What, deep down, motivates our learners? How can teachers connect with what truly matters to them? #ELTchat Summary 10/12/2014

A PLN for ELT Professionals

What, deep down, motivates our learners? How can teachers connect with what truly matters to them? #ELTchat Summary 10/12/2014

by Marjorie Rosenberg


This lively chat got off to a roaring start as elt chatters commented on what motivation is and the different types that show up in the classroom. These continued throughout the chat although other topics came up in the meantime. These were that were at the beginning of the chat.


  • MarjorieRosenbe: My students vary – some self-motivated, others need encouragement.
  • ELTwriter: short vs long term goals/motivational strategies teacher can utilize.
  • MarjorieRosenbe: in business English motivation is often practical and work-related.
  • MarjorieRosenbe: At university motivation often related to what is necessary for academic career.
  • patrickelt: Yes.  Need to use English in most effective ways for real life purposes.
  • patrickelt: Can be higher, for example, if about to go to conference.


These came towards the middle of the chat after discussions on other related topics.


  • MarjorieRosenbe: Again, it depends why they are there. Some just come for fun, others to learn.
  • HadaLitim: This sounds great on longer courses. Our courses are only 6 weeks – could that work? If yes, how?
  • angelos_bollas: Does it not? Those coming for fun could demotivate the rest of the group, couldn’t they?
  • MarjorieRosenbe: Not necessarily. Had a student who made no progress but loved being in class. Was never a problem.
  • angelos_bollas: then the question is: how can we motivate this learner to make progress?
  • MarjorieRosenbe: This was General English Adult ed, some just want to be in a social environment, get away from other problems, etc.
  • MarjorieRosenbe: But I guess coming for fun is also motivation. Have we said what they should be motivated to do?
  • MarjorieRosenbe: Devil’s Advocate Q – does motivation always mean wanting to improve the language?
  • MarjorieRosenbe: Could we say motivation is necessary if they want to learn to communicate better?



Learning by Hana Tichá on #eltpics

Learning by Hana Tichá on #eltpics

The discussion on motivation in general led to these specific questions:

How can we help students become more motivated?


  • Marisa_C: So Teachers CAN effect motivation through engaging content and tasks?
  • kaurgibbons: Last week’s #ELTchat was all about different teaching styles and what works best – very much connected to today’s topic.
  • MarjorieRosenbe: Also think that allowing room for personalisation and experimentation very motivating.
  • patrickelt: Yes, and if students can see we value languages, this can be very useful.
  • MarjorieRosenbe: Yes, give them the space to experiment without being judged.
  • Philip_Saxon: Agreed! Risk taking enables growth. Testing is something else.
  • angelos_bollas: Yes. When students get that we follow a schedule instead of them, they lose interest.
  • MarjorieRosenbe: The reason I stopped handing out a syllabus stating what would happen each week.
  • HadaLitim: We’ve recently been made to distribute one but I usually renegotiate it with my students.
  • Philip_Saxon: Interesting. I set milestones but in-between flexibility is maybe advisable.
  • angelos_bollas: I think that knowing what is going to happen is helpful. Especially if they have a say in it.
  • Marisa_C: Could a negotiable syllabus with ongoing feedback work best for some groups?
  • Marisa_C: It works for us – we have core can-dos, optional ones and Ss’ preferences. All three make up the syllabus.
  • HadaLitim: I agree. When they helped negotiate the syllabus and we refer back to it, it keeps them focused.
  • Philip_Saxon: Interesting suggestion. I like it when students choose topics but I set criteria for presentations, for example.
  • Philip_Saxon: Yes, I ask students to demonstrate certain techniques using a range of options from TL provided.
  • Marisa_C Topics and TL?
  • HadaLatim: Was just curious to find out if students could actually choose their own TL. Wise to let them choose from a range.
  • MartinaEmke: Online tools could be helpful too.
  • Marisa_C: Voxopop for recording a speaking homework or holding an after-class online discussion.
  • Philip_Saxon: MyBrainshark very good – students created own presentations with it. Motivating? Lots of feedback and students learnt IT skills, too.
  • MarjorieRosenbe: Also need to recognise needs of individual learners and respect them.
  • MarjorieRosenbe: I give them reward stickers, praise them, show I like them. Very motivating.
  • HadaLitim: I’m not surprised. In language schools, they definitely don’t want us to be like their school teachers.
  • MarjorieRosenbe: I think we need to stay flexible – leaving the lesson plan to meet needs is vital.
  • MarjorieRosenbe: Also think that rapport with students is a motivating factor. When they feel understood they work harder.
  • angelos_bollas: And when they understand that T cares about them and their progress.


What problems come up and what solutions can we offer?


  • ALiCe__M: Well I must admit not all students seem very pleased to read my very carefully chosen poems.
  • Marisa_C: Perhaps how you exploit them could increase Task motivation? e.g. word cloud – make the poem, then read original?
  • Marisa_C: and maybe ask them to choose poems they like for u to use for teaching?
  • ALiCe__M: problem is lack of vocab/syntax and painstaking explanations. And I don’t want to be at the centre. So let them approach poem.


What about motivation from the student’s point of view?


  • angelos_bollas: Being in a class with very strong students motivates me as a student
  • MarjorieRosenbe: And some students are then more intimidated and just give up unfortunately. But community of learning important.
  • angelos_bollas: I try to make successful completion of the course become a personal challenge for them. Not good with all students though.
  • angelos_bollas: meant make it a competition. Though, making SS responsible for own learning could work great with teens.
  • angelos_bollas: There are students for whom competition is demotivating, indeed.
  • patrickelt: As a learner, competition is irrelevant to me.
  • HadaLitim: One-to-one counselling also works a treat in re-lighting a student’s fading motivation.


Does anyone discuss motivation at the beginning of a course or class?


  • angelos_bollas: How do we know what really motivates them before the beginning of a course? Is asking them enough?
  • patrickelt: Think you are right to be sceptical – need to keep observing – motives might be vague/unclear.
  • Marisa_C: Are we talking about all ages and goals? Might help if we start with YLs or adults as motivations differ.
  • Marisa_C: I also do a lesson on good learner traits early on and then talk about how to go about being one.
  • HadaLitim: They also want us to make their objectives achievable. appropriate pitching of work is essential to keep motivation going.
  • patrickelt: And difficult to foresee future needs – sometimes students do not have language awareness.
  • Marisa_C: Looks as if we’re all saying that acquainting students with research (esp for adults) could be powerful tool; lessons can be done on this.
  • MarjorieRosenbe: May depend on adults – haven’t come across this in corporate training. Practical info is what they want.
  • Marisa_C: of course! i don’t mean READing the research but using simplified versions of how to be successful.
  • HadaLatin: Flip classes. SS can do their research at home and report back to class.
  • MarjorieRosenbe: I give hints on strategies based on what I know about their learning preferences.


Is motivation different depending on the age group or type of class?


  • Shaunwilden: Yes I think the different ages have different goals and therefore motivations.
  • Marisa_C: YLs motivated by encouraging, playful and affectionate teachers.
  • angelos_bollas: So, ESP, EAP, exam classes, etc. easier to motivate them, there is an obvious goal. What about General English classes?
  • patrickelt: But easier to motivate students on pre-sessional than in-sessional courses – perhaps because they have fewer distractions.
  • patrickelt: …in-sessional students often concerned with getting through subject courses as best they can.
  • Marisa_C: if we can do it on 4-week Celta’s with heavy content why not design language lessons on this?


What about rapport?


  • MarjorieRosenbe: Establishing rapport means showing you like and accept them for who they are.
  • MarjorieRosenbe: Also understanding others’ point of view even if you disagree.
  • angelos_bollas: Being approachable and act as a role model for them + caring about and respecting them.
  • Marisa_C: I guess we can promote good rapport by being open and inclusive.


Several people gave links or other sources.

Marisa_C: Do read summary of a previous #ELTchat on motivation after an #Iatefl confhttp://t.co/1oMqnExFKP

MarjorieRosenbe: I relate what we are learning to their lives and experiences. See my blog post  http://t.co/kkntOZvsuN

Marisa_C: I use this questionnaire on good learner traits based on the research done on topichttp://t.co/Z1Z0hcFqCv

MarjorieRosenbe: Classroom Dynamics by Jill Hadfield also had questionnaire on what makes good learner.

HadaLatim: Rapport and Group cohesion – see a previous chat on this http://t.co/0purpFbMjZ

MsKuiper: I use this questionnaire on good learner traits based on the research done on topichttp://t.co/Z1Z0hcFqCv