Tips from Teachers on Motivating Students to Learn

McGraw Hill
Inspired Ideas
Published in
4 min readFeb 13


Like so many aspects of teaching, motivating students to learn is both an art and a science. From psychology, we can understand motivation through a framework called self-determination theory, where students require autonomy (opportunities to make choices about learning), competence (frequent feedback), and relatedness (tasks relevant to their lives) in order to be motivated. We also know that motivation and engagement are inextricably linked: students must be engaged in order to be motivated, and both are required in order for learning to happen. For more on the science behind motivation, read: “Motivation: The Key to Engagement in Online Learning.

But applying these theories in practice — in a real classroom, with students who have diverse needs, interests, and backgrounds — requires more than an understanding of theory. It requires empathy, creativity, and resourcefulness that educators refine through the art of teaching.

We asked educators to send us their tried-and-true tips for motivating students to learn. You’ll notice many examples of creating opportunities for autonomy, relatedness, and competence in their responses:

“I motivate students by giving them opportunities to take charge of their work through project- and place-based learning. Also key to motivation in my classroom is the development of strong relationships within my classroom.” — Skylar Primm, Teacher

More from Skylar:

“My kids love to play I can create a set of multiple-choice questions about any topic we are studying. The site is game-based so the kids are actively engaged. At the end of the game, I can easily see how many questions each student answered and what percentage they answered correctly. It’s a win/win!” — Karla Banks, Special Education Teacher

More from Karla:

“When it comes down to it, students truly want to know that you care about them. The best way that I find to motivate my students is by being a positive person in their lives. Each day I greet them with a smile and ask how they are doing. I try to use their name as often as I can, so they know I remember. I use positive encouragement and ask questions about their lives. I also try to make connections to the things that they like. When your students know that you care, it motivates them to try and do well.” — Nicole Jamerson, Civics Teacher

More from Nicole:

“Keep the content fun, engaging, and connected to the real world. If a particular concept is interesting and teachers can find a connection, then you will grasp the students’ interest and be more motivated to learn.” — Paul Larrea, STEM Teacher

More from Paul:

“One effective way to motivate students in social studies class is to give them as much choice as possible. I’ll often begin the lesson with a common resource and then ask the seventh graders to select from a curated set of primary and secondary sources, allowing students to explore the historical content in a way that serves their interests. Students are more motivated to engage with a topic when they can take ownership of their learning, just like they’ll do as adults down the road.” — Andy Scopp, Social Studies Teacher

More from Andy:

“Ask yourself three questions: Can students do the task? Do they want to do the task? Are there roadblocks for them to complete the task? These questions are the core of the three models of motivation, Expectancy, Value, and Cost, that can become tools to support motivation in the classroom.” — Stephanie Howell and Tara Ruckman, Coaches

Stephanie and Tara’s recent podcast focused on the three models of motivation. Listen for a deeper dive:

Follow the conversation #WhyITeach

To be reminded why your work is so very important and for more stories and advice, visit our collection of teacher perspectives at The Art of Teaching.

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McGraw Hill
Inspired Ideas

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