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Strategies for Motivating Students to Learn

by Adam Wexler
As an adjunct education professor I am often asked, "How do I motivate students to learn?"

Motivating students to learn is a struggle that all teachers face.

Since I also teach middle school social studies it is the challenge I personally face everyday.

The truth is motivating students to learn is one of the key components of effective teaching AND classroom management.

If students are not motivated to learn then they are most likely not involved in the lesson and if they are not involved in the lesson they are much more likely to cause classroom management problems.

Therefore, it is critical for teachers to increase student motivation to learn and the best way to do this is for teachers to spark student interest at the beginning of every lesson.

Here are six effective strategies for motivating students to learn I do at the beginning of lessons:

  1. Use critical thinking questions ~ The great thing about using these types of questions is that they don't necessarily have a right or wrong answer so students are allowed to express their own opinions as opposed to simply being told to memorize facts.

    Here's a quick example. Let's take a social studies lesson on the use of the atomic bomb to end World War II. To spark interest at the beginning of the lesson the teacher can ask students to all write down an answer to the following question... "Do you think President Truman was justified in dropping the atomic bomb to end WWII? Why?"

    Teachers can then let students share their answers for a quick class discussion and then take a class poll. Now that the students are interested in the topic it is much easier for the teacher to start the lesson.

    Then, at the end of the lesson, the teacher can take another poll to see if the student's opinions have changed.

  2. Use music to teach ~ Music is one of the most underrated learning tools and is a great way to spark student interest. For example, when teaching a lesson on the slave trade and the Middle Passage I introduce the topic by playing the Bob Marley songs "Buffalo Soldier" and "Catch a Fire".
  3. Use video ~ Video is one of the most misunderstood teaching tools and is often abused. However, if used correctly video can be a great tool increase student motivation to learn. The key is to use short clips from movies and documentaries at beginning of lessons rather than the end. Hollywood movies are great for this, but you can also use to download short clips from documentaries on any subject for any grade level.
  4. Relate what students are learning to what is going on in the "real world". This is obviously easier done with some subjects than others, but it can be done. Students need to know "why" they are learning something.
  5. Relate what students are learning to what is important to them. The trick here is to get to know your students and learn about their own interests.
  6. Use technology...or rather, have the student use technology to learn. Have them create podcasts, videos, web sites, brochures etc.
Increasing student motivation to learn can be challenging, but it is an essential element in being an effective teacher. The added bonus is you will also find yourself enjoying teaching much more when it doesn't feel like you are pulling teeth trying to get your students involved.

Want to learn more strategies to motivate students to learn from Adam Wexler, author of this article? Sign up for the FREE Teaching Tips Machine Newsletter @

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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