From limitation to motivation: fourteen tips on how to enhance
motivation in the EFL class
by Glenda Demes da Cruz

When asked about the characteristics of a motivated teacher, an EFL student answered, “A motivated teacher likes what she does. We can feel this passion in her classes. She makes the language easier, and gives such wonderful classes that time seems to fly, and we can’ wait to attend her next class”.

How many times in our lives do we catch ourselves willing to feel motivated, willing to motivate our students, but then get frustrated when we feel our students are not motivated to come to our classes?

It is not impossible to be that motivated teacher the EFL student described above. The teacher plays a very important role in her students’ motivation. Since there’s no such thing as a “motivation formula”, we, as teachers, should reflect on how we can motivate our students and keep their motivation high.

How to become a motivation factor?

The teacher should get to know her (1)students, to start with. According to Ur (2000), a motivated learner has the following characteristics: he makes an effort to handle tasks and challenges and is confident in his success; he finds success in learning important to promote and keep a positive self-image; he feels the need to overcome difficulties and succeed in what he does; he is ambitious and likes challenging, proficiency tasks and high grades; he is aware of the goals of learning and of specific activities and directs his efforts to succeed in them; he makes strong efforts to learn and is not discouraged by obstacles or apparent lack of progress; he is not disturbed by temporary lack of understanding or confusion and knows his understanding will come later.

If a student does not present any of the characteristics mentioned above, or none that might show motivation, the teacher can, and should, try to motivate him. The point is how to motivate this student, or even groups of students, who the teacher believes would not feel motivated to learn under any circumstances? Unfortunately, as mentioned above, there is no such thing as a “motivation formula”. However, there are some points which can be considered:

1. If you do not know what motivates a student, ask.
There are some ways of making that question indirectly. The teacher could observe the students in activities which involve personal preferences, opinions, concepts, etc. Ice-breaking activities are very helpful in the process of getting to know what subjects your students really enjoy talking about, as well as other preferences.

2. Evaluate your own motivation level, as well as your students.
Close your eyes for a minute and think of the class you are about to give. How do you feel? Motivated? Great! A little unmotivated? Think of your students, think of how well and carefully prepared your class is. Were there any obstacles or lack of interest during class preparation? Think about the reason you are there and how important you are in your students’ learning process. They need you. They need to feel your motivation. Look at your students in your class. Are they motivated? If you feel they are not motivated, try something they might like to do. 5 to 10 minutes of your class dedicated to motivation can make all the difference.

3. Use persuasion and influence to stimulate self-motivation.
If you love what you do and love doing it, your students will feel it. Your passion for teaching can and should be contagious. The student will notice your dedication in preparing good classes and your enthusiasm in giving them. Your self-motivation can stimulate your students’ motivation.

4. Find out your students’ needs and try to satisfy them.
Provide your students with what they like. Try to find out, through interactive activities, what they like. See your class through your students’ eyes. Build up profiles for your students and make your class unique, so that they know that THAT class was prepared especially for them. Speak your students’ language. This does not mean speak whatever language they want or speak their mother language. This means see the group as it really is.

5. Making a task fun does not mean to make it easy.
We teachers of English tend to underestimate our students. You must have caught yourself, at least once in your life, taking a very easy activity to class, so that your students would have the false sensation that everything related to English is easy. This can be reasonable once in a while, but never more than this. You should be aware that your students may be exposed to challenging language situations, such as a trip abroad, and that the challenges faced in the classroom might help in their confidence to use the language.

6. Check whether the resources used in your classroom are motivating.
The type of activities you take into the classroom can make all the difference when it comes to motivation and interest. When preparing a class, try to see it through your students’ eyes. When you take a song to the classroom, for instance, are you thinking about your students or about yourself? Are you taking the activity because they like it or because you like it? Of course you need to be involved which means you should like the activity too. However, you should not worry if you don’t. When your students like it, they show it and that will keep you motivated and happy. You might even start liking that particular activity just because your students did and because it made your class wonderful.

7. Vary the task to enhance motivation.
Try not to repeat the types of activities you take to the classroom. Also be aware of this type of repetition in the textbook you use. Vary the activities you take to the classroom, as well as their approach. Textbooks, in general, bring the same sections, activities and approach. If you notice repetitions in the textbook you use, try to adapt the activity in a way the students can take better advantage of it. If it is an activity designed to develop speaking skills, adapt it in a way that students still practice their speaking skills. The objective behind the activity should be kept, but not necessarily the way the activity is proposed.

8. Consider absences as obstacles to motivation.
If a student is frequently absent from your class, something is wrong. He may be facing personal problems, which might affect his class performance, leading to a lack of interest and, consequently, absenteeism. If motivation were high, he would not be missing classes. Individuals usually make great efforts not to miss a very pleasant or important meeting, appointment, class, etc. Try to contact your student and talk. You can phone him or set up a time, so that you can talk in private. The importance given to your student and his feelings is also a motivation stimulant.

9. Demonstrate your competence at every opportunity.
One of the factors that can contribute to students’ confidence is the confidence they have in the teacher, in what she transmits and how she does it. Try to elucidate, as often as possible, the aim of each activity practiced in the classroom, so that your student is aware of what is being practiced and of what is being required of him. Use your background to make the learning process easier. Study ways to present a grammar point in a very objective and clear way, never forgetting about the context in which it should be used. Your student will feel the confidence you have in teaching a language which you have a good command of.

10. In the case of bad results, check your motivation and your students’.
Whenever a student or group gets low grades, check the students’ and your own motivation. It is common to say that a student who gets a low grade is a bad student. For some teachers, low grades mean lack of study. Not always. A great many things must be taken into account to diagnose lack of intelligence or to label a student good or bad. Instead of labeling a student, check his motivation. If the problem is due to motivation, the good news is that students can improve and a low grade can be overcome. Try to encourage your students to study for pleasure, for the sake of simply learning a foreign language. List the opportunities they will have just because they speak a foreign language.

You might be thinking that this sounds great in print, but in not in practice. Try it, anyway. What have you got to lose?

11. Talk to your students.Do not limit yourself to greeting them.
Being a teacher means being available to your students. It means being the facilitator in the process of learning. They should feel comfortable in asking you questions concerning the class you are giving, language usage, cultural aspects related to the language, and so on. Talking to a student does not mean confiding personal secrets or discussing personal matters. It means caring about him as a learner and as a person, providing him with tools to learn, and one of these is empathy.

12. Praise good performance, even though accuracy may not have been achieved. The way a teacher responds to a student’s attempt to accomplish a task can be a decisive factor in motivation. What do you, teacher, look for? Errors or talents? Are you a talent or an error hunter? (Cruz, 2004) Highlight your student’s attempt, correct when necessary, and praise whenever he succeeds in his task.

13. Turn complaints into motivation factors.
If a student or a group complains about your class, find out what the complaints are and try to solve the problem, if there is one. Talk to the student(s). Never take it too personally. Remember you are a professional, and, if there is a complaint, this is cause for reflection. If the complaint is arguable, discuss it with your student(s). Be humble. Take it as a hint to improve your work. You will notice that the class will respond to that, and, once the problem is resolved and improved, that particular point in your class will turn into a motivation factor for you and your students

14. Change your approach, if it helps to motivate your students.
The way you speak, explain, exploit content and develop your students’ skills while teaching are very high motivation factors. If your approach does not arouse interest in a particular group, change it. What may work with one group may not work with another one. Think about the goals to be reached in that particular class with that particular group. You will find one that suits your group, for sure.

Conclusion

An English teacher should be motivated to motivate her students. Maybe the first question you should ask yourself is whether you are really motivated to motivate. If you are, you will get motivation in return. If you are not, then, teacher, you have two options: you can go with the flow, walking the path of apathy which leads to nowhere, or you can seek motivation factors in your students and yourself, so that you can be a happy and fulfilled professional, motivated to motivate.

1. For ease of reading the following decision was made: when referring to a teacher ‘she’ and ‘her’ have been used and when referring to a student ‘he’ and ‘his’ have been used.

Bibliography

Bettiol, E. Can Learners Be Motivated to Speak a Foreign Language Through the Use of Games?. Linguagem em (Dis) curso On Line. Vol. 2. N° 1. <http://www.unisul.br/paginas/ensino/pos/linguagem/0201/11.htm>. Online. 23 de Maio de 2003.
Cruz, Glenda D. O Melhor Professor do Mundo. Língua Estrangeira. <http://linguaestrangeira.pro.br/artigos_papers/melhor_professor.htm>. Online. 11 de maio de 2003.
Cruz, Glenda D. The Teacher when responding to students’ writing: error or talent hunter?. To be published in ESL Magazine, issue 39, 2004.
Heller, R. (1998). Como Motivar Pessoas . São Paulo: Publifolha.
Johnson, S. (2002) Quem mexeu no meu Queijo? Rio de Janeiro: Record.
Scütz, Ricardo. Motivação e Desmotivação no Aprendizado de Línguas. English Made in Brazil. < http://www.sk.com.br/sk-motiv.html >. Online. 23 de Maio de 2003.
Ur, Penny. (2000) A Course in Language Teaching: Practice and theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Biodata

Glenda Demes da Cruz has bas been an EFL teacher for 14 years, a teacher trainer for 10 years and a professor at UECE (a State University in Brazil) for the last two years . She holds a degree in Letras from UECE and a Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics from the same University. She can be reached at demes@yahoo.com.

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