9 Great Ways To Improve Motivation In Your Classroom

A guest post by Rachel Summers


Helping students find motivation for learning is one of the hardest jobs any teacher can have. For one, everyone would rather play or do anything else but learn. They think it’s boring, needless and tiresome.

However, with the right tools, any student can be motivated to do better.

Here are nine ways to do that.

1  Draw connections to real-life situations

You remember that age-old question ‘When will I ever need this in my life? ‘. Students say it so often that you may start to wonder yourself. But don’t let their snarky comments get you down – show them how a lesson or a subject will provide value for them long-term.

Do some research before each lesson to find out where a certain problem is used in real life and show it to your students along with some career options where it’s utilized.

2  Implement positive encouragement

You’ll never get that far if you keep correcting your students negatively. They will be embarrassed in front of the classroom and restrain from answering your questions. This is why you need to use positive encouragement. So, the next time your students get it wrong say something like ‘ Yes, that could be true, but here is a different answer.’ This way they won’t be embarrassed and they will pay attention.

Also, when a student gives you a good answer, show it by saying things like ‘excellent job’, ‘great answer’ etc. If they often ask questions, it’s a good sign that they are engaged, so improve that even more by saying ‘interesting question’ or any variations.

3  Be excited about learning

If you are excited about a subject then it’s likely that your students will be. Enter the classroom in a good mood and present your current lesson with the same excitement they would have for a new movie or a new game.

This excitement can often be contagious and you’ll grab their attention.

‘Presenting a topic in a bland and uninteresting way is a bad way to encourage engagement. Show your students that you love this topic and they will likely be interested too. Just like smiling, excitement can be contagious as well. ‘ says Dana Gray, a psychologist from UK Services Reviews.

4  Get them involved

A good way to promote motivation is to give each student a task that they will be responsible for. These tasks don’t have to be complicated or hard, but they will get them involved and it will make them start caring more about your classroom as well as subjects at hand.

Some of them can be in charge of decorating, some for cleaning, some for spreading material etc. You can get even more ideas for this on community blogs like Teach Hub.

5  Track their improvement

Keep a personal or public score of what your students’ achievements are and how they have improved over time. This way, you’ll have a clear guide as to how to continue working with each of your students and how to best get them to engage in a certain subject.

‘Once I started tracking how my students have improved, I learned a lot of new things. It made it easier for me to figure out how to motivate them further, think about my approach when I was teaching subjects they did best in etc. It’s truly a great tool. ‘ says Mitchell Peralta, a teacher and writer at UK Top Writers.

6  Let them know what you expect of them

Be transparent about what you want them to achieve. If you set high but realistic goals for them and make it clear what you want and think that they can do, they will likely follow your lead. Set short term and long term goals and implement some sort of celebration once they are achieved. Get more info on how to do this at Teach.

7  Plan and work towards day trips

Day trips are a great motivator. As they get better and better, improve their day trips from those that are simple to amazing, interesting field trips to places that will inspire them. This will require some money but since people are willing to invest in good education, this may just be feasible

8  Use a variety of teaching methods

Teaching has certainly evolved over the years. Nowadays, there are plenty of great ways to get your message across to your students. This is great because not all children can learn in the same way. Adapt your methods to each child.

You have plenty of tools at your disposal – apps, games, social media, videos, images, graphs or even communication tools like Revieweal.

9  Ask them for their feedback and implement their ideas

Asking students for their opinion is a good way to find out what you could be doing better. However, students are often reluctant to share since they feel like their opinion will not be valued and in the end, used against them.

Implement a box where they could place their anonymous opinions and later implement their ideas to let them know that they are heard and that you care.

In Conclusion

Motivating students is never an easy task but with a few tools at your disposal, it’s not impossible. You just have to know your students and what makes them tick. That way, you’ll be able to pick the best ways to improve their motivation and achieve the results that you want.


Rachel Summers is an educator and a tutor to students who need extra assistance with their studies. She has the knowledge and the expertise to show them how to study effectively which she has been doing with Boom Essays. Rachel writes with a clear goal in mind – to help students and teachers get ahead in school or college.


Got something to say to educators? Send it to me. Every month, Teacher Habits publishes articles from voices across the educational landscape. I’m always looking to share new voices! If you have a product you think teachers would value, an opinion that needs to be heard, or a blog of your own that you’d like to promote, feel free to email me at [email protected]


It’s How, Not What

I played hours of baseball growing up. Hundreds if not thousands of hours. My brother and I played nearly every afternoon, weather permitting. The batter’s box was an island of dirt in a sea of well-tended lawn. The legs of our pants were perpetually grass-stained. On weekends, we’d ride our bikes around the neighborhood for away games played in friends’ backyards and empty lots. I played Little League every year I was eligible.

If John Hattie had researched the factors influencing baseball ability instead of factors that influence student achievement, he likely would have found things like:

Playing catch with dad, effect size of .7
HItting off a tee, effect size of .42
Hitting off a pitching machine, effect size of .31
Playing baseball during free time, effect size of .89
Playing in a sanctioned league, effect size of .62

An aspiring major-leaguer aware of such findings might conclude that the more he did of the high impact strategies, the better ballplayer he would become. But he would be wrong. I know from experience. Because in spite of the hours I put into the game and the many different ways I practiced, I was terrible.

I stunk for a very simple reason: While I did the right things, I did them the wrong way. 90% of the baseball I played was with a plastic bat and a whiffle ball. Most of the pitching I faced came from the arm of my brother, who was three years younger than me.

It wasn’t what I did that mattered. It was how I did it.

I worry that some teachers make the same mistake I did while attempting to find baseball glory. John Hattie’s research, Robert Marzano’s 41 Elements of effective teaching, the What Works Clearinghouse and many other data-based guides all send the message that it is what teachers do that matters most. The data and the way they are presented tell teachers that if you do the right things, you’ll be an effective teacher and if you do the wrong things you won’t be. It’s a dangerous message to send, which is why Hattie and Marzano seem to constantly be clarifying and warning against the misuse of their research.

Teachers are not guaranteed success in any area of their practice if they simply swap out one way of doing things for another. As in baseball and in life, it’s not what you do that matters. It’s how you do it. While this applies to literally every aspect of your teaching, let’s examine three.

Group Work

According to Hattie, cooperative learning has an effect size of .4, while cooperative learning compared to individual learning has an effect size of .55. Marzano cites cooperative learning as one of nine high-impact instructional strategies that are most likely to improve student achievement. But every teacher knows that there is nothing magical about cooperative learning. In some classes, students will learn much more with it. In other classes, their learning will suffer.  In almost every class, some students will benefit from cooperative learning and others would be better off on their own. The difference is not whether a teacher has students work in groups. The difference is how well students work in groups.

Mike Schmoker, in the video below, points out what we all know about group work: it’s overused, frequently a waste of time, and is heavier on the group than on the work. Schmoker recommends having students work in pairs not because he thinks group work is a bad idea but because he rarely sees it done effectively in real classrooms. He cares more about how than what.


If you are great at teaching kids how to work in groups and your students do it effectively, then keep putting them in groups. But if your groups devolve into bickering, off-task chitchat, and tears, then you’re better off teaching in another way.

Public Discipline

You don’t have to look very hard to find parents and teachers who believe that educators should never publicly discipline a child. Some believe it’s embarrassing for students, that teachers are shaming them in front of their peers. They claim that such teachers are destroying the culture of the classroom. They criticize the focus on compliance by saying it only teaches students to respect authority instead of instilling in them self-regulation strategies they will be able to use when on their own with no one telling them what to do and how to do it. And while public discipline could do all of those things, it doesn’t have to.

Interestingly, you rarely hear parents complain about public discipline in sports. No mom claims the referee who put her son in the penalty box for two minutes for tripping is trying to shame her kid. A basketball player who commits a foul has a whistle blown at them. The entire game stops to see what happened. The referee points at the offending player and then reports the call to the official while standing at center court for literally everyone in the audience to see. No one seems particularly concerned about the player’s mental health. In football, the entire team is punished for an infraction committed by a single player. No one ever mentions the unfairness of such a thing.

Read More: In Defense of Public Consequences


Even at Ron Clark Academy, which is often held up as a model for what schools should be, teachers use old-school behavior management techniques. From a visiting teacher:

“Mr. King was leading the students through a discussion about political cartoons. Here, we saw kids be kids. Sure, they were civil, they were polite, but it was the first glimpse that, yes, they do have minor discipline issues, and they deal with them. Students sign their name to a whiteboard when they commit an infraction, and it is done in such a way that the lesson never stops. Others are not watching the offender, but are still glued to the lesson. They are tracking Mr. King as he speaks.”

Like group work, public discipline is not inherently good or bad. A jerk of a teacher certainly could use it to humiliate, but so could a cop, a boss, or a referee. It’s not public discipline that’s the problem. It’s how it’s done.


You have surely heard that teachers should not spend much of their time being the star of their classrooms. They should be “learner-focused” and act as a guide on the side instead of a sage on the stage (excuse me while I barf)While direct instruction is important, teachers should keep it short, or do it in small groups, or flip their classrooms and allow students to learn via video. What they shouldn’t do is stand at the front of the room and lecture for 30 minutes at a stretch.

Well, maybe. Or maybe teachers who suck at lecturing shouldn’t do it and those who are spellbinding storytellers should keep doing exactly what they’re doing. How to know? Do your students learn from your lectures? Do they listen? Is there evidence of their learning?

There is nothing wrong with the lecture format. The millions of views TED talkers receive are a testament to that. Some people are really good at it. Others not so much. Again, it isn’t what these teachers do that makes a difference. It’s how they do it. If you’re a great speaker and you can hold your students’ attention while enthralling and inspiring them, then lecture. If not, try other methods.

The list could go on and on. Every aspect of your classroom is subject to the same rule: It’s not what you do, but how you do it. Posted learning goals won’t do a thing if you never refer to them. Feedback has an effect size of .7, but not if the feedback comes 10 days after the completed work. Response to intervention has an effect size of 1.29, but only if it’s implemented correctly.

So how should teachers use research like Hattie’s and Marzano’s? My recommendation is to try some things that are supposed to work. Then assess whether they actually work with your students. If they do, keep doing those things. If they don’t, stop or do them differently. As a teacher, you are not going to be adept at using every strategy the research says you should use. Find the ones that work for you and your students. Focus less on what you do and more on how you do it.

If You Want the Perk, Do the Work

I am now in my second week of summer vacation and only one adult has expressed to me her jealousy over my two months off. This probably has less to do with what I hope is growing appreciation for teachers and their work in the wake of remote learning and other public awareness of our conditions, and more to do with the fact that I have rarely left the house and avoid conversation on those occasions when I do.

The comment came during one of the last days of school. I’d organized a breakfast for my class and a couple of parents asked if I needed help. Never one to turn down such an offer, I had three diligent assistants, each of whom had been in the room previously and attended class field trips.

“Looking forward to your summer off?” one of them asked me. Not so much a question as a kind of conspiratorial wink shared between adults who spend time with kids. A nicer way of saying, “Bet you’re sick of this, huh?”

I was.

But having done this a number of years now, I also knew how summer would likely play out. I’d be lazy for a week and truly enjoy having nothing to do. Then I’d grow restless. I’d start projects around the house. I’d spend money frivolously. I’d plan a vacation as an excuse to leave the house. All things better left unsaid. No one working summers wants to hear you’re planning to do a lot of nothing with yours.

“Got big plans?” she asked, by which she meant was I going to be traveling anywhere interesting.

“Not this year,” I told her, proud to avoid contributing to the idea that teachers spend their summers jet-setting around the world spending taxpayers’ money. “We’re just going to relax.”

“That must be nice.”

She didn’t say it in a mean way. Did not mean to imply that I had it easy. But like referees, teachers’ ears are finely tuned to any suggestion that we are making the wrong call.

When it comes to summer, we teachers are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

Spend our summers posting pictures to Facebook of all the fabulous places we visit and our non-teacher friends confirm their suspicions that teachers, for all their whining, have it pretty damn good. After all, we can afford vacations just like other middle-class people!

Spend the summer doing nothing and people will wrinkle their noses at our lack of productivity. In a country where work is closely tied to identity, many can’t imagine being idle for any length of time. You’ve got two months off and you’re going to do what? Just sit around? Read? Hang out with your family? Go to the beach? Really, that’s it?

Whatever we do with our summers, those who have to work them are right to be jealous. They say “it must be nice” because it is.

It is very nice.

It is, without a doubt, the best perk of the job. Public pensions are wonderful but hard to get excited about in your first decade of teaching. As incentives, they work about as well as a promised year-end pizza party for good behavior, which is to say not at all.

The medical insurance is fine, too, although, having always been a teacher, I don’t honestly know how good I have it, only that people who aren’t teachers claim that I do.

And high job security is also supposed to be a perk, but it’s not one any decent teacher truly values. People who claim job security is a perk must assume the teacher they’re talking to sucks. Most people who are even decent at their jobs don’t worry about getting fired from them for their performance.

So, yes, summer vacation is a perk and it’s one no teacher should apologize for. Like our comparatively low pay, the day to day challenges of the job, the incessant meddling of politicians, and the public scapegoating, we knew about it going in.

We knew the perks, just as those in other fields knew theirs.

Investment bankers don’t all become investment bankers because they love banking (or whatever it is those people do all day).

Not all lawyers love the law.

Not every doctor dreamed of savings people’s lives.

A great number of them just wanted to make a lot of money and they knew that to get the perk, they had to do the work.

Different people value different perks. A lot of them value money over time, or rather, they believe making a lot of money will provide them with other perks they value. Which would be fine, if these values were treated equally.

But when’s the last time someone said to these non-teachers:

“Must be nice working for a company that offers a 401(k) match.”

“Must be nice to take a vacation in October, when the prices are lower, you can avoid throngs of ungrateful, whiny kids and their short-tempered parents, and the weather is measurably different from the place you are escaping.”

“Must be nice getting an hour-long lunch break.”

I’m guessing not many. If non-teachers want to know why teachers are sick of having their perks pointed out to them, they might consider the perks of their own job and then imagine that every time they took advantage of them someone said, “Well, that must be nice.”

I have a friend who is a physician’s assistant. His Facebook page consists of him not working. There he is in Prague. Now he’s in Maui. Next month, he’s on a Florida beach on a random Tuesday. Here is what I never allow myself to think when viewing his photos:

It must be nice.

Because what I’m not seeing is more important than what he has chosen to share with the world. What I’m not seeing is the sacrifice. I’m not seeing the years of schooling or the unpaid internship. I’m not seeing the 14-hour days when he started out. I’m not seeing the years of dedication. I’m not seeing the unheralded hours he still puts in, and even if I could, I wouldn’t understand it. He’s doing the work, and he’s enjoying the perks.

Good for him.

So the next time someone tells you it must be nice to have your summers off, tell them that it is. And gently remind them that you knew it would be all along and that they could join you.  An enthusiastic, “You should become a teacher!” is usually enough. Most people immediately recoil and claim they could do no such thing. Which is exactly the point.

Because while I would like the new cars and exotic vacations that my wealthier friends enjoy, I also know that I have never wanted their jobs. Just as I have no desire to argue the law in a courtroom or examine elderly patients’ mysterious growths, I am equally convinced that most people who wish they had their summers off have no stomach for the work that would allow them to.


Like me, most of you are likely enjoying your summer break. It’s not too early to start thinking about next year. If you ended the previous year exhausted and don’t want to make the same mistakes again next year, allow me to recommend three resources:

My book, Exhausted, explains what makes teachers so tired and what they can do about it.

My book, Leave School At School, details the strategies you can employ to work less while still being effective. It’s about optimizing your teaching practice and focusing on what’s essential.

Getting Schooled, by Garret Keizer


I’m attempting to read 100 books from June of 2018 to June of 2019 (you can follow along on the 100 in 1 page). I won’t bore you by reviewing every single education-related book I read, but when I stumble across one as good as Getting Schooled, by Garret Keizer, I feel obligated to spread the word, not only because as a writer of books myself I know the value of good press, but also because this book deserves to be read.

Within the first few pages, we learn a lot about the author. He taught for 16 years previously and he was good at it. He left to pursue a writing career. After a 14-year hiatus, he’s returning to the same Vermont high school to fill in for a teacher taking a one-year leave of absence.

The implications are obvious to any teacher who fears repercussions for speaking out. Keizer doesn’t disappoint. He writes with the freedom of a teacher who knows he won’t be returning to the classroom. Starting on page two, Keizer admits to something hardly any teacher will:

“There was a never a time during the sixteen years that I taught that I didn’t imagine doing something else…I can’t recall a single year of teaching that didn’t begin with a burst of enthusiasm accompanied by the fervent hope that come June I’d be done with teaching for good.”

But in spite of this, he’s a dedicated and effective teacher, as evidenced by the care he puts into preparing lessons, the patience he shows his students, the willingness to learn new things, and the restraint he exercises in the face of misguided priorities and absurd realities all teachers know and despise. He’s a team player when he needn’t be. Keizer lives by a moral code, fighting for what is right, but careful to never complain to his colleagues. He admirably wages an active war on his own cynicism, sparing colleagues and students his most vitriolic objections. Thankfully, the reader is treated with less consideration. Keizer tells it how he sees it, a refreshing deviation from what one reads in most education circles, where feel-good platitudes and self-serving positivity have spread like a plague among the go-along-to-get-along crowd.

An astute observer of the humans around him, deftly comprehending his students’ motives and his co-workers’ likely reactions should he speak what’s on his mind, Keizer models what it is to be a professional educator. New teachers could do far worse than he for a mentor.

While I could go on about Keizer’s sparkling prose and impressive ability to cut directly to the marrow of a matter, I’ll let his words speak for themselves. Here are three of my favorite passages from the book. They serve here not as highlights, but as representative of the entire work. It was a rare page that didn’t contain some polished gem of truth, some elegant turn of phrase I had to savor again, some deliciously searing critique to which I nodded in agreement, some poignant moment that we sometimes take for granted in the hustle and bustle of our teaching days.

On planning:

“Any teacher worth his or her salt will tell you that there are gains to be had by laying the plan aside and going with the flow of a class’s sudden inspiration, but show me a teacher who sees this as the norm, and I’ll show you a teacher living in a pipe dream of delusional serendipity. In a word, I’ll you show you a slacker.”

Responding to the book Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap:

“I’m also troubled by the repeated, snide, and almost sinister references to those recalcitrant teachers who insist on acting as “lone wolves” and on treating their classrooms as “personal kingdoms.” Admittedly, these are fair descriptors of one of the worst kinds of teacher: the self-described maverick whose primary aims are to amuse himself and do as little work as possible. Not for him a plan book or comprehensive exam; such trivialities are at odds with this “style,” his “philosophy,” his plans for the weekend. At the same time, the authors seem to indict the very teachers who played the biggest role in my formation. Those teachers were never lazy but they were indeed lone wolves, sleek-furred beauties who preferred howling at the moon of their own lunatic inspirations to sniffing hindquarters among the faulty pack. One of their type, a foreign language teacher still going strong after my last stint at the school, still whisking kids away to France on a wing and a bake sale, even as she brings France to them by the vivaciousness of her instruction, will say to me, “I’m afraid the day of the teacher as artist is dead.”

On graduation:

“As in the past, I view commencement exercises as an act of penance for the sins of the teaching year. Not a full expiation, for sure, but at least an act of contrition. The lengthy monotony of the proceedings, the stifling heat of a gymnasium in mid-June, the oxygen deprivation that comes from sitting with hundreds of spectators in a scarcely ventilated space — what else besides a guilty conscience could keep a person coming year after year? Add to these the inevitable if unintended insult that comes from being publicly “thanked” for an education whole quality is thrown into doubt by every other sentence accompanying the thanks, the self-congratulatory tone and smug insider jokes of the valedictory speakers, and the steady deflation of making the rounds afterward to congratulate students in whose eyes it’s clear that anything you might have meant to them or they to you is dissolving like a mirage. Most of all, the oppressive loneliness that is relieved only by remembering that any number of the students up on the dais are feeling lonelier still. At the conclusion of what many of them have repeatedly been assured are the best years of their lives — which in some cases will prove sadly true, the relative crappiness of those years notwithstandings — small wonder that more than a few of them will be stone drunk by nightfall.”

Lazy students, imperious administrators, absurd regulations,  frequent galling interruptions, the new religion of technology, the short-sighted focus on standardized tests. It’s all in there. But so is the human side. The unexpected death of a colleague, the harsh realities of students’ home lives as revealed in their essays, the surprising kindness of 16-year-olds, the earnest dedication of teachers who should by all rights have thrown in the towel long ago. Getting Schooled is no different than getting to school. Once inside the book, you will experience the highs and lows to which you’ve become so familiar as a teacher. The book is a reminder that while there’s plenty to loathe in education today, there are also moments that make life worth living and teaching worth doing.






There Will Be No Beanstalk

What will it be next year? Which book or program will capture the imagination of America’s school administrators? Which teacher turned thought leader will have her fortunes changed over night? Which consultant, too opportunistic and cowardly to remain in the arena and teach actual students, will be charging thousands of dollars to tell teachers how to do their jobs? Which business concept will weasel its way into America’s schools? What new elixir will I be forced to choke down, as impotent to resist as a baby whose mother airplanes a spoonful of unappetizing gruel toward his pinched mouth?

I do not know, but experience suggests it will be something. Likely, it will be something I’ve sampled before, under new management and packaged in a more attractive box. Something tasted by teachers who, after masticating for a while and maybe even swallowing, eventually spit it back up, only to chase it with something equally specious and unfulfilling.

We teachers are willing converts, regardless of how many times we’ve enthusiastically purchased the snake oil in the past. Sent off to a conference on the latest educational wonder drug, our initial skepticism is quickly replaced with reluctant acceptance by some and acolytic zeal by others. Our principals stand in front us with a tenuous grasp of the panacea they offer and virtually no understanding of the underlying science, but they assure us that it’s “research-based.” They point to a district where it supposedly worked, neglecting to mention that said district bears no resemblance to our own.

Still, we nod our heads. We sit in staff meetings where we are told that this, yes this, is our salvation! The magic bullet that will finally, finally raise those test scores, send more kids off to college, and make our schools the place everyone wants to be. Stick a Ph.D. on the end of a name and watch us assent under the assumption that someone smarter than us has the answer.

The remaining skeptics among us won’t dare say anything for fear of being labeled negative, or difficult, or not a team player, or not in it for the kids. No reason to place a target on our backs, not when we’ve been here before and know that this too shall pass.

And maybe in the back of our minds we think — having been told in so many ways over so many years that we’ve never measured up, never given these kids what they deserve — that, why not? Why not try this new thing? After all, what we’ve been doing hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire.

Teachers, I think, often feel like Jack’s mother in the fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk. At our wit’s end, on the verge of giving up, and as a last-ditch effort, we decide to trade in the family cow. We’ve barely been getting by as it is. Nothing is working and it never will. Desperate, we hope for deliverance. After all, anything is better than a useless cow.

And wouldn’t you know it? There’s a peddler offering just the thing. Magic beans! The answer to all our troubles! Consultants, books, new programs, repackaged ideas, all sold by slick traffickers who, unlike us, were savvy enough to make a living in education outside of the classroom.

But teaching isn’t a fairy tale and there will be no beanstalk that teachers will climb to heretofore unattained heights. There is no magic. No riches. No geese who lay golden eggs. No magic harp. Not even an enraged giant or his concerned wife. They may be different sizes and colors than the beans we’ve planted before, but they’re still just beans.

Still, there will be hope. The newly acquired beans planted, we’ll look out the window, expecting that any day now we’ll wake up and see a beanstalk. We’re sure of it.

This is the curse of being a teacher. We will forever be hoping the beans will sprout. No matter how many times they fail to germinate, we will always trade away the cow in the hope of something transformational. And instead of scolding us for our foolishness, as the mother does Jack in the story, our leaders will present to us new beans with promises that this time we will surely be able to climb to the clouds.

Undeterred by broken promises, we will believe again. We’ll return to the window and stare at the soil, positive that this time there will be growth.

The eagerness to drink the Kool-Aid is our curse.  It is also our blessing.

For what is teaching if not blind hope? Why keep showing up if you don’t carry within you an implausible faith in miracles? If teachers believe that they, through nothing more than their dedication and efforts, can turn a kid around who has everything going against him, then is it at all surprising that when a man offers to trade magic beans for our tired cow we jump at the opportunity?

We believe in miracles because we believe in the biggest miracle of all: That we, set against apathy and neglect, hunger and abuse, poverty and hopelessness, can make a difference. Against all odds, we believe in the future of every single student. It’s an absurd belief, one that no rational person would hold, one that the data have never supported, yet we believe it with every fiber of our being, just as we believe that this time, there will be a beanstalk.


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