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How to Motivate Students and Increase Student Participation

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: Laurie Patsalides • updated: 1/17/2012

I have a picture. It shows an entire class of 30 students with their heads down. I took it my first year teaching for reasons I no longer recall. I look at it occasionally to remind myself how boring school is. It reminds me to get students involved.

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    If you discover what motivates your students they will be eager to participate and learn, making your job much more enjoyable. These tips on student motivation have worked for me.

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    How to Motivate Your Students

    1. Show some enthusiasm. Get out from behind the desk and interact. Students know if you are engaged in the subject matter and will respond accordingly. If they see you reading the newspaper at your desk, surfing the Internet, or flirting with the new teacher across the hall, they will disengage. Show students that learning is fun or at least fake it.
    2. Ask a lot of questions. Questions hook the mind. A hooked mind is engaged. An engaged mind learns more, faster. Begin every class with a question, not necessarily about the day’s topic. Try this one: “How many of you wish it were still the weekend?" All hands go up (including mine). Show students you care.
    3. Say thanks. Please and thank you inject politeness and appreciation into any discussion. Every single student response, right or wrong, should be followed by “thank you." Students who feel appreciated are students who participate.
    4. Mix it up. Yawning, sleeping, fidgeting, and doodling are all signs of a boring teacher. Boring teachers teach nothing. Disengaged students learn nothing. When collective disengagement occurs, stop and do something different. Start a chant. Have students stand, face each other, and review the material. Play a game that accomplishes the same goal. Do anything other than what it is that's putting them to sleep.
    5. Use visual aides. I’ve got bad news: they’re not listening to you. They don’t really care what you have to say. That’s why you have to repeat things thirty times. Use visual cues to keep them focused. Cues can be as simple as an exaggerated hand motion or as risky as a cartwheel. They can be diagrams on the board, an elaborate drawing, or the next slide on a Powerpoint presentation.
    6. Use auditory cues. Transition words help students follow along. Sirens, bells, birdcalls, loud bangs, whistles, and jackhammers keep them alert. Gunshots, although effective, are dangerous, illegal, will get you killed in many schools, and fired in most.
    7. Lay down the law sparingly. Every now and then, let loose.
    8. Follow it up with love. After you rip into them, build them up immediately. This goes for individuals as well as groups. Let them know you think they're better than that.
    9. Share good news. Start class with good news. It makes everybody feel better.
    10. Get out of your comfort zone. Many of these suggestions will force you to get out of your comfort zone. Do them anyway.