Tips for Motivating ESL Students

By L. Morska

Becoming intrinsically motivated. There are many ways teachers can help their students become intrinsically motivated:

- There should be a mild level of anxiety, or "low affective filter" in the classroom and in the whole learning environment. The attitude the student has towards the learning environment, the teacher, the material, and towards him/herself all affect this level of anxiety. A student will find it difficult to perform in a stressful environment.

- Proper classroom explanation is needed by the teacher, so the students can well understand what is expected of them. In the EFL classroom it is more apt to create anxiety because the explanations are given in another language that takes even more effort by the students to comprehend than their own language. A well-planned lesson is essential. The teacher must be creative and flexible. De-pending on the nature of the class and the students' levels, the dynamics of the class must be appropriate. The lessons must be very simple, yet funny and interesting, with a lot of changes from a writing exercise, to speaking, listening, back to writing, and so on, all in the same class.

- The material must also be relevant to the students. Try to use vocabulary that the students can relate to and material they would find interesting.

- Another important aspect of improving the intrinsic motivation of the students is to be a caring teacher. Although guidelines and rules must be set and understood by the students, and if they cross the guidelines and punishment follows, the teacher must be approachable and understanding. Students must feel the teacher is genuine and supportive, and the students' values and opinions will be respected. Teachers must be kind and listen fairly to the students, and be patient when they don't understand. A caring teacher tries to develop a relationship with the students. If the teacher sees potential in all students, and communicates this well to the students, they will in return build a desire to learn and participate.

- Energy sells. A teacher's positive energy could lead to the students becoming more motivated. If the students see that the teacher is happy to be in the classroom and excited to teach them, then the students can learn by example. A smile is essential. Positive attitude is a must for a successful learning atmosphere. To promote self-confidence, it helps if the teacher is self-confident. Positive approval and praise for student efforts is very effective, even if the student is wrong. Let the students know that you're glad they tried and being wrong isn't such a big problem, and the students won't be so reluctant the next time they're called on to participate. Positive energy affirming a belief in the students' ability develops a comfortable atmosphere for the students in the classroom.

- Increased parental awareness is also crucial to a child's motivation. To support motivation, parents must participate actively in the student's life. The same set of goals and practices at school that promote motivation should be followed at home. If they are not followed at home, it could dilute classroom efforts.

The following suggestions of motivating students may also be helpful in any language classroom:
- Make use of the students' environment. Foreign language teaching should always be linked to the environment of the learners. A teacher who teaches English without addressing the immediate environment of the school makes the English lesson detached from the learners' experiences. In order to remedy the situation, teachers can link the environment of the school to any activity or exercise that they want to carry out in the classroom. A child has a natural context in which he organises the various activities that make up his life. If these activities are "reproduced" in the language classroom, it is possible to motivate him/her to do the task at hand. Therefore games and other daily activities should constitute the heart of the English class. The only new factor will be the language itself. Used in this way, English will no longer be feared and students will be more inclined to study it.

- Present the language in natural chunks. In a foreign language situation, the teacher remains the main source or model for the pupils. She or he should try hard to use the language as naturally as possible.

- Use appropriate visual aids. Visual aids are important tools for the teacher. Used appropriately in the classroom, they enable the teacher to avoid long and confusing explanations. At the same time they help the teacher to have a lively class as students associate real objects with their English equivalents.

- Include cultural components. Language and culture are interrelated. One cannot study a language without noting the cultural aspects of the people who use the language natively. However, cultural aspects can be a real hindrance because they may set up barriers to comprehension. This is more evident to teachers who are not native speakers of the target language themselves. For this reason, teachers should provide sufficient background information to enable the learners to understand the cultural content that is naturally present in the target language.

- Become an efficient manager. A company's success is usually attributed to the way in which it is managed. Likewise, the success of a language course reflects the teacher's dexterity or expertise. In other words, the teacher should know how to talk to his students if they are to fully participate in the lesson. In this respect, their interests, needs, and experiences must be taken into consideration. The student factor, as it is often called, should be carefully examined. The deciding factor here is the way in which the teacher talks to his pupils. When the teacher is humane and sensitive, seeing his students as capable of contributing something to the lessons, a warm and enjoyable classroom atmosphere can be created and maintained.

If the above principles are taken into account and implemented with care, teachers will be able to have lively English lessons.