Extrinsic Motivation in the ESL Classroom
Jul 23, 2013 Teaching 2946 Views
Extrinsic Motivation – What is it?
We all have been there. A student in class is not involved, not giving their best or just plain bored. What do we do? Do we keep plugging away, trying everything that we can to get that student reinvigorated with the current lesson? Or, do we possibly appeal to something that is important in everyone’s life? That all important factor is, or many times can be, extrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation is something that drives people every day and in every field, subject, and workplace imaginable. For example, why did you go to college? Most likely, you did it to get a better job or to get a raise.
Many of our adult, and younger, students have similar motivations that increase their desire to learn English. A student may want to work for an international company, score better on tests in their college English class, or show off their new found ability to their friends and family.
How do we use it?
As such, how do we use these extrinsic motivators to help students learn in the ESL classroom? By knowing what motivates a student to learn, you can make any lesson have tangible rewards for your students. For example, if your student is a banker, but your class activity is public speaking about their last summer vacation, then you can explain how public speaking can be used at his or her next board meeting, or with customers in the workplace. So, while the content might not necessarily translate, the overall skill of public speaking will.
While all of us want our students to be intrinsically motivated to learn English, extrinsic motivation is not a negative thing. Many students want everything they learn to be obviously meaningful to them and many need a work or school related goal to work towards. For example, if a student knows they are going to get a raise for being a near fluent English speaker, than he or she will most likely do their best to obtain as much English knowledge as possible. Truly, there is nothing wrong with this and it can give us a huge advantage as teachers, in terms of knowing what interests our students.
How do we know what extrinsically motivates our students?
The obvious answer is to ask them why they want or need to know English. But, sometimes this is inappropriate or might embarrass a student in front of their classmates. There is a much less invasive way to ask and it will still allow you to know exactly what motivates that student to learn English.
A simple method is to ask the student what grammar or vocabulary they would like to know about. Many times, this simple question will allow you an insight into what they need to know, but more importantly, what they want to know. As you begin to gather clues, your instruction can be geared towards their needs and your current classroom lessons can be targeted to those needs (e.g. sharing synonyms of words they think are important, showing how a grammar point can be used at the workplace, etc.). Of course, the more you interact with students, the more you’ll learn and this information can prove invaluable in future lesson plan development.
Finding what motivates our students will always be important. If we don’t know why a student is sitting in class, at their computer screen, or is on the phone with us, then we can’t effectively tailor our instruction to them. Furthermore, we will continue to lose their interest in class and hinder their growth as English students. The more active we are in engaging our students in areas that are important to them, the more they will learn and you will be happier as their teacher!