Developing Student Motivation

KBy Gregory Strong (Aoyama Gakuin University)

Teachers recognize the value of student motivation, but sometimes wonder how to promote it. Dörnyei and Csizér (1998) surveyed 200 language teachers about the effectiveness of 51 different motivational strategies. All their strategies are worth exploring, but for economy, I’ll deal with ten “macro-strategies” drawing on my teaching experiences over the past 33 years.


  1. Set a personal example with your behaviour. I prepare classes well. Even on a bad day, I’m enthusiastic, smile, and even make jokes.
  2. Create a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere. Where appropriate, I use personal anecdotes and photos so that students get to know me. If I ask them to do something hard or even embarrassing, they practice first in small groups. I never get angry at a student. If necessary, for classroom management, I speak to the student privately, in the hall.
  3. Present the tasks properly. When I began teaching in public schools, we had to keep day books of lesson plans. Today, I keep a small B4 size notebook with points that I can easily review. When class starts, I put the plan on the board to explain the lesson sequence to my students. I also use the book to record notes for next week and to put down what went well, to do the lesson better next time.
  4. Develop a good relationship with the learners. Learning your students’ names and using them shows interest. Collect their photos or take your own and prepare a seating plan quickly. Come early to class to talk with students and stay afterward, too, developing rapport.
  5.  Increase the learners’ linguistic self-confidence. In groups, I have each student present a talk about a book or a newspaper article. The student changes groups several times, repeating the same information. Each time, the student’s explanation gets better and he or she acquires more confidence. The students listening are different each time, too, so they don’t get bored, either.
  6. Make the language classes interesting. I plan four or five varied activities, even in writing classes — with brainstorming, a short grammar lesson, some peer tutorial, and even a game where student groups compete to correct sentences.
  7. Promote learner autonomy. I include student project work with class time for me to assist and encourage; also, individual student vocabulary books or vocabulary flashcards apps for their cellphones.
  8. Personalize the learning process. Whenever possible, I relate lessons to student interests, or current events, and let students choose topics, readings, or projects that interest them, and give them some control over the learning process.
  9. Increase the learners’ goal-orientedness. On the first day, I get students to create personal learning goals for our class and we review them over the term.
  10. Familiarize learners with the target language culture. Wherever possible, I bring realia to class – postcards, photos, newspapers, DVDs, even toys that show aspects of culture.

Dörnyei, Z. and Csizér, K. (1998). Ten commandments for motivating language learners:

results of an empirical study. Language Teaching Research 2 (3), 203-229.



A professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Gregory Strong coordinates a language program for freshmen and sophomores. His books include these Macmillan Language House graded readers: Ice Station at the End of the World, and Japanese Communities Abroad, the biography, Flying Colours: The Toni Onley Story, and the edited collection, Adult Language Learners: Context and Innovation.