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How to Motivate Students from Day One

By: Ken Austin

Student apathy and lack of motivation can often be traced to a lack of effective teaching strategies. If a teacher simply tries to attack a lack of motivation directly, the apathetic students will not respond well.

A well-organized course of study, taught with enthusiasm and a genuine interest in the students as people and learners will motivate most students naturally.

The challenge is dealing successfully with those who come to class unmotivated. These students have often been programmed to “sit down, shut up, listen and learn”. Most of them have never been taught how to learn.

Instead, these students have come to believe in what has been jokingly called the Inoculation Theory of education. Algebra, for example, is something a student has injected into his or her brain.

Once given, it never has to be given again. The student will say, “I already had algebra!” when challenged to prove a quadratic equation in a non-algebra course. In this student’s mind, algebra is something you endure once, and never have to suffer through again, like an inoculation to prevent disease.

Giving students the tools and techniques to acquire learning is the first step in motivating the unmotivated. Effective study methods give a student the power to learn and the knowledge that learning can be productive, effective and self-motivated.


Once a student becomes an active participant in the learning process, the role of the teacher changes from “giver of knowledge” to “human being who can help enhance learning”.

Students have reported several strong opinions regarding instruction:

* Students all want their individual needs met and their individual talents and abilities respected.
* They want teachers who are real people who care about them.
* They want to be challenged, not intimidated.
* They want regular support and progress evaluations that actually meet their level of learning.
* They respond best to teachers that talk at their level and encourage students to learn from each other.
* They want clear explanations and examples of difficult concepts, and the chance to have their questions answered.

While there are many other specific methods, techniques and practices that a teacher can employ to increase motivation, the few points mentioned here mean the most to students in general.


Motivating the unmotivated doesn’t have to be a chore if the teacher begins each course of study with the expressed needs of the student in mind. Student motivation then becomes a part of the learning experience, instead of the main problem for the teacher.

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