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Teacher’s Strategies to Motivate Students in Learning English in Classroom

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Teacher’s Strategies to Motivate Students in Learning English in Classroom essay

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Motivation is the most significant element that plays a vital role in the L2 learning process which has led many researchers to investigate the strategies that can evoke and maintain students’ motivation in English as a foreign language (ESL) in classrooms.

The present paper reports an investigation of ESL teachers’ strategies that motivate students. The main aim of the research is to establish a firm formula of strategies that can help in the teaching process of English as a second language in classroom. The data were collected from three teachers from different parts of the world online and three teachers from Erbil Private Universities; Ishik, Cihan, and LFU. Results have shown that there are a set of strategies that are shared among the teachers in addition to other unique ones depending on the context of every university. What’s more, the study has emphasized that the teachers’ role in motivating students in ESL classrooms is the key solution for more active teaching. Keywords: motivation, strategies, teachers’ perceptions, ESL, teachers’ strategies, demotivation.


The students’ behaviors in classroom have gained the attention of thousands of teachers, psychologists, scholars, and researchers. They all tried to reach an answer for the question: why should unmotivated students behave like that? Regardless of the positive or negative effects of such behavior in the classroom, there must be some reasons behind such behaviors and some remedies should be considered. The students who obviously have no interest or motivation to learn in classroom have no belief in academics and think that learning is useless and worthless. When teachers face a case where many students are unmotivated, they know from the very beginning that they will go through a tough year in that class.

Nevertheless, a wise teacher can get use of many strategies and tactics to turn the students into a strong belief in their teachers and the process of learning, and this is what the researcher of the present paper tries to find out.

Statement of the Problem

Teachers of English usually complain about unmotivated students in the classroom due to numerous reasons among which may be psychological, cultural, or social. Thus, teachers should search for the most effective strategies taking into account their own perceptions to find more suitable strategies to motivate students to learn English and overcome any problems the students may face. Purpose of the Study: The study is an attempt to diagnose the most effective strategies that lead students to learn English. Consequently, the study will be a good source for teachers to find and follow the appropriate strategies according to their environment that enable them to direct students to learn English smoothly and to respond to teachers’ instructions and directions. The research is an attempt to answer the following questions: Can teachers establish some more solid strategies to be followed to change the behavior of unmotivated students to be motivated towards learning English in the classroom? What are the most effective strategies? Are these strategies feasible? Methodology: The present study is a descriptive study which depends basically on mixed methods approach that was used to collect quantitative and qualitative data in the context using the literature review and consulting well experienced teachers in some of universities in Erbil manipulating their examples about the topic to be analyzed and to reach a clear understanding about the most important strategies that can be so effective in motivating students to learn English as a second language in the classroom.

Literature Review

To understand the problem comprehensively, we have to have a rapid review of the literature of the subject and some related topics. What is Motivation? Motivation is the reason for people’s actions, desires, and needs. Motivation is also one’s direction to behavior, or what causes a person to want to repeat a behavior. An individual is not motivated by another individual. Motivation comes from within the individual (Wikipedia, 2018). Al-Shihri (2017: 46) thinks that “Motivation plays a significant role in the L2 learning process, leading many researchers to investigate strategies which can generate and maintain students’ motivation in English as foreign language (EFL) classrooms.

Dörnyei and Ottó (1998:65) add a further important element in their definition of L2 motivation: ‘the dynamically changing cumulative arousal in a person that initiates, directs, coordinates, amplifies, terminates, and evaluates the cognitive and motor processes whereby initial wishes and desires are selected, prioritized, operationalized, and (successfully or unsuccessfully) acted out’. Brown defines motivation as “an inner drive, impulse, emotion or desire that moves one toward a particular action” (1987, 117). A considerable amount of research has shown that motivation is critical for second/foreign language learning due to its direct influences on how much effort students make, their level of language proficiency and how long they preserve and maintain second language skills after finishing the study of a language (Trang& Baldauf, 2007). In the same way, motivation provides language learners the energetic force needed to continue in a lengthy learning process. Meanwhile, cognitive skills in the target/ second language are not a warranty that a learner/ student can successfully master a second language.

As a matter of fact, in many instances, students with greater second/foreign language learning motivation achieve better marks and better proficiency in the target/ second language (Wu & Wu, 2009). Regardless of how efficient and effective the curriculum is, and regardless of how high capacity or intelligence an individual has, without satisfactory motivation, even individuals with exceptional academic potentialities are unlikely to be successful in achieving long-term ends (Brown, 2000).

Motivational Strategy

Learner’s motivation is one of the key factors that define successful achievements in learning a second language. Researchers on motivation discovered that motivational strategies that teachers practice can efficiently impact learners’ motivation toward learning a second language (Fives & Manning, 2005). In 2001, Dörnyei introduced more than 100 motivational strategies in his manuscript, Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom. These motivational strategies could be classified into four groups: creating the basic motivational conditions, generating initial motivation, maintaining and protecting motivation and rounding off the learning experience (encouraging positive self-evaluation).

The idea of all these strategies is based on the notion that teacher’s behavior and beliefs considerably impact students’ motivation to learn a second language. Accordingly, strategies of motivating language learners should be viewed as a crucial aspect of motivation toward learning a second language. For this reason, a number of research studies built up and summarized motivational methods for teachers in classroom application. Lightbown and Spada (2006: 57) asserts that if teachers can make their classroom places where students enjoy coming because the content is interesting and relevant to their age and level of ability, where the learning goals are challenging yet manageable and clear, and where the atmosphere is supportive and non-threatening, we can make a positive contribution to students’ motivation to learn. Intrinsic Vs.

Extrinsic Motivation

Cherry (2018) explains that intrinsic motivation involves ‘engaging in a behavior because it is personally rewarding; essentially, performing an activity for its own sake rather than the desire for some external reward’. Examples of actions that are the result of intrinsic motivation include: Participating in a sport because you find the activity enjoyable Solving a word puzzle because you find the challenge fun and exciting Playing a game because you find it exciting In all these examples, the individual’s behavior is motivated by an internal desire to take part in an activity for its own sake. Basically, the own reward is itself the behavior. Cherry (2018) also adds that “extrinsic motivation occurs when we are motivated to perform a behavior or engage in an activity to earn a reward or avoid punishment”.

The following are some examples of behaviors that are the result of extrinsic motivation: Studying because you want to get a good grade Cleaning your room to avoid being reprimanded by your parents Participating in a sport to win awards Competing in a contest to win a scholarship In all the above instances, the individual’s behavior is motivated by a demand to get a reward or avoid an opposite consequence. So, people are participating in a behavior not because they like it or because they find it pleasant, but in order to gain something in return or avoid something undesirable.


Having looked into the nature of L2 motivation, only the positive side of motivation has been described. Unfortunately, during the learning process students may become negatively influenced as well. Certain negative influences have a significant effect on motivation. They may relate to particular learning-related experiences (e.g. public humiliation, poor test results) or social learning events (e.g. the personality and the behavior of the teacher, the classroom community) (Dörnyei and Ushioda, 2011). This dark side of motivation, called demotivation, has not been considered as a research topic until recently. Even though, its crucial role in the learning process has been confirmed. Dörnyei (1998) described demotivation as specific external forces that reduce or diminish the motivational basis of a behavioral intention or an ongoing action.

Demotivated learners show a lack of interest in the L2 or L2 community culture, hesitate to participate in any class activities, have no intimate affiliation with the teacher and/or peers. Consequently, they show ever-growing diffidence in classroom environment. Eventually, these learners end up with appalling learning outcomes, which in turn aggravate remaining motivation. Once such a wicked circle materializes, it turns almost unbreakable (Trong Tuan, 2011). Demotivation includes many different issues, or ‘demotives’ that make a student lose his or her motivation (Dörnyei 2001b: 142).

When a student becomes demotivated, it does not mean that he or she has forgotten all the issues that once motivated him or her but the demotives have become stronger than them. Dörnyei (Ibid: 141) suggests that student demotivation caused by, for example, embarrassing situations in a classroom or depressing exam results is quite common. Compared to demotivation, amotivation is not a result from some external demotives but it is more related to one’s feelings of inability and beliefs according to which the task is going require too much work (Ibid: 143-144). In one of the Canadian studies, Maini (2011) assessed the effect of a teacher training program in classroom management with the goal of stopping off-task and troublemaking student behavior in the classroom. The result showed considerable increase in teachers’ confidence to control student misbehavior and the use of rewards as an involvement strategy.

It was also found that student inattention and over activity decreased considerably while on-task attention behavior and self-dependence were raised. Another example is the study conducted by Jeloudar and Yunus (2011) who concluded that Malaysian teachers’ discipline strategies and their social intelligence were highly related. The results revealed that teachers’ social intelligence was oppositely related to disciplinary strategies and positively related to discussion, debate, involvement, and leading strategies. Also Elbla (2012: 56) inspected the case of physical and verbal punishment as a way of disciplining students’ behavior in Sudan. The results showed that teachers use penalizing strategies as a result of the pressure and fear they themselves experience at school due to school poor environment and facilities; however, they are aware of the fact that punishment has negative effect on their students’ behavior and personality.

Students disapproved their teachers’ punitive strategies and reported that “they have developed sense and feelings of fear, frustration, aggression, low self-esteem, low confidence and lacked motivation for learning as result of the continuous punishment. Building Teachers’ Strategies of Motivation: In his part of the research, we shall demonstrate some of the strategies suggested by three teachers depending on their personal experience from abroad, and three teachers from Kurdistan Region: Cihan University, Ishik University, and Lebanese- French University. Sample 1. Dornyei’s (2001b, 29) framework of motivational teaching strategies

Motivational Teaching Strategies

Creating basic motivational conditions laying the foundations of motivation through establishing a good teacher-student rapport, creating a pleasant and supportive classroom atmosphere, and generating a cohesive learner group with appropriate group norms. Generating initial motivation, that is, “whetting the students’ appetite”, by enhancing the learners’ language-related values and attitudes, increasing the learners’ goal-orientedness, making the teaching materials relevant for the learners, and creating realistic learners beliefs. Maintaining and protecting motivation by making learning stimulating, presenting tasks in a motivating way, setting specific learners’ goal, protecting the learners’ self-esteem and increasing their self-confidence, allowing learners to maintain a positive social image, promoting cooperation among the learners, creating learner autonomy and promoting self-motivating learner strategies.

Encouraging positive retrospective self-evaluation by promoting motivational attributions, providing motivational feedback, increasing learner satisfaction, and offering rewards and grades in Sample 2. Annie Condon (2018)

  1. Praise Students in Ways: Big and Small Recognize work in class, display good work in the classroom and send positive notes home to parents, hold weekly awards in your classroom, organize academic pep rallies to honor the honor roll, and even sponsor a Teacher Shout out section in the student newspaper to acknowledge student’s hard work.
  2. Expect Excellence: Set high, yet realistic expectations. Make sure to voice those expectations. Set short terms goals and celebrate when they are achieved.
  3. Spread Excitement like a Virus: Show your enthusiasm in the subject and use appropriate, concrete and understandable examples to help students grasp it. For example, I love alliteration. Before I explain the concept to students, we “improve” subjects they’re interested in. After learning about alliteration, they brainstorm alliterative titles for their chosen subjects.
  4. Mix It Up: It’s a classic concept and the basis for differentiated instruction, but it needs to be said: using a variety of teaching methods caters to all types of learners. By doing this in an orderly way, you can also maintain order in your classroom. In a generic example for daily instruction, journal for 10 minutes to open class; introduce the concept for 15 minutes; discuss/group work for 15 minutes; Q&A or guided work time to finish the class. This way, students know what to expect everyday and have less opportunity to act up.
  5. Assign Classroom Jobs: With students, create a list of jobs for the week. Using the criteria of your choosing let students earn the opportunity to pick their classroom jobs for the next week. These jobs can cater to their interests and skills.
  6. Hand Over Some Control: If students take ownership of what you do in class, then they have less room to complain (though we all know, it’ll never stop completely). Take an audit of your class, asking what they enjoy doing, what helps them learn, what they’re excited about after class. Multiple choice might be the best way to start if you predict a lot of “nothing” or “watch movies” answers. After reviewing the answers, integrate their ideas into your lessons or guide a brainstorm session on how these ideas could translate into class. On a systematic level, let students choose from elective classes in a collegiate format. Again, they can tap into their passion and relate to their subject matter if they have a choice.
  7. Open-format Fridays: You can also translate this student empowerment into an incentive program. Students who attended class all week, completed all assignments and obeyed all classroom rules can vote on Friday’s activities (lecture, discussion, watching a video, class jeopardy, acting out a scene from a play or history).
  8. Relating Lessons to Students’ Lives: Whether it is budgeting for family Christmas gifts, choosing short stories about your town, tying in the war of 1812 with Iraq, rapping about ions, or using Pop Culture Printables, students will care more if they identify themselves or their everyday lives in what they’re learning.

 Susan Verner’s Motivating Students to Learn English with 5 Smart Tactics (2018)

1. Make Class Communicative: One way to encourage your students’ intrinsic motivation is to make class communicative. Part of the joy of language is using it to communicate. Language learners get a rush when they can successfully translate their thoughts into words and get their points across.

2. Make English Practical One way to keep things practical in class is to use realia (objects and material from everyday life used as teaching aids) whenever possible. Bringing realia into your classroom will make your students more prepared for what they’ll find outside your classroom walls.

3. Make Class Fun Making class fun is a surefire way to up intrinsic motivation levels. When students are having a good time, they’ll be more engaged in learning. Their motivation will come from them rather than from you. You just have to find the best ways to help your students have a good time while they learn. Here are some strategies you can try: use social media in class, invite pop culture into class, gamify your lessons!

4. Forge Relationships Generally speaking, people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. That is why forging relationships with your students are so important.

5. Give Feedback Always consider feedback carefully. The right quantity and quality of feedback is important for forging the right relationships with your students.

 A teacher from Cihan University/ Erbil

Building trust between teachers and students is very important to motivate the students to believe in whatever you say. Creating a friendly atmosphere in the class helps delivering lectures. Using funny and realistic examples from the students’ life is very necessary to enforce language learning. Changing the setting of lectures (time and place) where possible creates good motive to learn.

Using the principle of ‘Reward and Punishment’ when assigning students homework is very motivating. Emphasizing group discussion and teamwork.

 A teacher from Ishik University/ Erbil

A communicative approach is very successful in teaching English language. Visual materials like interesting movies and funny videos motivate students to follow up and learn. Building the self-confidence for students is a key motivation.

Group learning is necessary where students have more freedom to talk to their colleagues. Continuous written and oral assignments help to develop students’ capacity. Encouraging and praising students from time to time could raise the level of motivation.

A professor from Lebanese- French University/ Erbil

Using modern and updated language programs motivates students.

Language lab may bring about some new learning climate. Creating learning fun games in the class is useful. Group discussion and debates are very motivating. Keeping in touch with students through social media is also interesting and motivating. Reward and punishment principle is useful in many cases. Discussion and Conclusions: Throughout the suggestions of the six teachers, all of them have agreed on creating pleasant atmosphere through making fun, funny materials, and games.

Also, most of them have emphasized the role of the teamwork as a good strategy to motivate students. The third effective strategy the sample teachers agreed on is encouraging students through praising and addressing nice words. The fourth important strategy is relating the learning material to students’ life and daily experience. The fifth strategy which concerns rewarding, most of them agreed on it, but not all agreed on punishment. Finally, using the social media to keep in touch with students is a good strategy to strengthen the relations, build mutual trust, and giving feedback. Based on the above discussion, we can conclude that the following set of strategies is very important to motivate students to learn English in the classroom: Creating comfortable climate in the class by using interesting and funny attractive materials.

Relating feasible materials used in teaching to the students’ everyday life. Using teamwork and group discussion in teaching. Encouraging and praising students using pleasant words and phrases. Rewarding distinguished students with marks or other methods like putting their photos in the class. Using the social media to build trust between teachers and students and to get feedback about teaching process.

Finally, applying other strategies like changing the class setting, new programs, continuous assignment, language labs, and giving space for students’ leadership in the class.


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