Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


5 Comments

Motivational Teaching in the English language classroom

Nick Thorner, author of the professional development title ‘Motivational Teaching‘ in the Into The Classroom series, explores some of the issues that cause low motivation among students and methods to overcome them. 

Few issues in education are as troubling as low student motivation. It leaves countless individuals unable to achieve their potential, and many teachers feeling demoralised. But perhaps more serious than low motivation is the lack of understanding we have of its causes, which can be complex and deep-seated. If we can’t understand our students’ lack of commitment, it’s difficult to identify strategies to deal with it and easy to blame individuals. And if students themselves feel puzzled by their apathy, they can become very frustrated. The effect can be a classroom atmosphere of resentment and mistrust.

That’s why I believe we cannot deal with the issue of low learner motivation unless we explore its causes. So we’ll begin our discussion by looking into some of the latest research on the psychology of motivation, and understand how our brains respond to the prospects of rewards, sanctions, and perceived threats. This will then lead us towards three clear approaches for raising motivation.

  1. Increasing task commitment

How often have you set students’ homework in the dying moments of lessons as they pack away their things? All too often, time pressure leaves us setting learning tasks quickly, without much thought to learner motivation. Yet there is so much we can do to help students increase their  commitment to tasks, for example:

  • Explain the reasons for the task to help students value it more.
  • Discuss stages of the task in the lesson so learners can visualise doing it.
  • Get students to decide when they’ll do the task to make procrastination less likely.

The image below shows what a task designed with motivation in mind might look like on paper. We’ll be explaining some of the other features shown below in the webinar. Presenting tasks in this way may seem a lot of work, but getting learners to engage fully with one task can help improve their self-image as learners more generally and build motivation.

  1. Breaking down barriers

No matter how attractive we try to make learning experiences, there is often deep resistance to learning on the part of our students. It’s important that we understand the psychological barriers that can stand in the way of engagement with learning behaviour. These can include:

  • low expectations of learning outcomes
  • negative associations connected with study
  • images of themselves that don’t sit comfortably with study

These psychological barriers are often firmly entrenched, but we can slowly wear them down in the way we speak with students and through exercises that help students connect learning with their own personal values and ambitions. An example might be producing a real vlog that they can post online, or doing visualisation exercises to help them imagine the life they might enjoy as proficient users of English.

  1. Creating reward-rich experiences

Finally, we all know that if we make lessons fun and interesting we can help motivate our learners. This is because memories of enjoyable learning experiences help students to predict rewarding outcomes. But labels like fun and interesting are a little too vague to be useful: in fact, there are lots of specific ways to make learning seem rewarding. So, we’ll finish our discussion by considering how we can fill learning experiences with psychological rewards, from novelty and sensory stimulation to play and revelation, and see why techniques like back-chaining can transform classroom experiences.

I hope, like me, you believe that motivational teaching is not about following general principles, but about practical day-to-day steps we can take as teachers. And by increasing our understanding of the factors that lie behind motivation, we can start discussing it honestly with students and create trusting classroom relationships.

For more information, read the Q&As from the webinar


8 Comments

Should you give homework to students who only meet with the teacher once a week?

Today’s question for the Q: Skills for Success authors: Is it a good idea to give homework to busy adults who study Business English and who meet with the teacher only once a week?

Jaimie Scanlon responds.

Do you have a question about teaching English to adults that you’d like to ask our Q author team? Comment below or email your question to qskills@oup.com.


1 Comment

Let’s Share: answers to your questions

Let's Share: Your Questions AnsweredOur Let’s Go authors answer questions from teachers about teaching young learners. Do you have a question? Visit our Let’s Share page to ask our experts.

1. What is the most effective program for teaching phonics to Japanese students?

There are many different ways to teach reading, some of which don’t even involve phonics. And teachers find each approach effective because their students learn to read. What is probably more useful is to look at the overall purpose of phonics approaches and then show how we’ve tried to incorporate them in Let’s Go. Even if you aren’t using our books, you can still use this information to help you evaluate other phonics programs in terms of whether or not they are likely to work for your students.

First, the purpose of phonics is to help children attach symbols to sounds in words. A combination of phonics words (which children can sound out based on patterns) and common sight words (like the, a, is, are) usually provide students with enough tools to get started reading independently. English-speaking children typically know between 2,500 and 5,000 words when they start using phonics to attach letters to sounds. Children learning to read English in their foreign language class know far fewer words, so it’s important to teach phonics patterns to children using words that they’ve already learned orally.

That’s one of the reasons that vocabulary in Let’s Go is so carefully controlled. We want to make sure that students have learned to say and understand the meaning of words before we ask them to read them. So, for example, when students learn that one way to show the long A sound is a__e (in Let’s Go 2), we use words learned in earlier levels: cake, make, and game. We also make sure that students can find other words in Let’s Go that fit this pattern so that they can try applying the phonics rule and develop confidence in sounding out less familiar words that are decodable. The sight words students first learn to read are the same words they’ve been using in language practice in every lesson.

We think it’s most effective if students can focus on one new thing at a time. Learning to read familiar words is a small step. Asking students to learn both the sound and meaning of new words at the same time in order to introduce new phonics patterns is too much, and ineffective in the long run.

2. What is the ideal time allotted for teaching phonics and teaching using textbooks?

Ideally, we should try to include reading practice in every lesson. Depending on the length of your classes and the number of times you see students each week, you might have a lesson focusing on phonics skills once a week or once a month, but it’s easy to incorporate reading skills in other lessons as well. For example, with very young students, you can:

  • ask them to count how many times a specific word appears in a chant or song (which builds scanning skills and reinforces the idea that spaces help us identify words)
  • have a treasure hunt asking students to find words that begin with specific sounds
  • write the words from the language pattern on cards and let students practice building sentences with a combination of word cards and picture cards.

The less contact time we have with our students, the more important it is to incorporate reading skills whenever we can.

3. Most textbooks introduce a lot of vocabulary but with little emphasis on the phonics program. What is the ideal method for allowing or injecting a learning opportunity for a phonics program, while using a textbook, to maximize the time?

You can use the vocabulary in your textbook to teach phonics. It takes a bit more effort to do this if your textbook hasn’t already planned the syllabus to teach the words students will use for phonics from the beginning, but it can be done. All you need to do is look at the words your students are learning and identify some common phonics patterns. Do your students learn vocabulary words like cat, bat, map, bag, and man? After students have learned the words and their meaning, use them to teach the short /a/ sound. Help students learn to identify initial and ending sounds by looking at the words in their lessons. Use repetitive song and chant lyrics to build sight reading skills. Teaching sounds in the context of words and reading in the context of sentences helps us make the most effective use of our class time.

4. How can I get my students to do their homework each week?

If parents are willing to work with you, it’s relatively easy as long as you keep parents informed. Some teachers send notes home, or if they use the Let’s Go parent guides, they write the week’s homework assignment at the bottom of the weekly summary. Some teachers maintain a class wiki or blog where they post homework assignments, and others send email or text messages to parents.

Ideally, you want students to do their homework without needing parent support. Learning to be responsible for assignments is an important skill for students to develop. One of the biggest reasons students don’t do homework is that they don’t understand what they’re expected to do. To prevent this from happening, take the last five minutes of class to go over the homework together. For older children, read the instructions together and confirm that they understand what to do. For younger children, you can even do the exercises orally before they leave class. If they’re expected to write, show them how they can use the Student Book page from the lesson to help them spell words if they’re unsure. A little bit of support in class can help students become independent at home.

Answers supplied by Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, Karen Frazier Tsai and Ritsuko Kagawa Nakata.

Do you have a question? Would you like free webinars, articles, videos and sample lessons? Visit our Let’s Share page to find out more…

Bookmark and Share


2 Comments

5 Steps to Better Parent Homework Involvement

In her first guest post for OUP, Nicole Whitehall, a “mommy blogger” and self-confessed tech geek, takes a look at how to get parents more involved with homework.

Assigning homework to students is a task in itself. You have to make sure that you haven’t assigned too much or too little, not to mention trying to get your students’ parents involved. American families are usually busy shuffling their kids from one place to another, worrying about cooking dinner, and leaving their kids to fend for themselves when it comes to homework. Here are some steps to take to make the upcoming school year a success when it comes to the involvement of your students’ parents during homework time.

1. Ask

There is no better time to give encouragement or ask for help when it comes to home learning than at the beginning of the school year. You are more likely to get your students’ parents attention at back-to-school night or using the back-to-school letters that are sent home. Invite parents to engage in your child’s learning experience throughout the year through projects, experiments, field trips and nightly homework. Let them in on what your child will be studying and explain to them how important they are in their child’s academic development.

2. Teach

Just like it took time for you to learn how to be effective teachers to your students, your students’ parents have to learn how to be effective teachers to their kids. Provide parents with a sheet of guidelines and advice on how to best help their child excel at home learning. Some tips might include: setting a regular time for homework, picking a designated place, removing distractions, and showing interest in assignments.

3. Assign

Some parents make their kids feel like they are too busy to help with homework. If there is a section of homework that is mandatory for parents, there is a better chance of parents making time to help their kids with homework. For instance, have your students ask their parents about an old family recipe that has been passed down for generations. Let your students write the steps to the recipe using sequencing (first, second, last, etc.) and share it with the class.

4. Share your observations

When with their peers, students usually open up and share their interests a lot more. This means participating in games they might not play at home and trying new things. If you notice that your student enjoys a certain game or method of learning, share it with your students’ parents at the end of the month. Explain new ways they can incorporate the teaching methods used in the classroom in their own home.

5. Give feedback

After some weeks of implementing the new changes in and out of the classroom, give some feedback! Whether it’s through a newsletter personalised for each child or a mini parent-teacher conference, let your students’ parents know what’s working, what’s not, and how each party can make your students’ learning experience even better.

So make an effort to challenge your students and parents this upcoming school year. If you’ve given it a try already, what do you find works the best? If you haven’t tried it yet, which tip do you think will make the most impact on your students’ learning?

Bookmark and Share