Motivation Madness

Employee incentive business concept as a group of businessmen and businesswomen running on a track towards a dangling carrot on a moving cable as a financial reward metaphor to motivate for a goal.
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The business of education is riddled with complexity and counter-productive demands. Teachers are often content-centered, students diploma-oriented and administrators bow down to the almighty dollar when making pedagogical decisions. In other words, students just want a job, and teachers want to profess the wonders of their discipline, while administrators want to show a profit. It is no surprise that the real goal of education is obfuscated by these demands, and the expectations that our students have are often misplaced.

Picture this. It’s the first day of an EAP (English for Academic Purposes) class. A particular student approaches you at the end of class and in broken English asks, “Teacher, will my English be like yours at the end of this course?” You want to say yes, but you know it is impossible. By telling the student the truth, you risk demoralizing her to the point that she drops the course. Why? Because she wants a job and she wants it now. Her motivation is employment. Yours is to improve her English. How do we square that circle? Simple. Chocolate.

The Power of Chocolate

We would all like (I know I do) our students to be more reasonable with their goals and the motivations that provide the impetus to take language courses and improve their communication skills. We would all like administrators to be focused on pedagogy rather than profit, and we as teachers would love to be able to profess to a group of students who are interested in learning language for that simple reason and no other. Unfortunately, in a world where education has become a business that feeds the job market, this is a rare scenario. So, how do we motivate these learners when authentic or intrinsic motivation is misplaced or impossible?

By appealing to their base desires. By providing a sense of security, and by showing meaningful developmental milestones. Below are several “artificial” motivational strategies that target students’ extrinsic motivations. Intrinsic motivation has been shown to be far more powerful in generating learning (Schnieder, 2012).  Intrinsic motivation is defined as doing something for its own sake, but when it is unavailable or non-existent, we as teachers are forced to resort to extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic Motivational Strategies


It sounds ridiculous. But, bringing some quality chocolate to class, to be awarded to a winning student/ team, to be used during a grammar drill or other competitive activity, can go a long way in reducing stress, increasing joy and keeping students on task. It can also provide some much needed sugar in those late evening conversation courses.


These can be gift certificates from stores, or even better, they can be your hand-drawn vouchers used to redeem rewards. For example, you can draw a mock voucher that is valid for “1 coffee and English chat for 15 minutes at break”. The winning student who gets the voucher then gets to redeem it for 15 minutes with you and a free coffee. Yes, you the teacher has to buy this coffee. Hopefully, your school can reimburse you, or at least provide some free coffee.


These are relatively new, but e-badges or paper badges can turn abstract developmental milestones into concrete mini-certificates. Job-oriented students love certificates and diplomas. Because you can’t offer these half-way through a course, offering e-badges is your mid-course solution. You can set this up at: :

·       Simply create problem-based formative or summative        assessments in your courses, then link each to a badge.

·       Once a student successfully meets the requirements of the assessment, they are awarded a badge.

·       Students with the most badges can win prizes, or just bask in the glow of admiration from their peers.


Nothing fosters a sense of community better than group outings and activities. Pulling your students out of class and bringing them, say, to the mall for an hour of shopping in English and an ice-cream cone can lead to the development of life-long friendships and a support network for these students, who are often immigrants in need of help. When adults are under a lot of life stress, knowing that they have a support group can make all the difference.

There are probably hundreds of available motivational strategies. But, in the end, understanding what your students want/need is central to a successful English course.

What are some of your favourite motivational strategies?


Schneider, J. (2012). Intrinsic motivation vs. extrinsic motivation: A survey of middle school students to determine their motivation for taking choir as an elective class. Research Paper submitted to Northwest Missouri State University.

Greetings to all my TESL colleagues at large! My name is Greg De Luca: ESL instructor extraordinaire, education advisor, program developer, innovative researcher in SLA, progressive rock drummer, amateur novelist, decent critic of fine whiskey – and last but not least, a somewhat dejected father of two princess-obsessed toddlers. Self-glorification and whining aside, my goal as guest blogger will be, first and foremost, to promote discussion about the best practices involved in teaching and learning as well as to provide succinct instructional strategies for your teaching practice. My TESL-ing began in Japan in 2004 after graduating from Concordia University’s Creative Writing program. Upon my return to Canada in 2006, I was promptly hired as an ESL instructor for several government-funded, full-time ESL programs at Champlain College Saint-Lambert in Quebec. I recently took on a new role as Education Advisor after obtaining my M.Ed., where I am helping our teachers cope with the challenges of adult instruction.


3 thoughts on “Motivation Madness”

  1. Greg, I love your humour, but I understand that you’re also serious. In community services, it is a known fact that workshops with food have higher attendance.

    So, how do I give my distance education students chocolate?

    1. Lol! Good question 🙂

      I suppose the answer lies in what type of learning management system (LMS) you are using, how far away your students really are and if there is a local representative that can bring chocolate in for you…You could also elect a student to be the provider of chocolate if they all meet in the same classroom.

      If you are using a versatile LMS, then you can probably link activities to badges. Once a student meets the requirement of several badges, you can ship some chocolate out to them!

  2. Thank you Greg! You’ve got some solid ideas and I hope that others with a flexible LMS read this. For now, I’ll be mailing the chocolate 😉

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