By Cristina Cabal

20 January 2017 - 10:00

'Get students out of their seats and moving.' Image (c) Mat Wright
'Get students out of their seats and moving.' Image ©

Mat Wright

Cristina Cabal has been teaching for 26 years. She shares some of her top tips for keeping students motivated.

How do you keep students motivated? I like to compare it to keeping a healthy successful marriage. Like passion, motivation eventually fades away if you don’t feed it every day. It takes time, effort and energy - but it is worthwhile.

In my experience, what keeps students motivated is a motivated teacher. If you have a passion for teaching, your students are more likely to show a passion for learning. However, I’m afraid it also works the other way round: if you don't care about teaching, your students won't care about learning.

So, here are a few effective tips I have collected over the years:

Involve your students

You will not keep your students motivated if you do not involve them and let them take an active role in your classes. Long gone are the days when teachers talked for most of the lesson, with students taking a passive role. Classes need to be student-centred. The teacher should act as a coach and facilitator; to help, guide and direct the learning process.

Give students the chance to shine

It is also very important to give students the opportunity to be successful. Give them tasks where they can see the results of their efforts. That feeling of 'yeah, I did it!', that 'a-ha' feeling students get when they have done a difficult exercise, boosts their motivation. 

Make learning fun

Make your classes memorable. Use games and competitions. Everybody loves competitions, and it gives students a nice opportunity to interact with each other, have fun and learn at the same time.

Step away from the textbooks

Bring in authentic material that your students can connect with, and that matches their needs and interests. Create your own activities and show them that you are also prepared to put in a lot of effort and time to help them succeed.

Explain why you are doing things a certain way

There is nothing more boring than a teacher telling students to open their book on page 22, and asking them to do exercise five. You need to explain why it is important for them to do this exercise, and what they are going to accomplish by doing it.

Give very clear instructions

When setting a task, be clear and allow students time to prepare first and ask you any questions. There is nothing more frustrating for them than not being able to perform well, because they didn’t understand the task. This is very important to students. They need to have a very clear idea of what they are supposed to do.

Set clear, attainable goals for every lesson

You want your students to leave your class thinking it was worth their while. Start your lessons by writing down your lesson plan on the corner of the board, so that students know what they are going to learn. At the end of the class, point to the lesson plan and go over everything they have learned. It’s important for them to see where they are now, and where you are going to take them next.

Vary the social dynamics and include movement

Ask students to work in pairs or in groups. Get them out of their seats and moving. Ask them to change partners regularly. To keep your students’ attention, set a variety of engaging, meaningful activities, and create a friendly atmosphere where they feel they can talk freely and ask questions.

Use different materials

We all know that our students prefer looking at a screen than at a book, so use visuals, flashcards, infographics, quizzes, and make use of new technology. There are plenty of sites that offer online quizzes, games or videos. As teachers, it’s up to us to seek out new resources that may benefit our classes, and bringing technology into our lessons is a great way to motivate students. You cannot expect your students to be motivated if you spend half the class doing endless grammar and vocabulary exercises.

Don’t over-correct

Avoid over-correcting, especially when students are speaking in front of the class. Don’t undermine their confidence by interrupting every single time they make a mistake. Listen to them, and when they finish, thank them for their contribution and point out one or two important mistakes they might have made. You can then remind students that making mistakes is a natural part of learning and that everybody makes mistakes, even the teacher.


In capital letters. A 'well done' or a 'thank you' at the end of their contribution, even if their answer was not correct, will boost confidence a lot, especially for weaker students. There is always something positive to say. Start with the positive thing, and then tactfully move on to what needs to be improved.

So what is the best tip I can offer? The one I stick to after 26 years teaching, which probably best summarises all the tips I have shared here, is 'teach as you would like to be taught'. It is as simple as that.

Cristina Cabal is also a teacher trainer, running workshops to help teachers incorporate technology into their teaching. Read her blog about hands-on practical ideas for teaching languages.

Find further information about teaching resources and opportunities on the British Council's Teach English site.

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