ETp 5 – coaching for motivation


As teachers we can design classroom activities which we think will tap into our learners’ motivations as individuals and as a group, but if we are to coach our learners towards greater autonomy then we need to hand over the “motivational controls” so that they can tap into it themselves when we aren’t around. Motivation is at the heart of effective independent learning, so learners need to do two things:

  • recognise their motivation
  • maintain and boost it

Here are two activities which you can do with your learners to help them recognise and take charge of their own motivation. We conclude with a checklist of ideas which will help you create a motivation rich classroom which will help sustain and boot your learners’ motivation.

Recognising motivation

Activity one

This activity helps students explore their own motivations

1 Read the example of Dan talking about a time when he felt very motivated

“Recently I did my first half marathon. Ten weeks before the race I found a training schedule on the internet which told me when and how far to run each week. I printed it and put it on the wall in the kitchen. It was magic! That little piece of paper made me run four times a week… and I always did it. I’ve been running for a couple of years but I was never as motivated before. Not surprisingly, since the race I usually only go running once or twice a week.”

2 Write about a time when you felt very motivated about something. It could be at school or at home, a hobby, a personal goal or a project of some kind.

3 Think about what you have written. Try to identify important motivational factors. In Dan’s case we could point to

  • the race as a motivator. Dan has something to prepare for, an event which will measure his progess in some way.
  • Dan’s autonomy. He made the decision to print and follow a training schedule and he chose the best schedule for him.
  • Dan’s discipline. He kept to the schedule and didn’t give up.

4 Compare with a partner or in small groups. What common factors are there in your stories? What differences are there?

5 Relate what you have talked about to your English learning. What can Dan learn from his marathon training experience that he can apply to improving his Spanish? What can you learn from your motivation stories which you can apply to learning English?

Activity Two

This helps students think about the different reasons they may have for learning English.

1. Read what other learners say about their motivation. Tick any that have similar reasons to you. How are your reasons different?

1 “I’m learning English because it will be useful for my job.”

2 “It’s the language of science and research. I need to pass English to succeed in my studies”

3 “We’re going on holiday to New York in October.”

4 “I always wanted to learn English again but until now I haven’t tried. English will help me develop personally and professionally. I’d really like to be able to express myself in English.”

5 “I wasn’t very good at English at school, we had a terrible teacher and it was just another subject, another obligation. But now it’s my hobby and I’m learning it because I want to, not because I have to.”

6 “I tried English classes three times before but they never lasted more than a few months. Then, two years ago a good friend said that she wanted to do the same, and now I never miss a class. Knowing that she’ll be there means I don’t want to stop.”

7 “The world is such a small place these days: travelling, on the internet, films and TV and so on, and it’s all English, English, English. I want to be part of the global community.”

8 “I remember the first time I went to Dublin, I couldn’t say anything. I felt like Tarzan! I just pointed to things that I wanted and smiled. But the last time I went to Ireland was much better. I could order food in a restaurant and ask questions politely. My boyfriend was so impressed. A good feeling!

9 “I don’t know, I’ve always enjoyed it, ever since I was at school. I was good at it so I carried on. It’s a part of my life that I’m really happy with.”

Did you tick more than one of these reasons? That’s good because it means your motivation is strong enough to help you keep learning even if things change.

2. Now read the text below about the different types of motivation that these 9 learners illustrate

Learners 1,2 and 3 have clear, practical reasons for learning English. English is necessary in their lives, jobs, hobbies and interests. We can call these ‘extrinsic‘ motivations or goals and they can be very important because they help us decide our long-term objectives.

Learners 4 and 5 are motivated because they can make their own decisions about how, when, who with and for how long they do it. If they are in control, they take responsibility for learning. Their motivation comes from ‘autonomy‘.

Learners 6 and 7 enjoy sharing the learning experience with other people. It is important to be part of a community and to speak to people with similar interests… to have friends! We can call this motivation ‘relatedness‘.

Learners 8 and 9 want to keep learning because they are good at it. They enjoy making progress and it makes them feel good about themselves. We can call this motivation ‘competence‘.

3. Think about your motivation. How much of it comes from competence, relatedness, autonomy or some extrinsic reason? Mark them from 1 to 5 on these ‘motivation dials’.

4. Now write about your motivations. You may sometimes want to look at them so write them in an important place in your notebook or on a piece of paper in your wallet.  You can write them like this:

“I’m learning English because…

“I’m learning English so I can…

“I think the most important reason why I’m learning English is…

“But I also…

“Maybe in the future I will…

Maintaining and boosting motivation

Here is a checklist for helping your students maintain and boost their motivation. (Can you relate each item to the four motivators identified in activity 2?)

  1. Make sure your classroom is a community where learners have the chance to participate and a say in what happens, when it happens and how it happens (whatever their age!)
  2. Suggest they keep a learning journal in which they reflect on what they have learnt, what activities they have liked or disliked, what is affecting their learning. Alternatively, or in addition, allow class time for them to report on this to a partner or in small groups
  3. Exploit the motivational tools that accompany coursebooks these days. These may include progress tests, ‘can do’ self-evaluative checklists and CEF-based portfolios. All aim to foster feelings of competence.
  4. Wherever possible give your students a choice of what they do in class and for homework, either as a group by voting for one activity which everyone will do or allowing them individually to choose different activities.
  5. Help students set goals for themselves, as a group and individually. Encourage them to write these down and check their progress.
  6. Offer your students the opportunity to prepare for an external exam which relates to their needs, such as the Trinity GESE exams for spoken English
  7. Promote the out-of-class activities suggested in previous articles in this series. If self-study is stimulating, they’ll be more likely to choose to do it in their own time.
  8. Do activities in class such as the two suggested in this article and follow up on them.
  9. Ask your students how they are feeling about their English on a regular basis. Ask them where their motivation levels are from one week to the next. Get them to ask each other.
  10. Be a role model by paying attention to your own motivation!

Finally, it isn’t enough to do a lesson on motivation and think your job is done. A motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar (I know!), said “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Recommended reading

Motivation, Language Identity and the L2 Self (Second Language Acquisition), ed. Zoltan Dornyei and Ema Ushioda

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel H. Pink


3 Responses to ETp 5 – coaching for motivation

  1. Mathew says:

    I’m taking the Oxford Trinity Dip course at the moment, and I was led here to do some required reading. I found this article very useful for myself. I have always struggled with maintaining my own motivation and juggling the languages that I have studied to B1/B2 level. My staple activities been vocabulary cards (memory strategies) and reading (cognitive strategies). I have never seen a thorough way of understanding how to make a solid plan that works on reinforcing motivation. I think I will try Russian again for a few weeks before trying this in the classroom.
    Great article!

  2. Jen Whelan says:

    Activity one would be a great first day lesson. I love that Zig Ziglar quote.

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