Adam Crittenden

How to motivate your students

From using humor and surprise to employing reward structures

Here are some ideas on how to motivate and get the most from your students.

Culturally Relevant Material

Link your English Language content to your students' culture. Get students to create posters about various festivals like Loy Kratong and Songkran. Use flashcards that contain material relevant to daily student life experiences.

Concepts like "cold shower" and "sharing a bedroom" will have more meaning to Thai students than just "shower" or "bedroom". Providing relevant material amplifies students motivation whilst inspiring more energetic discussions concerning the ideas suggested in your vocabulary presentations.

The same goes for warmers! Keep them relevant to student experiences! A highly effective warmer asks students to describe what they have eaten at breakfast or lunch. Practice the future tense by asking them what they would like to have for dinner. Don't forget to advance your students from saying yummy to delicious!

Humour and Surprise

Inject as much fun as possible into the framework of your lesson plan. Use comedy whilst teaching but take care to retain the composure of a confident leader. Diligent lesson planning allows you to enjoy a good laugh with your students whilst keeping learning on a purposeful course.

Humour is easily created by imbibing any emotion or mime you are teaching with extra zeal. If you are teaching the word "fear" then act and behave as if you are absolutely terrified. If you are teaching "excited" then be overcome with delight and react as if you have just won the Thai lottery. Arrest the attention of your students and motivate them to enunciate the next vocabulary word with increased vigour in expectation of viewing your next wacky interpretation!

Keep your students on their toes by surprising them with unusual rewards. Give a heartfelt congratulation to a student who has just performed a massive yawn and say "congratulations for the most beautiful yawn of the day." Just say the Thai word for yawn (which is "how" with a rising tone), and mime the act of yawning whilst keeping your mouth covered with your hand. The children will laugh and refocus on the lesson.

Boredom grows from predictability, an occasional taste of the unexpected will make everyone's learning experience more enjoyable.

Be Generous With Positive Attention

Give extra attention to trouble makers and absentees!

Unruly behaviour is often a disguised plea for attention. Many of your Thai students may only see their parents intermittently. Seize the opportunity to motivate and fill the attention void! Go out of your way and warmly praise any type of positive input they make to the class. Get the class to clap them if they speak some English or perform an instruction correctly.

Once the student recognises that they will get the attention they need in your English class then they will try harder. It is one of the most rewarding feelings in teaching, when a former truant attends more regularly, or when a troublesome noise-maker starts to utilise their vocal talents by calling out vocabulary.

Establish Career Goals

Getting students to establish a career goal is a great motivational strategy. Take the opportunity to ask students about their career aspirations when you encounter them in more personal situations, such as in the playground, library or with early-comers to your classroom. Students may feel more comfortable discussing their ideas about their future when away from whole class attention.

A useful way to get students to discuss career options is to perform an in-class survey. Just put up six different careers on the board and get each student to vote for the career that they like the best. After the survey is completed you can begin a discussion about the most favoured career and encourage them to talk about other things they would like to do after school.

Once a student describes a career aspiration that they have then you can use this to align your English material to their goals. Keep reminding these students to stay focused on their career targets and continuously emphasise the importance of English in making their career target a reality. Your motivated students have now created their own genuine reason to study English.

Classroom Poster

Work with your students and create a bold poster that lists some great reasons to study English. Pertinent reasons include improved employment opportunities, a greater use and understanding of the internet , an improved capacity to comprehend international current affairs and a greater opportunity to enjoy travel and overseas study. Encourage your students to talk with relatives and friends that have lived and studied in English speaking countries.

Use your poster as a warmer and get your early bird students to read out the reasons when they arrive, or if your lesson finishes early have the students read out the poster as a class before they leave.

Employ a Reward Structure

Use games, music and videos to motivate students in applying themselves to the more demanding aspects of language learning. As they grapple with grammar, waver with a worksheet or chatter during a dialogue recital, remind them that they will be able to listen to a song, or play a favourite classroom game when the current activity is completed. This will inspire the students to complete the task and motivate the early finishers to assist their peers.

Reward structures that involve gifts of small candies, stickers or a points scheme for a small prize are excellent motivational strategies. A judicial administration of classroom reward distribution has great motivational power.

Thai students are extremely competitive so if you employ an accumulative reward system based on points, toy currency or stickers, then you will motivate them on two dimensions. On one hand they will try to get the stickers to obtain the prize, and on the other, they will try to get more stickers than there peers. You can arrange the duration of your reward scheme as you deem most appropriate, whether it be weekly, monthly or even just at the end of term.

If you lack teaching experience then using an effective reward scheme is a great way to get students motivated whilst you are developing your own pedagogical skill set. As you gain experience you are sure to discover and master a variety of strategies to keep your English Language Learners motivated!


The fear of failing and looming reality of having to retake a class, as opposed to simply being held unaccountable seemed to work quite well when education mattered.

Those who tip-toe around this, deflect or simply do not acknowledge this fact, are part of the problem.


By Knox, Boston (8th May 2024)

This is very helpful! I love the idea of acting out fear and acting out excitement. This would definitely help me remember if I was a student. You’ve given me some ideas. Thank you.

By Spuggie, England (11th March 2024)

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