Motivating Unmotivated?

Motivating Unmotivated was a topic for our latest reflective group meeting discussion.

We were talking about the students who for various reasons do not want to be in our classroom, or are losing interest, or are being pushed by the employer or parents, etc. The session was lively and involved a lot of talking and sharing (all based on the personal examples and challenges) and generous solution-offering time) During the session I realized there was no time for me to personally share my experiences.  I thought this was great, because the participants needed each other more than me as a facilitator! 🙂


This post is written as a follow-up to the meeting, and as my ‘talking point’ on the topic of the session.

The timing of the meeting was interesting because I just got back from a training course I had facilitated in Daegu, South Korea. Out of the 16 teachers in my group 8 were not excited about the idea of spending 12 days of their vacation in the training room. The other 8 were either more motivated, or more careful/polite (use another appropriate adjective) not to share their feelings. I am only half-joking here, unfortunately.

Note: they were all qualified and practicing middle and high school teachers with different teaching experience

When I conducted a small needs analysis exercise and asked what kind of learning goals and hopes/expectations the participants had, five people mentioned ‘motivation’ in this or that sense. For example, some teachers wanted to learn ways to engage their students in the process of the lesson, some were asking how they can ‘wake their students up’ in class (well, literally, in many cases), some were wondering if there are techniques to create and maintain interest in the process of learning a language in general, etc.

I replied that the course they were about to start should bring the answers to some of those questions, and (bravely!) encouraged the group to observe their facilitator and notice if there were ways Zhenya was using during the course to engage the ‘less motivated’ part of the group into the learning process. At the moment of saying that I was aware that I should be paying attention and consciously focusing on this matter throughout the course. In other words, I created a small ‘trainer challenge’ for myself.

So what did I do to encourage/motivate learning? I will make a list below (some ideas will be more self-explanatory than others, and I encourage you to ask me questions in the comments):

  • asking reflective questions after most of the tasks and activities done/experienced during the day (How did you feel before, during and after the activity? What was helpful, and what was not, and why?, etc.)
  • reality check questions (In what way might this work with your students? What modifications/adaptations might you need to make? Etc.)
  • having quiet reflective writing (journaling) time between sessions, or sometimes, between activities; sometimes with specific questions to focus on, and sometimes with a more general task ‘What would you like to remember about this idea after the course ends?’ or similar)
  • having no formal homework during the whole course (even though there were two group lesson plans to be submitted for micro-teaching element of the course, there were two planning slots during the week where the participants could manage their time themselves and complete the work; some chose to finish the work at home, but in that case, it was a choice, not an imposed task from the trainer)
  • planning and carrying out energizing activities in the morning and right after lunch (literally game-like and kinesthetic warmers that could be done in an ELT classroom, with a ‘twist’ towards the topic of the coming course session)
  • having a ‘parking lot’ poster or a part of the board with specific questions asked (and returning to them on the break time, and/or during lesson feedback, and/or as a part of a later session)
  • ‘VAKT-ing’ sessions, or addressing visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile modalities (yes, we can talk a lot about learning styles being wrong or artificial – the variety worked!)
  • offering choices, where possible (sometimes, big ones, like the time for a class break, and sometimes, more important questions, e.g. the order of groups in micro-teaching and deciding who goes earlier, and who is the last, etc.)
  • preparing an activity/task/picture you/the teacher (or me, facilitator, in this case) really likes (example: I love cutting things out and so I created a large paper octopus for the aspects of writing)


  • responding to the questions asked during the course (in class, on the break, via e-mail, etc.)
  • using space in the room creatively (depends on the premises you are in, sometimes there are ‘hidden opportunities’ you have never noticed, such as a moving board, or a large wall, etc.)
  • having ‘advantages and disadvantages’ discussion time for any idea offered (may be a part of the reflective/critical thinking point above, but feels different to me)
  • grouping participants meaningfully during the course activities (e.g. experienced high school teachers working together for lesson planning and micro-teaching, etc.)

I asked the group at the end of the course which learning goals were achieved, and which questions were answered. The question about motivation and ‘waking people up’ did not come up again. I asked if it was something they discovered in the process of the course, and most of the points shared above came up.

In simple words, motivation is what makes people do/not do something. It is a huge topic and definitions vary, of course. My own ‘recipe’ for motivating learners is showing the interest, the passion, the care. Ideally, genuine, of course.

How do you motivate yourself, your learners or course participants? What works and what does not? What are your favorite sources of inspiration to motivate yourself (and then the others)? Please share in the comments!

Thank you for reading! 🙂

About Zhenya

teacher educator, evidence-based instruction trainer, PD Coach
This entry was posted in Trainer Reflections and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Motivating Unmotivated?

  1. Pingback: PD Challenge: New and Experienced Teachers | Wednesday Seminars

  2. Pingback: Possible Topics for Reflective Group Meetings | Wednesday Seminars

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