Are you a secondary or private language school teacher faced with po-faced, sullen teenagers who'd rather be chatting in the L1 or sleeping or watching telly?

Do you find the coursebook you use hardly motivates them? Is it a challenge for you to get them to speak in English and make them see the benefit of it in the long term? Then this blog is for you!

I'd like to do some action research into motivational strategies and teen psychology and this blog will hopefully help me gather some feedback and ideas from teachers who, like me, have problems motivating their teens to work hard and speak English. The problems I face are various:

  • Time of lesson: evening, so students are tired from school
  • Challenging coursebook: the prescribed coursebook is a little too "adulty" for them
  • Impersonal classroom: we teach in a satellite school premises and are not allowed to put written work up on the walls
  • Sense of isolation: not many classes happening at the same time so no affective relief during the break
  • Little intrinsic or instrumental motivation: there is not much "love" for the language or culture due to a lack of authentic exposure and not much uptake of an idea of going to university abroad.
  • Overburdened learners: students have too much school homework and tests

Questions you could help me answer include:

  • How do you overcome the problems above or similar problems you may have?
  • How do you collect (positive) feedback from students or evidence of language improvement after using these strategies?
  • How much do you think motivation affects learning?

All your ideas welcome! Thanks!


Books by Dornyei and Ema Ushioda are a must in the field of motivation. Perhaps some of their books are more research based and do not offer practical ideas at first but definitely allow us teachers to reflect more on our roles and explore some strategies coming from ourselves. Ema Ushioda has also very interesting articles on learner autonomy.

Thanks Dario. I've read your articles on teacher education. Very interesting. I did a module on teacher education and training models for a Master's degree and what you say sounds very familiar!
Would you say the reflective model is by far the most popular in ELT nowadays? (promoted by programmes such as the CELTA or DELTA?)
Where do you work in Argentina? I used to live in Santiago de Chile many years ago! I've been to Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Bariloche. Beautiful country!

My school is a state school because in my town there are no private schools. It is the biggest in town with 1100 students who learn in two shifts. Primary students in the morning and gymnasium in the afternoon. They learn because the marks or grades are very important when they enter the next level. Sometimes they are tired but they can sleep more in the mornings. The course books are challenging, rather difficult but in my opinion this is the best age when one can learn and memorize as much information as possible. During breaks they change ideas about lessons or homework. Sometimes they complain about the quantity of knowledge but still they have plenty of time to day dream and play games on computer instead of concentrating on lessons. Motivation affects learning because most of my students spend their holiday abroad and English is the only language known by everyone.

Hi all,I teach English to the age group of 11-16. Even I feel that motivation is a great matter of concern these days. As the teenagers are exposed to such a world in which there are innumerable distractions awaiting. I have experimented many ways to motivate the children. The best thing that has worked till now is giving them group activities and marks for the same. Also rewarding the winners or the best performers plays an important role. At the same time we've to be very cautious that the students who do not fall in the winners category are not demotivated or demoralised. I usually reward them for making sincere efforts. This works very well with functional grammar. However I'm still hunting as well as experimenting ways to improve their creative writing skills. Would be grateful if somebody can help me in this matter.

Although I am not working in the school systemm, im a private tutor (small groups) for kids of all ages.  Last week whilst tutoring one of my pupils, aged 7 found i was losing his concentration a bit. (To put it straight out, he was bored!) Now i know this kid is soccer crazy, so i started to find themes on soccer... (on the net there is so much stuff)... using stories, short movies, pictures..... wow i was amazed. This kid didnt want to go home!!!.
So what i am trying to say, even as teachers in larger classes, if you  find a theme that most teenages would be interested in (fashion, the dangers of smoking/drugs, eating disorders, facebook, ..... and so on) Ask them to bring in pictures of a subject that interests them..... you will get them talking...
Tina Aharoni (tutoring in Israel)

Hi TeachEd and allIt is very good and interesting to read your comments on student motivation, because I personally feel that one of the most challenging aspects of teaching is to find ways to motivate the many diverse types of learners with their own preferred learning styles and different motivation/s and reasons for learning English.My students range from 9 to 60 years old, and they certainly keep me looking out for variety and all types of activities, with the aim of hopefully keeping their interest in learning alive. I came across a blog entry by Jo Budden on the topic of ‘motivating students’ (the link is, ‘English Language Assistant teaching tips/ Motivating the students) submitted in April 2010, and Jo makes lots of useful and relevant suggestions on this key topic. Thought I’d share this, and maybe some of you will check it out sometime.   Thank you all for sharing your very good ideas, and will definitely try some out.   Best wishes   Lauren  

Coursebooks are necessary to provide structure to the course, and they might be a "welcome imposition" from the institution. This might be fine if the coursebook is suitable for teens, with topics they may be interested in, but more often than not, this may not be the case. How many of us find ourselves struggling with the material in the coursebook because the readings or listenings are too boring or the grammar is not contextualised in a motivating way?
I find more than with adults, with teens you need to use a combination of coursebook and supplementary material which ties in nicely with what you're doing in class, such as:

  • Games, races, mingles
  • Role-play and drama
  • Using scripts from plays
  • Using video and film
  • ICT activities like treasure hunts, webquests, blogs and wikis and animated cartoons (GoAnimate, Voki, etc)
  • Project work, presentations and CLIL

This will necessitate more preparation from the teacher but it's definitely worth it!

Hello Dario,
Do you know if it's posible to find that book you mention on the web. Fact is I need to find something to encourage students to learn. I wonder why in Argentina teenagers are so lazy to study, what kind of motivation can we offer? I have tried different things but even teaching private lessons they don't get the courage to take a book or a pen, they feel they're poison.
Thanks for your help!
from Argentina.

Hi! I live in Esquel,  400km south from Bariloche. Just perfect!
As for the reflective model, I agree with you that is the most popular but while it's about reflecting about our practices, it's not so much about reflecting about the extent to which CLT, TBL, and CLIL together with ideas, books and things like that produced in the UK for instance are suitable in other contexts.
While CELTA and DELTA may be popular among native speakers, so to speak, teacher education programmes in Argentina include several hours on learning about specific didactics, approaches and a three or four-month practicum.  These programmes do encourage reflection but sometimes it's like imposed or reflection is circumnscribed to some topics and issues only. I'd add that sometimes I even feel that it's being overvalued and promoted without much planning.

The one I have at home is Teaching and Researching Motivation by Dornyei and Ushioda (2001, Pearson Longman). It won't give you practical, recipe-like ideas but it offers a lot of food for thought about how we can spark and tweak here and there the things we do on a daily basis.
I hope this helps.
(from Esquel)


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