Keeping Students Keen on English

How to Motivate EFL Students

As any teacher will tell you, motivating students is one of the most important—and oftentimes  most difficult– parts of the job.

But to understand how to unlock student motivation, understand that students who know why they need to learn the language that is the target of the day’s lesson will want to learn it, and will learn it more easily. Communicating this ‘why’ is part of being an effective teacher.

Don’t just expect this motivation to appear out of the thin classroom air–to generate student desire to learn, instructors have quite a few methods available.

Plan Motivation into Your Lessons

First, show the context where the target language could be used. For example, the language might be ‘polite requests’ and the where might be ‘the post office.’ Do this at the start of the lesson.

Later, when drawing your visuals—a dialog or structure chart on the marker board, perhaps–elicit as much language as possible from the students. The more language that actually comes from the students, the more interesting it will be for them.

When you are executing the “Production” or “Activation” part of your lesson plan, encourage your students to use the target language to discuss their hobbies, emotions, and daily life. This will link the lesson to their personal lives and thus be more exciting, which will help foster their motivation. As you’ll realize at many a cocktail party—most people just love talking about themselves.

Keep it Real—Keep it Relevant

Relevance is another component in student motivation.

When you have adult students, you should plan the lesson to talk about grown-up issues. Children will blossom talking about kid things, and teenagers need to learn from classes that are relevant to their age group. Keeping your class demographic in mind will help you ratchet up their interest in the lesson.

Depending on your coursebook, you may need additional materials or tangential lesson plans to make this work. Unfortunately, one popular English book for young learners has lessons on purchasing automobiles and booking plane tickets—issues the students won’t have to worry about for years to come. A lesson on choosing toys at a toy shop or on the latest video game would prove much more motivating to kids.

The use of real-world items in lessons,(in TEFL jargon we call it ‘realia’) also promotes interest, and it’s often easy to do. If you have a lesson on your schedule about fruit, why not stop by the store and bring some actual fruit to class. In the same vein, if you’re teaching Business English, then using real-world documents from their office will help students realize English does have relevance and importance in their daily life.

You can read more about student motivation at the following links:

Motivation in the Classroom

The Failure of Extrinsic Motivation

Ideas for Motivating Students

When Students Do Not Feel Motivated for Literacy Learning: How a Responsive Classroom Culture Helps

TED’s Tips™ #1: Student motivation starts with you. Teachers are responsible for sparking and holding student motivation.

TED’s Tips™ #2: What really interests your students? Try to find the answer to this question and then build your lessons around those motivators.

Teaching Internships in China


Motivate your Students by Localizing your Lessons

It’s been a long time since students and populations in general idealized the USA, UK, etc. as the best countries in the world. But, for some reason, so many EFL coursebooks still have a focus on a Western country and the conversations and activities are typically based on activities or even cultural events in that country.

Students in most countries these days often see their own country as one of the best places to live or sometimes even as the best country in the world.    And who are you or I to argue with them if we are to show proper respect for their country and culture?

And . . . why do so many publishing companies and EFL/ESL authors still believe that our Western culture is so fascinating and interesting to our students that they should do their studies with a focus on it?

Those days have come and gone.  And one good way to demotivate your students is to have them do their studies talking about something that just may not interest them at all.


One of the best ways to motivate your students is to change everything to focus on their country and their culture.  If they are learning directions, get a map of the town/city where you are teaching or make a map of the neighborhood.  If the lesson is about prices, why in the world use pounds and dollars!  Use won, yuan, yen, peso, krona or whatever the local currency is.

Got the idea?  It is simple, but very effective in getting your students more involved.  They will also notice your respect for their country and culture and return that respect to you.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Localize your lessons.  It is one of the easiest ways to motivate your students and to show a little respect for their culture and country.