In a compliance driven culture, students are not likely to pursue learning for intrinsic reasons. They have learned to expect compensation for every learning activity they do. It's evident by the questions they ask, "Do we get a grade on this?" Or, "How many points is this worth?" But if we truly desire to help students take greater ownership in learning, we need to develop ideas for motivating students that rely on intrinsic motivation. In the typical school, learning has become a passive experience for the most part. Students expect to be told exactly what to do and when to do it. And, they expect to be compensated with a grade for doing work, even if the work doesn't reveal their learning or is of poor quality.
I've created a list of ideas that can be useful for motivating students beyond grades. These ideas naturally generate interest or curiosity for many students. They are inherently engaging. No grade required. Some of these ideas are simple to implement while others require significant development to be effective. This list is just a starting point. As teachers plan for instruction, it's important to consider how each idea will support learning and generate greater engagement.
It's also important to realize that using a high-interest idea doesn't guarantee learning. Students may be enjoying themselves, but they will need support from the teacher to ensure that the learning goals are being met. I believe this happens from feedback the teacher provides throughout the learning process. The best learning experiences are designed for high engagement and high impact. Teachers are constantly keeping a pulse of learning and making adjustments to help students succeed.
All of these ideas must be used within a framework of solid relationships. Build a relationship with your students and then use your influence to engage them in learning. Students will want to partner with you in learning if they feel you truly care about them.
1. Choices. People are motivated by a sense of autonomy. We can't give unlimited autonomy to students, but we can provide the next best thing—choices. Students feel a greater sense of control over their learning when they have some input into how the learning goes.
2. Passions. Find students' passions and then use those interests to generate learning experiences. If students are passionate about something, the grade won't be the driver as they will simply pursue the learning.
3. Student Voice. Most students like to share ideas with one another and communicate about what they are learning. Make learning social and students will become more engaged in the process.
4. Technology. I like to see technology used when it can enhance a lesson. If students are motivated by the opportunity to use the technology, then that is one way the lesson can be enhanced.
5. Movement. Students need to move around during the school day to stay alert and active. When teachers build movement into lessons, that can help students focus more and engage for longer time periods. Get students on their feet and out of their seats.
6. Music. Where would the world be without music? It's a powerful force and can be used in the classroom to enhance learning.
7. Solve Real problems. When students feel like they are solving a real problem, it's easier to see the relevance of learning. It's immediate and the learning is driven by something authentic.
8. Drama. Bring the power of acting and performance to your lesson plan. Throw caution to the wind and develop some crazy accents or wear a costume. You will have their attention!
9. Film/Video. Videos clips can be used to generate interest or
provide information in an accessible way. But it's even more powerful
when student directed. Videos can be used by students to showcase what
10. Be creative. Give students opportunities to be creative as they learn your subject. Reward ideas that feature originality or artistic elements.
11. Tell stories. Be a storyteller in the classroom and find ways to use stories to help students connect to material.
12. Get out of the classroom. Take students to a different part of the building or go outside. Move outside the walls of the classroom to keep learning fresh and avoid monotony.
13. Make it a game. Use games to learn the content. Or turn you class into a simulated game with badges, levels, and other gaming principles. This type of approach is referred to as gamification.
14. Have a debate. Debates require students to make a claim and support it with evidence. They have to listen carefully and think quickly. It's a great learning tool
15. Provide real audiences. Have students create a learning artifact that will be presented to an audience outside of the classroom. The audience could be other students in the school, staff members, a panel of guests, or something online that potentially has an unlimited audience.
16. Humor. If you can incorporate humor into your lesson, students will be more interested. I had an amazing psychology professor who told a joke before every class. He often tied the humor into the content for the course.
17. Make stuff. The maker movement is all about engaging students as designers and builders. There are many inexpensive ways to bring making into the curriculum in ways that will support learning goals.
18. Social media. Students love to use social media. Why not use it for learning? Students can use Twitter, Facebook, or blogs to share ideas in all sorts of ways.
19. Food. Incorporating food can be very motivating and can relate to a variety of topics. Of course, this one can be a little tricky since school wellness policies may limit such activity.
20. Experiment. Inquiry is a great way to increase student engagement and stimulate critical thinking. Students develop a hypothesis, design an experiment, collect the data, and interpret the results.