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Why Teacher Motivation Matters: The Key Ingredient for Student Success

Learner motivation is recognized as a vital ingredient in successful education. Most teacher training programmes cover, how to boost learners’ motivation early in a course by setting enticing goals, and how to sustain it through fun activities and regular progress checks. In many school settings, these strategies are important to the teacher’s job and can enhance students’ ultimate achievement.

But what about the teachers’ own motivation?

This is rarely a topic discussed in training programmes, nor in schools where teachers’ professionalism is largely assumed until management identifies a problem.

There is reason to believe that the teacher’s motivation to teach the subject may affect the student’s motivation more than any strategies they consciously use. The well-known Hungarian psychologist Mihalyi Csikzentmihalyi (1997) argues that the teachers who really inspire us, those who we remember long after we have left their classes, are not the ones with the clever methodology or flashy materials, but those who truly loved what they were doing. Conversely, if a learner senses that the teacher does not care about their subject or their course, then they may rightfully ask ‘Why should I?’


For teachers, there are two potential issues here. Firstly, do we love our jobs? And secondly, even if we do, are we conveying that to our learners? Every classroom is filled with unspoken messages and is a site for emotional contagion among the participants. That is, while the direct communication of ideas and information is the primary purpose of classroom work, there are conventional constraints on what can actually be said; learners spend much time making inferences about the teacher’s thoughts and meanings (as well as those of their peers) from unconscious signals in body language, intonation or facial expression. These cues may shape their learning motivation just as much as the overt actions and speech of the teacher.


I recently asked a friend about a Master’s programme he had just completed, and he said he had enjoyed every module except for one; when pressed on what was wrong with the module, he replied that the subject seemed interesting, and had been taught well, but “the lecturer just didn’t seem that into it… or us”. Knowing the lecturer, I believe my friend was deceived. But his anecdote reinforces my conviction that teachers need to be wary of the impressions they give, especially concerning the value of the subject, the course, and the students’ potential to benefit from it. I will pick up the last point in my next blog, but here are some suggestions on how to ensure that the teacher’s own motivation positively influences the students’.

1. Be honest about your own motivation

Some teachers are teachers through a deep sense of vocation; others (like me) fall into the job almost by accident and may or may not grow to love it. Whatever the reason, you need to project a passion for the subject, and for teaching it. It is easier if you feel that passion, as the learners will most likely pick up on it unconsciously and that will feed their own passion. But if not, pedagogic skills can make up for it.

2. Show the “Inner Nerd”

Learners need to see that learning the subject can be enjoyable, even exciting. Of course, it cannot always be fun, but your teaching method has to convey the thrill of acquiring and using new knowledge or skills. Ideally you will be continuing to learn the subject yourself and can sometimes share what you have learned with the class – even if they do not quite understand what you have learned, it’s valuable that they see your excitement.

3. Remember WIIFM

In his classic little text on motivation, Ian Gilbert (2012) says all teachers must remember that their pupils will always be asking ‘What’s in it for me?’ (WIIFM). Not all will have a personal liking for the subject, so you have to keep showing them some other reasons to be studying the subject. In this respect I think English language teachers are fortunate, because in most global contexts it is not hard to demonstrate that competence in English can be advantageous to almost all young people. Helping them imagine themselves as future users of English, in various social or professional contexts, is a powerful way of motivating them.

4. Connect with the learners

As teachers we cannot always control the messages that learners pick up, but we can go some way towards finding out how they are experiencing our lessons through eliciting regular feedback and adapting our teaching accordingly. Class surveys will only reveal general trends and are unidirectional. Conversations with learners, alone, in pairs or small groups, can achieve so much more – an opportunity to share and enhance each other’s motivation.


Martin Lamb is Senior Lecturer in TESOL and International Lead at the School of Education, University of Leeds, where he teaches undergraduate and postgraduate courses in language teaching methodology, second language acquisition, and assessment. He has worked as an ELT teacher and trainer in Indonesia, Bulgaria, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia. His main research interest is in learner and teacher motivation and its interaction with aspects of social context, including technology. He has published in multiple academic journals and was recently chief editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Motivation for Language Learning (2019).


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Intrinsic motivation and effective teaching: a flow analysis. In J. L. Bess (Ed.), Teaching Well and Liking It: Motivating faculty to teach effectively (pp. 72-89). John Hopkins University Press.

Gilbert, I. (2012). Essential Motivation in the Classroom (2nd ed.). Routledge.



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The essential ingredients of the young learner classroom

Mise en place pronounced ‘meez-ahn-plas’ is a very important concept in cooking. If you were to ask famous chefs like Gordon Ramsey or Alain Ducasse or Paco Perez, they will tell you ‘mise en place’ is an absolutely essential first step when cooking in a professional kitchen. So, this process contains a number of steps: firstly, check the recipe, then collect your tools, followed by gathering your ingredients and finally, complete the basic prep work. Once the chef has done the mise (in ‘chef speak’), they can set about combining all the ingredients together to create a masterpiece.

You will probably ask how this connects with teaching young learners and with what we as teachers do every day. I believe we as teachers also have mise en place, or in its translated form: a process of ‘putting (things) into place’. Just like a world-class chef prepares and then cooks, we prepare and then teach.

Preparing your lesson

When we ‘do the mise’, what are the elements that we prepare? We think of the content of the lesson (the recipe), we make sure that we have our resources at hand (puppets, flashcards or online tools, etc.), we choose the activities that we will include in our lesson (our ingredients) and we also complete our basic preparation work by thinking about the plan for the lesson (or maybe even writing it out shortly). We do these things to:

  • empower the learners to reach their full potential;
  • motivate the learners so that they enjoy learning, and
  • ensure that our lessons run smoothly.

Here are some tips and tricks to make your ‘mise en place’ more effective. Firstly, let’s think of ways that we can empower our learners:

  1. give your learners choice by providing possibilities for them to choose what kind of product (a poster, a poem, etc.) they want to present at the end of a project;
  2. include aspects of reflection into your lesson by asking learners questions like how they feel they have done a particular task or how they think they could do a task better;
  3. make sure that you include a focus on autonomy by showing learners ways that they can learn better, for example, by showing them how word maps work, or introducing dictionaries to the learners or even teaching them about phonology, and lastly
  4. remember to add some cognitive challenge to the lesson by including aspects of
    Bloom’s taxonomy that focuses on lower order thinking skills (LOTS – remembering, understanding) and also higher order thinking skills (HOTS – applying, analysing, evaluating and creating), etc. More cognitive challenge could be developed by adding more HOTS. For example, you could use flashcards of methods of transport and ask learners to place them on a VENN diagram (see below) – those that are on land, those that are in the sea and those that can be in the sea and on land.

When doing this activity, learners are applying their knowledge of transport method analysing the various transport methods in order to do the task.

Secondly, we want to motivate learners to enjoy learning (in general). Interestingly enough, empowering learners also motivates them making the abovementioned ideas also valid here. Other things you could do is to make sure that the stages of the lessons change regularly in terms of their focus, from active (stir-type) tasks to more passive (settle-type) tasks. So, we could get learners to create their own mini flashcards (passive, face down) which they could then use to play a game with a friend (active). This could then be followed by learners in small groups creating gap-fills for each other (more passive, face-down), etc. In this way, we keep up the pace in the lesson and include interesting and engaging tasks, that will motivate the learners. You might have also noticed that the stages described above are very learner-centred contributing to greater motivation in the classroom.

Preparing to run your lesson

Finally, we also want to make sure that our lessons run smoothly – here are some ideas:

  1. use anchor posters for frames or tasks types that you do often in the lesson. You can then
    just point to the anchor poster and the learners will know what to do.
  2. use an imaginary ‘volume’ switch to show learners that they are becoming too noisy.
    Once you introduce this idea, you can then just turn the ‘switch’ up or down and the learners will know what needs to be done. And it is fun!
  3. always include models, demos and examples – so instead of telling learners how to play tic-tac-toe, show them. The format ‘I do / we do / you do’ I find particularly useful here, as it also provides appropriate scaffolding initially.

But let’s get back to our mise en place: one key aspect that we should never forget, the culinary masterpiece cannot be created, if the chef did not do the chopping, etc. beforehand. Thus, for us as teachers, mise en place is also key. The tips and tricks given above are all elements that should be considered before the lesson. So check your ‘recipe’, collect your tools, gather your ingredients and do your prep. Remember your mise en place!


Find resources to support your day-to-day classroom management, ideas to motivate young learners, and practical tips help your mixed-ability students shine here.


Elna Coetzer – DELTA/CELTA tutor – International Training Institute, Istanbul.

South-African born Elna is based in Istanbul and works as a teacher trainer and consultant with OUP and the International Training Institute. She is an accredited CELTA and Delta tutor, works as an Oxford Teachers’ Academy trainer and an online moderator.

During her teaching career she has worked with many learners teaching multi-level classes where differentiation and inclusion were of the utmost importance. She has written teacher training materials used internationally, recently an online teaching course for Chinese teachers. She has worked in a variety of countries training teachers and has expertise in a variety of contexts from KG to adult teaching. She also has experience working with a variety of subject teachers (i.e. maths, science, biology, etc.) in various countries like Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey and the UAE.

Her interests range from teaching YLs, developing a growth mindset, using stories to develop literacy and reading, developing oracy and anything related to professional development.

She is a qualified life coach, is interested in psychology and loves a good detective novel.


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5 strategies to help you manage your primary classroom

Having good classroom management strategies, is essential if you want to get the most out of the limited time you have with your students. Classroom management is about identifying the ‘critical moments’ of a lesson that need addressing to create an effective learning environment.

Rather than establishing rules and reward systems, let’s think about creating an effective learning environment where learners are actively engaged. A lot of natural, genuine communication takes place while managing a group of learners that provides them with comprehensible input, so keeping instructions and classroom language in English increases the opportunities for language to be acquired and practised.

Here are five simple strategies to implement to help you manage your primary classroom: Continue reading

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Managing learner anxiety and stress

Emotions are a natural part of life and learning. Emotional ups and downs are a normal part of language learning and use. While some emotions can be supportive and facilitative for language learning, others can cause problems leading to inhibitions and a reluctance to use the language. As such, it can be helpful If a learner is feeling especially stressed or anxious, it will be difficult for them to concentrate and they may be reluctant to engage in classroom tasks or communication.   Continue reading


Using Classroom Presentation Tools to deliver engaging lessons

Primary students in a lesson using tabletsSince I started this beautiful journey as a teacher, I knew it was going to be a great challenge. We all know that we must spend a lot of time planning classes that keep our students engaged and motivated. During these twenty years teaching, I have witnessed all the changes and advances in English Language Teaching, from working with tape recorders, using only print books, and designing materials to fit the right level to all the fantastic classroom presentation tools we have today. Continue reading