items, Face book updates or anything helpful, to allow students to connect to real issues.


While at it educators should also fine-tune the challenge they present to students. We’re most motivated to learn when the task before us is matched to our level of skill: not so easy as to be boring, and not so hard as to be frustrating. Deliberately fashion the learning exercise so that students are working at the very edge of your abilities, and keep upping the difficulty as they improve.


In addition to this, be creative in your presentation of content. For instance, start with the question, not the answer- instead of straight off telling them what a verb is, use an interesting guided discovery activity to help the learners discover for themselves. Memorizing information is boring; discovering the solution to a puzzle is invigorating. Present material to be learned not as a fait accompli, but as a live question begging to be explored.

Similarly, promoting a spirit of competition in your class can also motivate learners. Encourage students to beat their personal best. Some learning tasks, like memorizing the multiplication table or a list of names or facts, are simply not interesting in themselves. Generate motivation by encouraging students to compete against themselves: run through the material once to establish a baseline, then keep track of how much they improve (in speed, in accuracy) each time. Remember that the basic thing is to make their classroom experience worth looking forward to.

Finally, make learning social. Put together a learning group, or have students find learning partners with whom they can share their moments of discovery and points of confusion. Divide the learning task into parts, and take turns being teacher and pupil. The simple act of explaining what they’re learning out loud will help them understand and remember it better.

When all is said and done, motivation remains the only way to incite the right attitude for learning. In order to create this ambition and thirst for learning, one must use interesting activities within the classroom and make learning real.

The writer is a Language Consultant

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