How to Motivate Unmotivated Learners – 4

This is the last part in a series on how to motivate unmotivated learners. In case you missed the first three, here they are: Part One,  Part TwoPart Three.

Here are my final five tips based on my experience with challenging classes.

One of the difficult aspects of teaching for me is having to maintain a calm, detached expression when I want to smile, having to discipline when I want to embrace and nurture.  “Don’t smile until Christmas,” mentality.

How to Motivate Unmotivated Learners, Part Four

Basically, I have to be a parent, not a friend.  I hate that.  I must create a learning environment by teaching my rules and consistently applying them.   But then, I LOVE the stability that standing firm brings to my classroom and the relationships that develop when students see how they can communicate in the target language.  Then, after that relationship is built, I can be a friend.  Sort of.  OK, after they have graduated and I see them in the mall.

Tip #1


Seriously, a well-crafted lesson plan is the best classroom management and the best way to motivate students.  What does that look like?  It has all the components that I will outline in my next series of blogs.  It is imperative to work from a good template and fill in the template with activities that meet your goal(s), NOT the other way around.

Hmm, what a neat activity for teaching the present-tense verbs!  I’ll put it in tomorrow’s lesson! 

Stop!!  Does it achieve your learning goals?

This topic is lengthy so I address the details in a series of eight blog posts.  Here is the first one: How to Write Effective World Lesson Plans Simplified.  For now, I will share with you my lesson plan template which serves as the structural foundation of all my lessons.  Lesson Plan Template

Tip #2

HAVE A REPERTOIRE OF ENGAGING GAMES that you can use for any learning goal.  It’s easy to get into a rut, repeating the same practice activities. Interested students stay engaged.  Ask your colleagues or search the internet. Make sure the games include ALL learners, that no English is used, and there is ample comprehensible input. If the game fits that criteria and achieves your learning goal, put it in your teacher basket.

Below are a few examples of engaging games:

Vocabulary Board Game

Speed Dating

The Dating Game

Preterite Jeopardy


Throw the Ball Competition

Tip #3

When showing a PowerPoint, DISPLAY THE PAGE NUMBER of the student handout, document, or book where students can find the information on the topic you are discussing.  Show the page number on every activity and practice. (Most students will not look it up.)  If you don’t want them looking perplexed, getting lost, and then playing with their fidget spinners (or someone’s hair) help them with their organization so they can quickly retrieve the information they need.

Tip #4


I have found that talking to the student one-on-one can be effective in changing behavior but if that doesn’t work, my next step is to call parents.

Honestly, it works only 50% of the time but that’s enough for me.  I begin by saying something positive about the student in order to establish a connection with the parent, (and there always IS something positive to say about each child) then describing the behavior I would like to see change and enlisting the parent’s help in achieving that change.  I am exploring a future blog topic on strategies for speaking with parents.

Tip #5


How do you cover the material and still get all the students to do their presentations, especially on the block schedule?  Presentations can eat up days of instructional time.

On the third day, I give students the option to present during lunch or after school.  However, since the students who have not yet presented are the least motivated, they are less likely to come in.  I create a calendar sign-up sheet and have students sign up for the day they would like to come in.  Once they have committed it to paper on a calendar, they are more likely to meet with their partners and present at the agreed-upon time.

And, of course, I nag, nag, nag every day.  (I think they call that enabling?)  I read the list of students who still need to do their presentations (or take tests).  These students need  and often benefit from reminders.

If you missed the previous posts on How to Motivate Unmotivated Learners, click on the links below:

How to Motivate Unmotivated Learners, Part One

How to Motivate Unmotivated Learners, Part Two

How to Motivate Unmotivated Learners, Part Three

Stay tuned for the next blog on how to write compelling, successful lesson plans.

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  • Mmule

    This is really beautifully outlined.
    Ill ensure that i apply some of the strategies.
    Thank you

    • Angie Sherbondy

      I’m glad you found it useful. Let me know if you have any questions.


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