Motivating Students

by S. Batdulam
S. Batdulam is an EXCEL graduate who is currently an English teacher and the English department head at Dornod Institute.

    I have been teaching English since 1998 after I graduated from the Teachers’ College in Dornod province- six years at a secondary school, a year in Inner Mongolia, and, since 2005, I have been teaching the undergraduate students at Dornod Institute, formerly  the Teachers’ College.
    I have found out that only half of these students are motivated. The rest just come to class and sit at their desks and leave and come again for the next day. Some students’ attendance is not good either.
    As I have said above, I used to teach high school students. Then I thought those who were interested in English could learn English.  There were some students who fell behind in class. Since they were not interested in English, I did not care about them much. I thought I could not make them be motivated. We say not everyone must be mathematicians, doctors or teachers. I believed in this.
    The secondary school where I taught was far from the city center, and the students were from poor family backgrounds. Most of the students were not very motivated to learn anything, not just English.  Usually their parents did not care for them well but thought only of earning a living. I preferred to work with those who desired to study English.
    However, now the situation is completely different. Now I teach those who are expected to be English teachers. I want my teacher trainee students to work in better conditions than I did, and I want them to help many young children not to lose but to keep their interest in English class from their first year of studying it.

What is motivation?
    Motivation is the key to all learning. It is one of the most important factors in a student’s success in English. Motivation means having a real purpose in learning English or really wanting to learn English for a reason. Some people are very strongly motivated to learn a language. Lack of motivation is perhaps the biggest obstacle faced by teachers. The main idea of motivation is to capture the child’s attention and curiosity and channel their energy towards learning.
    As an English teacher, do you think your students are learning English because they are being pushed by parents, teachers or school requirements? Or do you think they are learning because they want to learn for their own purposes and reasons?
    To find answers to these questions, have your students do the questionnaires below.  In this questionnaire a student gets two scores. Each score tells where his motivation comes from.

                                         (Click to enlarge or right click and save to your computer to print a copy)

    The score on Part I tells you how strongly your student’s motivation comes from inside him. If his score is between 13 and 20, his motivation to learn English comes strongly from inside him.  He is learning English for his own reasons and purposes. If your student’s score on Part I is between 5 and 12, his own reasons and purposes for learning English are not very strong.
    Your student’s score on Part II tells you how strongly other influences are pushing him to learn English. If his score is between 16 and 20, he is very motivated by other influences. If his score is between 5 and 15, he is not strongly motivated by what other people want him to do.
    Now look again at your student’s scores on the questionnaire. This is what the scores mean:

Score        13-20:   Part I   High self-motivation,   Part II  High motivation from others
Score          5-12:   Part I   Low self-motivation,    Part II  Low motivation from others

    There are two important terms about motivation: internal motivation and external motivation.  Self-motivation is internal, and motivation from others is external. Internal motivation means that your student is doing something because he wants to do it or because he has made his own choice to do it; he does not need a reward from someone else to do well. His success is his reward; just knowing that he has learned something pleases him. Research has found that when people are motivated by their own wants and needs they are almost always successful.
    External motivation is when other influences, such as you as a teacher or school requirements, push your student to do something. In this case, he often needs to receive rewards, such as good grades, high scores, and praise. Without rewards, he may not be motivated enough to study English very hard. People who are motivated by outside influences are usually not so successful, because their reasons for learning do not come from inside them.
    Keller (1983) identified ability and motivation as the major sources of variation in educational success. Ability refers to what a person can do; motivation, to what a person will do.
    Gardner (1985) now proposes that the following equation can be used to represent the components of motivation.


How can I motivate my students?
    I learned that motivating my students begins with very simple strategies that I sometimes ignore.
    The chart below is a chart of  motivational strategies used in the language classroom (Wlodkowinski’s Instructional Clarity Checklist, 1986: 42). I could adjust it a little and conduct a survey among my students to find out precisely what I do with them in my classroom  that is helpful and learn from my mistakes.  Furthermore, I can use these strategies  in my teaching.

                                         (Click to enlarge or right click and save to your computer to print a copy)

     You can conduct these two kinds of surveys among your students and see if strategies you use in your teaching are good enough to help students get motivated and whether or not your students are already internally motivated.

Here are some more strategies I can use in my classroom:
  • Group work. Mix up strong and weak students, so that students learn from each other and the weak ones can get ideas of succeeding like the strong ones and get more motivated.
  • Deciding relevant topics for students. While I was enrolled in professional development training in the York University, Toronto, Canada with 30 other Mongolian English teachers, I had a chance to observe some teachers’ classes and talk to them about the issue. Patricia, the York University English Language Institute instructor, said it was very important to choose relevant and interesting topics for the students’ classes. For example, “The issue of obesity is a big problem in North America. I could have chosen another issue, but that is not very relevant to the students,” she said.
  • Encouraging students. Ask the students to talk to the upper level students and get motivated to achieve like them. Encourage students to learn from someone else’s experience.
  • Let students make a choice. Students can do research work or journal writing on a topic that they are interested in. 
    Patricia also added that teaching English in her situation is different because her students usually have internal/intrinsic motivation and desire to improve their English and to study in North America. They are interested in English. She thinks both external and internal motivation are important. Many parents want their children to study English, and it is a kind of pressure.  Gail Cappaert of Dekalb, Illinois says that “sometimes seeing another person from their own background who is successful can be quite motivating.”
    John Keller (1987) describes four motivational concepts and characteristics which can be easily adapted to the language classroom:
  • Attention
  • Relevance
  • Confidence
  • Satisfaction
     The teacher must gain students’ attention by planning stimulating activities and using a variety of teaching strategies. Almost everything a teacher does in the classroom has a motivational influence on students.
     For my ‘strategies’ survey, sixteen students of the third and fourth year were surveyed. The results showed that, for me, strategies 4, 5, 8,19, 23, and 24 should be improved, because the ‘always’ column scores were below 50. My students want me
  • to stay with a topic until they understand,
  • to try to find out when they don’t understand and then repeat things,
  • to repeat things when they do not understand,
  • to show examples of how to do course work and assignments,
  • to go over difficult assignments until they understand how to do them, and
  • to ask if they know what to do and how to do it.
I do strategies 1, 2, 6, 7, 17 and 21 well according to the survey result. I received these results:
  • 93.7% said I always explain things simply.
  • 87.5% said I give explanations they understand.
  • 75% said I teach things step by step.
  • 75% said I describe the work to be done and how to do it. 
  • 81.25% said I  explain  the assignment and the materials they need to do it; and
  • 75% said I  answer their questions.
    I would like to share with you the results of my motivation survey that I conducted among the first and fourth-year English majors  at the Dornod Institute. I place more emphasis on the first and fourth-year students’ results. I am wondering if these first year students are motivated enough to be trained from the beginning as Mongolian and English, and Russian and English teachers.
For the fourth-year students, I wonder if they will be successful after they graduate from the Institute. Are they studying just for diplomas? Or are they going to experience pleasure and satisfaction such as the joy of  teaching and satisfying their curiosity.  

Here is the result of the survey of student motivation:

Classes Number of Students Surveyed High self-motivation and low motivation from others High self-motivation and high motivation from others Very motivated by other influences Low self-motivation and high motivation from others
1st year (Mongolian-English) 22 14 5 2 1
1st year (Russian-English)  25 15 5 4 1
3rd Year 24 19 5 ~ ~
4th Year 19 16 3 ~ ~

     If I compare the results of the older students to the first-year students, we have more low self-motivated students in the first -year classes. I guess they are still in a “new place” and confused about whether they really would like to be language teachers. Probably some of them wanted to go to different universities in Ulaanbaatar, but they either were not accepted for admission or had some financial problems. So their parents “forced” them to go to the institute. Since then they have been pushed by their parents, and they are not internally motivated yet.
     The older students have gone to the institute for three or four years and they have been internally motivated according to the survey result. Perhaps in their early years they were like the first year students – pushed by their parents. However, during their years at the Institute, I think they have been gradually changed.
     Survey results are always interesting. Now see for yourself if you can find something interesting about your students’ motivation and if your teaching strategies are motivational.


Motivating Students References:
Peter Skehen (1989) “Individual differences in second-language learning”
Rebecca. L (1996) “Language learning motivation: Pathways to the new century” University of Hawaii Press
Zoltan Dornyei (2001) “Motivational strategies in the language classroom” Cambridge University Press
“Strategies for success” A practical guide to learning English
Internet (Google search):
    •Dimitrios Thanasoulas “Motivation and motivating in the foreign language classroom”
    •Kizmet Oz “Generating motivation to learn English can be achieved through instruction design and teaching”
    •William Lile “Motivation in the ESL classroom”