Tips for Motivating ESL Students

According to Sevtap Karaoglu, “Motivation plays a significant role in the process of learning a language. Language teachers cannot effectively teach a language if they do not understand the relationship between motivation and its effect on language acquisition.” Preparing to motivate students is just as important as planning instruction. When students are learning a foreign language — as well as content area knowledge — motivation is often the key to meeting the most difficult challenges.

Creating Good Personal Relationships

One of the ways teachers can motivate ESL students is by taking a personal interest in each student. Although this strategy is important in all educational settings, students who are new to the language feel an additional layer of separation from their teachers and peers. Even if a teacher is a native Spanish speaker, for example, students who come with no English language skills feel like outsiders. Therefore, it is critical that teachers and school support staff welcome English language learners (ELL) and show authentic interest in them.

Building personal relationships with students does not mean simply learning all about them and their families; relationships must go both ways. When teachers share their lives with students, they build a stronger bond, and students are more likely to work hard to please the teacher and succeed academically.

Creating Academic Goals

Students in any academic setting who set their own learning goals are more likely to succeed. According to Selen Turkay, Harvard University Research fellow, “When students set their own goals, they take responsibility and ownership of their learning goals.” As ESL students take responsibility for learning a new language and associated content materials, it is critical that they contribute to the goal-setting process.

After helping set realistic goals, teachers committed to motivating ESL students will regularly share progress with their students. Students face challenges at different points during instruction, and each progresses at a different rate. Even if progress is slow, students who can see improvement in both the short and long term are generally more motivated to keep trying, even if the tasks are difficult.

Another tool teachers can use to motivate ESL students is to showcase the success of prior students. Displaying samples of real work and progress charts from years past can model the success that students hope to emulate. When students see that those they know from the playground or neighborhood succeeded before them, they will believe that they can achieve their own goals.

Creating Personal Connections and Confidence

Teaching ESL students can be frustrating when students see no real reason to learn English. It is up to the teacher to make connections to the students’ outside world and help them discover the value of learning. Even things as simple as video games can be more fun if everyone playing is speaking the same language.

Personal confidence is also a powerful motivator. Teachers who tailor their lessons to the learning styles of their students show them that how they learn is as important as what they learn. This gives students a sense of identity and helps them see the possibility of future success. Further, motivated students are more likely to engage in peer teaching and tutoring.

When students come from a different culture and find themselves at a new school with no local language skills, it is up to the teacher and other educational professionals to make sure the students feel welcome. By helping ESL students set realistic academic goals — and by helping them build confidence — teachers can motivate ESL students to succeed.

Learn about the Lamar University online M.Ed. in Teacher Leadership with a Specialization in ESL program.


Sources:

Oxford University Press — 10 Commandments for Motivating Language Learners

ASCD — Educating Everybody’s Children: Diverse Teaching Strategies for Diverse Learners

TESOL — Motivating Language Learners to Succeed

Harvard — Setting Goals: Who, Why, How?

National Council of Teachers of English — English Language Learners: A Policy Brief


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