Supporting Student Motivation

We all know that motivation plays a key role in keeping students engaged and learning. While there are plenty of ways a student can keep their own motivation high, there is certainly an important part for the teacher to play here, too. Supporting student motivation is a vital skill in any teacher’s toolbox.

But before looking at ways teachers can support student motivation, it’s very important to define what we mean when we talk about motivation.

What type of motivation do we want to support?

There are plenty of theories out there that attempt to explain why we do what we do.

For our purposes, however, we’re most interested in the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. For example, you can motivate students with either rewards or punishments. This would be an example of extrinsic motivation, and these strategies don’t tend to have a long-term positive effect.

Instead, it’s much more important to support intrinsic motivation. This means nurturing natural curiosity and joy of learning in students, and it will lead to much more effective lifelong learners.

Of course, supporting the latter type is a much more challenging task. So, without much further ado, let’s take a look at some of the ways in which teachers can support student motivation.

3 Ways You Can Support Student Motivation

#1 – Empathy

Everything starts with empathy.

You need to see your students as people and not someone to unload your knowledge onto if you are to succeed in getting them excited about your subject (or any other, for that matter). This is especially important when it comes to improving student motivation.

If students are scared of you or simply feel like you don’t care about them, there is a very very strong likelihood they are not going to be motivated by your teaching. Of course, there might be a few who find your subject interesting on its own, but for the vast majority, your teaching will be ineffectual.

#2 – Relinquish control

Another way to get students more excited about learning is to have them be in charge of the process.

Of course, this is a tough measure to adopt in general education, where much of the learning is directed by national curricula.

But, there are certainly ways you can let students drive their learning experience at least to a point. For example, letting them choose deadlines or homework assignments. Also use different types of assessment and provide constructive, nonjudgmental feedback. Getting them to analyse their own learning is also an efficient tool.

Explaining why some tasks are necessary even if they are unpleasant is another wonderful way of improving student motivation.

#3 – Focus on growth

Carol Dweck’s growth mindset is another surefire way to get your students to feel better about learning in general.

In short, the idea is between separating growth and fixed mindsets. The latter sees learners as fairly fixed individuals – their success depends on innate characteristics, such as intelligence. Growth mindset, however, focuses on change and puts more emphasis on putting in the work to achieve certain goals.

You’d need to foster this mindset in all aspects of your teaching to see best results, though. It isn’t enough to tell students that they should focus more on improvement than on results – your own views, teaching style, and the learning environment all need to support this view.


Not all motivation is created equal. It’s important to choose the right strategies to support intrinsic motivation in students and help them on a path of long-term success. To do this, you need to start with empathy – treating your students with respect and consideration. You can also focus on giving them more control over their learning and fostering a growth mindset that will help them along the way.