Student Motivation

Sarah Richard
Go Beyond the Candy

One of the hardest things to tackle with students was motivation. In the public schools, I had to adhere to pacing guides and specified content. I could bring in props, which could get costly, to gain their attention at times, but some content just didn’t motivate them. There was a little more flexibility in adult GED/HiSet courses, but a lot of students struggle with the long grind because most people at this age want to work and see immediate rewards. The older they got the harder it becomes because money makes the world go ‘round, so it makes sense to want the jobs now rather than hold out for years before a higher paying job may or may not be there.

A lot of teachers default to snacks, pizza parties or small prizes. While there is a place for this, it can become burdensome if not carefully executed, but it can take away from its original objective too if not carefully done. Other strategies are often overlooked that can be equally if not more effective to get students moving.

Classroom Environment

Classrooms that feel like home might encourage students to relax but motivate them to work harder. A classroom that is inviting and not intimidating encourages students to feel happy and in turn energized. Pay attention to how the classroom library, rug, chairs, bean bags and lamps are placed. I knew one teacher who strung up lights like the New Orleans patios with just the right amount of flare that everyone wanted to be in her cool classroom. She got rid of desks and put in tables to create more space. While some schools have restrictions on this, she had the right amount of air freshening aroma in her room too that created a calming atmosphere. It isn’t the answer to cure everything, but it was definitely one piece, maybe the entire border, of the puzzle put together that she did right.

Weather Advantage

In order to help with behavior management, I would have the class sit on the rug for read-aloud so they wouldn’t be stuck in a desk all day. Even working 9 to 5 as an adult after my career as a teacher, I never sat at my desk for hours without moving. However, on nice days, take the kids outside for the read-aloud instead. If there’s a group activity that they can do verbally, complete it outdoors too. They can even take a pencil, clipboard and piece of paper with them too if it’s a short written assignment. Make sure there is a shaded spot, though, and it’s not a hot, uncomfortable day.


Sometimes it’s not that a student isn’t motivated, it’s that the student doesn’t understand what to do and doesn’t want to ask questions or know the questions to ask. Always model every single step. Have a guide or chart that the student can follow if he or she gets stuck. Sentence prompts, paragraph frames or similar grammar problems will help the student be able to plug in the information that is needed. Sometimes students need more time at these foundational domain of knowledge levels before they can expand on it, connect other material and grow to higher domains of knowledge. That is okay.


Assign classroom jobs. When students help with the smaller tasks, they take ownership of the classroom. As these become more routine, students can build up to assisting more and more with the lessons. However, something as simple as a procedure for passing out books takes time, modeling and practicing if it’s going to be done right.

I once had a principal who said food was best not to be used as a reward especially in urban settings because it is a student’s basic need that we as teachers should already be meeting, so if possible try to use other strategies to encourage students to be in the moment of learning with you. Using snacks and prizes as a reward is the short grind for teachers in some respects; whereas, implementing some of these other long haul strategies develop better results over the long term.

Written by Sarah Richard for EnglishClub
After completing an MA from The College of Notre Dame, S.V.Richard taught special education, GED and English Composition for a total of ten years. She is the author of How I Taught My Kids to Read.

One comment

  • The King Of Love From IRAN says:

    Thank you so much ❤️ Sarah ❤️ for sharing it with us,

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