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How to boost pupil motivation in the classroom

16 Jan 2022

How to boost pupil motivation in the classroom

By Mark Richards, 



Every parent and teacher knows that motivation is important for learning. That’s the easy part; the harder bit is knowing how you can improve it. Here are some simple tips.

The first step to cracking this tough nut is to understand what motivation actually is. In short and in simple terms motivation for pupils is about feeling and thinking that something is worth investing their time or attention in. This could be, in the short term, a single lesson or it could be longer term, such as continued effort in a particular subject. Of course, what a pupil pays attention in they will have more chance of learning.

To make everything more challenging, it is not typical for humans to be in a constant state of motivation. It’s very much a moveable feast. Our motivation tends to veer towards a certain thing at a certain time, for a particular or specific reason.

‘Being motivated’ isn’t so much a personality or character trait, it is a natural response to the environment we are in at a particular moment, and the prior experience we bring to that situation.


Success breeds success

A clear way to motivate pupils is to secure success. Success breeds success and leads to the expectation that it can be achieved again and again in the future. There are several aspects to this. Obviously, things need to be pitched at an appropriate level of challenge. Keep things too easy and you are not preparing pupils for what lies ahead. Pitch too high and repeated failure is the most likely outcome. This can be extremely demotivating.

However, well-pitched activities help to build proficiency and confidence. These fuel motivation. Pupils must clearly understand what success looks like, but they must also be aware what failure looks like too. You must have a plan to deal with it when it occurs, as it inevitably will at some point. The key to creating the right climate is to explain and instruct well, break ideas down into manageable chunks, and to give plenty of opportunities for practice.


Build belonging and boost buy-in

Building a sense of belonging and ownership can be tricky in schools. After all, pupils are frequently talked down and told what to do. Giving choice is a good way to motivate. However, pupils aren’t always best-placed to make the most appropriate choices about their learning. It is better for the teacher to lead and direct. At the same time, time should be taken to ensure that pupils understand why things will benefit them.

Creating a clear sense of shared experience and collective purpose builds a feeling of belonging and togetherness in the classroom. The teacher should cultivate and nurture this.


Routines and norms

Routines can be a killer of motivation as they can feel stifling and oppressive. However, routines that are formed around how pupils learn can be extremely productive. Part and parcel of a teacher’s job in creating the right classroom climate is creating a safe and secure environment  but also one that is effective and efficient in enabling pupils to learn.

The teacher also has the power to influence behaviours and nudge the norms that the pupils feel is the way to conduct themselves.

The more you take these approaches, the greater the effect on pupil motivation will be.



1. 5 Ways to Keep Up Motivation

2. The Ten Most Important Classroom Rules…

3. Why oracy is so important in the classroom

4. How to make sure you use effective questioning in the classroom

5. Tips for Encouraging Questioning in the Classroom


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