Cultivating Motivation for Diverse Language Learners

Blog Cultivating Motivation for Diverse Language Learners

August 24, 2021

Cultivating Motivation for Diverse Language Learners


For many language teachers, student motivation issues can be among the most difficult challenges they encounter in the classroom. While lack of motivation can occur with all subjects, it’s especially noticeable in language classes where students may be attending to fulfill a requirement and may not always see the value in learning a new language. That’s where teachers come in.

According to research cited by Jennifer Gonzalez in her Cult of Pedagogy Podcast:

  • Students are more motivated academically when they have a positive relationship with their teacher.
  • Choice is a powerful motivator in most educational contexts.
  • For complex tasks that require creativity and persistence, extrinsic rewards and consequences actually hamper motivation.
  • To stay motivated to persist at any task, students must believe they can improve in that task.

The teacher’s role in cultivating motivation is not insignificant, but with a few adjustments to your teaching style and a concentrated effort on building relationships with your students, you can encourage better learning and performance in your classroom.

To be truly successful, students must have internal or intrinsic motivation, which refers to motivation that comes from within oneself – a true desire to learn. This kind of motivation is determined through self-reflection and by a student’s own values and goals (e.g., the student is motivated because they want to learn to speak another language). External or extrinsic motivation means that your motivation to attain your goal comes from a source outside of yourself (e.g., the student is motivated because they have to complete a language course to go to university).

Teachers can foster intrinsic motivation in their students in different ways, such as explaining how learning a new language helps students become better global citizens or improves brain power, etc. Nurturing intrinsic motivation becomes much easier – and more rewarding – when you develop a positive relationship with your students.


The Importance of Social-Emotional Learning

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success. It is a philosophy that involves teaching for the whole person, ultimately helping students build resiliency and achieve their goals. Through SEL, teachers can establish a positive learning environment, build confidence in their students, and enhance teacher-student connections, thereby increasing engagement and motivation.

Classroom community building is essential to cultivating motivation. Teachers should create a classroom culture and learning community that truly values healthy relationships. To do this, you can start by learning more about your students as individuals. Try using the following strategies to enhance your connection to your diverse group of language learners:

  • Get to know student names and at least one interest.
  • Meet and greet students daily, or consider getting on Zoom early just to chat.
  • Share your pronouns and inquire about theirs.
  • Make eye contact and listen attentively when they speak.
  • Think about equity, rather than equality, in the classroom.
  • Believe that every student is capable of success.

Think of every student like a different piece of fabric in a quilt. We all have different backgrounds and personalities, and teachers should take these factors into consideration when teaching.


Using Activities to Increase Engagement

Whether you’re teaching children, teenagers, or adults, there are many ways to make learning fun! Language activities can increase student engagement and interest while showing students how to apply their new language in different situations. Activities can be incorporated at the beginning of the year, during daily or weekly warm-up time, and through assessments.

Beginning-of-the-year activities should be focused on developing interpersonal relationships and are very important to early learning. Some ideas include having students set goals in the target language, creating individual Bitmojis and sharing them, and “What’s in My Bag” sessions that allow students to share some of their personality and personal history.

As the year goes on, you can incorporate daily or weekly warm-up activities to help students expand their vocabulary and improve their conversation skills. Games like Taboo and Four Corners are great ways to keep students interested in the material they’re learning. Using class openers such as daily icebreakers, this day in history, or a joke or meme of the day helps keep things light and fun. You may also consider pairing students randomly and having them engage in a specific topic of conversation for a few minutes each day. Don’t forget to include meditation time and “brain breaks” to keep students from feeling overwhelmed.

An often-neglected area where you can make learning more engaging is through assessments. After all, who says tests and assignments have to be boring? You might consider assigning weekly interpersonal or presentational recordings and asking students to submit their favourite one each month for evaluation. Giving students a choice whenever possible helps them take ownership of their work and improves their self-reflection skills. When designing formative assessments and culminating class experiences, ensure that you have SEL questions or components embedded.


Giving Students a Voice and Choice

To elevate commitment and foster connections, make sure you’re incorporating the element of choice in the classroom. Giving students a voice and choice in the work that they do and produce helps with their social and emotional well-being. Consider ​​incorporating choice boards like this one that allow students to choose the homework activity they like best. Give them options for assessments, occasionally allow them to choose their own partner for projects, and solicit their feedback often. Not only will students feel more involved, but this will also improve their relationship with you, their teacher.


For more information about cultivating motivation, check out these links:



ELL Webinar Series

Would you like to watch a class about inspiring students? This blog post is a summary of the webinar held in July 2021 for ELL’s Professional Development Learning Series. Every month, we bring renowned instructors to present on a topic relevant to language teachers worldwide. You can watch the full recording here.

And, if you would like to join us for our next webinar, register here. Participants who join the webinar live receive a Certificate of Attendance!


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