Student Motivation: Advice from teachers

How do you keep your students motivated? At the beginning of the school year, when you still don’t know your Dong Jins from Dong Wons, or Jun Hos from Jun Mins, life is easy. Students rush to their seats, eyes wide open, ready for education to be poured into their eager minds. You think to yourself, ‘wow, I have a fantastic group of students, here. I really lucked out.’ But then, after a few weeks, reality sets in. All is not rosy in the garden of Education.

It usually starts with KakaoTalk. Or rather, it always starts with KakaoTalk. One little glance here or there and then, boom, a cascade of KakaoTalk alerts ringing out one after another. A symphony. Make it stop. Make it stop! Now students are coming late, they’re sleeping…why do they need 45 minutes for a bathroom break? Where is everyone going? What should I do? ‘I really screwed up.’ ‘Help me, Obi-Won (anyone!), you’re my only hope!’

On May 28, 2016 in a city not so far, far away called Wonju, near the bright lights of Seoul, two knights in shining armor (suits) stood up to answer the call at the KOTESOL National Conference (Messrs. Wayne Finley and Tory Thorkelson). They talked about the four theories of student motivation (behavioral, cognitive, humanistic and social learning) and then they posed five intriguing questions to five groups of English teachers. Five questions to change the EFL universe. What follows is the result of that Q&A.

BEHAVE YOURSELF! Recommend behavioral management strategies for the different classes.



“For extrinsic motivation, reward Ss with candy (occasionally)”

“Simple, clear instructions”

“Physical presence”

“Simple classroom rules”

High School

“Don’t speak down to them”

“Use humor at appropriate times”


“Work with phones”

“Clear class rules and positive guidelines; be objective, firm and fair”

“Give regular feedback on performance”



“Randomize/change seating for pairs/groups, but not too much”


“Voting on ideas/rules or standards”

It was also recommended that teachers “respect the L1” for all the classes and that teachers could use a teaching arc of “fun-easy-difficult-easy-very easy” with bonding activities.


I’VE GOT THE POWER ♪  How can you give a voice to your students?


“Less teacher talk!”

“(Middle school) Controlled activities; give Ss time to formulate post-listening activity”

“(Students) Choose topics for assessments”

“Choosing how to learn a specific learning objective”

“Create a comfortable environment by errorless teaching scaffolding”

“Confirm/reassure what students know/can do”

“Ask opinions; Personalize questions; Direct questions; Talking stick”

“Choosing books (ER)”

“Physically get on their level”

“Creative activities/experimentation”

“Backchannels: Kakao, Twitter”


FOUR C-ING THE FUTURE: How do you bring critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration and communication to your classroom?


Critical Thinking


“Word problems”

“Think aloud – model to students ‘how to’”

“Compare/contrast L1/L2”

“Making games e.g. a board game”

“Multiple perspectives”

Creative Thinking

“Don’t set narrow parameters for opinions”

“Storyboard activities, based on movie clips”

“Ask open-ended questions”

“Do things differently – write on the windows and the floor”


“Collaborate writing projects e.g. a research report”

“Multiple perspectives”

“Mingle activities i.e. opinion surveys”

“Everyone can be in charge”


“Write opinions first and then discuss”


“Multiple perspectives”


DOIN’ IT FOR’T ENVIRONMENT: How can we create classroom environments that our students want to study in?



“Use classroom space; create personal relationships”

“Try to understand student expectations”

“Be positive”

“Praise them”

“Be likeable”

“Be fair (as much as possible)”


“Handle classroom issues; control the environment (seating etc.)”

“Be available and approachable”

“Clear objectives”

“Good lessons”


“Show interest in students – their culture, language, lifestyle”

“Clear classroom rules/expectations”

“Periodically, ask students for course topic/content suggestions”

“Physical and emotional safety”

“Ask students to choose from a list of activities”


MIRROR, MIRROR, ON THE WALL… “Be the change you want to see in the classroom.” What can you do today to change your classroom tomorrow?


“Teacher needs to be motivated; show passion in your teaching and genuine interest in the students”

“Teacher as captain – take responsibility and actions to be proactive in class so students are proactive in their learning”

“Effective leadership; teacher should be accountable so students can be accountable”

“Praise them about something”

“Lead by example – show mistakes (use of Korean): it builds confidence”

“Create a lighter environment – humor in the classroom”

“Listen and respect opinions (but could we be manipulated?)”

“Maintain your energy! (or the semblance of energy)”

“Laugh at least once during each class”

“Tell them when you make mistakes!”

“Invite your students to demonstrate their skills”


I would like to thank the 16 teachers who took part in the discussions for their invaluable input. I really loved the novel idea of writing on the floor and windows! I’m not sure my employer would approve, but I sure would feel like Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society! Carpe diem.


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