7 Ways to Motivate Your English Language Learners (ELLs) and Avoid Discipline Problems!

August 20, 2010 by admin  
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Successfully teaching a second language would not be able to occur without a key factor – motivation. Rod Ellis defines motivation as referring to “the efforts which learners put into learning a second language as a result of their need or desire to learn” (Ellis, 1995).


The two main types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic, can affect the learning process. Intrinsic motivation is task motivation that derives from an inherent interest in the learning tasks while extrinsic motivation refers to the external influences that affect the strength of learner’s motivation such as that which comes from teachers and parents.

While some students have their own intrinsic motivation or external motivation, other students need to be motivated to learn. Students are more likely to want to learn when they appreciate the value of the classroom activities, and when they believe they will succeed if they apply reasonable effort. “A student motivation to learn is an acquired competence developed through general experiences but stimulated most directly through modeling, communication of expectations, and direct instruction or socialization by significant others – especially teachers and parents” (Brophy, 1987). When it comes to lower performing learners, teachers realize that such learners are accustomed to experiencing failure, therefore, their task is to help them experience success.

There are many things that you can do as a language teacher to motivate students to learn so they attain a better sense of self-worth:

Cater levels of activity to students’ level. Make sure learning tasks pose a reasonable challenge to the students – neither too difficult nor too easy. Students are motivated when they are challenged and both the challenge and the skill level are relatively high.

Minimize student’s performance anxiety during learning activities. When the level of challenge is too high for a student to handle, the outcome is anxiety. When the challenge is lower than a student’s ability, the outcome is boredom.

Nurture a child’s curiosity. Nurturing a child’s curiosity means using less traditional teaching techniques and/or material. If our methodology of teaching is too constant, our students will become bored and may start misbehaving. Therefore, it is best to avoid the consistent and regular pattern of classroom routine and use new and fresh ways of presenting information.

Provide a supportive environment and establish a trusting bond. “Motivation is the feeling nurtured primarily by the teacher in the learning situation” (Ellis, 1994). Greet your students, interact with them, indicate a personal concern about them as individuals.

Help students recognize links between effort and outcome. Learning is a long term plan of effort and investment.

Give equal opportunities for success. Some of our learners want to reap the reward for achieving a high level of English. Some learners may take a sincere and personal interest in the people and culture represented by the other language group. Whatever reason students may have for learning a second language, it is important to give equal opportunities for success. In classroom contexts where ELLs have little or no interest in the target language culture and few opportunities, (for example, in English as a foreign language (EFL) settings, teachers can provide specific learning tasks that require a combination of effort and desire to achieve the goal of learning the language.

Create a classroom community using cooperative learning techniques. The importance of cooperative learning helps students develop a healthy sense of self, which is also significant for developing a child’s motivation. In cooperative learning, groups of students work together on learning activities so that there is positive inter-dependence and all organized groups have a specific role in order to achieve success. Collaborative group effort results in a strong connection between the group’s members and the feeling of achievement because group work eliminates to a certain extent, the need for one individual’s achievement to be attained at the expense of another student.

If you are convinced of the value of motivating your English language learners and do your best to foster the habit, you will help your students succeed. If lessons are appropriate in level and are satisfying in terms of content, English language learners will be more motivated to learn. This in the long run, will help foster all different levels of motivation in a variety of learning contexts. This way, you are ensuring that your learners have optimal chances for success.

Articles on Motivating Students
Brophy, J. Synthesis of Research for Motivating Students to Learn. HYPERLINK “http://www.nwrel.org/scpd/re-engineering/rycu/ReferenceDetails.asp?RefID=181″ Educational Leadership, Oct. 1987. p.40-48. (article summary)
Ellis, R. (1994) HYPERLINK “http://www.amazon.com/Second-Language-Acquisition-Applied-Linguistics/dp/0194371891″ The Study of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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