Motivational Magic: Best Strategies to Motivate Students


teacher classroom management blog


Motivational Magic:
The Best Strategies to Motivate Students

Includes Free Motivational Poster



motivate students teacher inservice workshopsIt just may be one of the biggest frustrations that teachers face. Trying to force feed education to students who aren’t interested, can feel like a losing battle.

Hello from Youth Change Director, Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. That’s me in the image on the right, teaching in Seattle, Washington. In all my workshops, I always begin by asking the participants to name the top issues they face in their classrooms and throughout their school. Motivation always is on the list. Hopefully, I’ll be seeing you in Portland, Oregon next week for the Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Youth Workshop (click) on October 12-13, 2017. Included in the 200 innovative, must-have strategies that I will give in the Portland workshop next week, I can promise dozens and dozens of strategies to motivate students of all ages. I specialize in strategies that are designed to work when conventional motivational methods have failed. So, if you work with very unmotivated students, plan to be in Portland next week. Whether or not you can attend our Portland workshop, check out the terrific strategies to motivate students that are included in this issue of our Problem Student Problem-Solver magazine. This small sampling of some of our best methods will give you the feel of the 50-70 motivational strategies I expect to teach in Portland.


Best Strategies to Motivate Students

student motivational posterGet This Motivational Poster Free!

For Use as a Poster, Worksheet or Discussion Starter

For Discouraged Students

Whether you use this awesome motivational poster as a wall sign, or to ignite a classroom discussion, this item is a terrific strategy to motivate students who are discouraged. It’s our Poster #328, but it also makes a good worksheet too.

Many discouraged students think that they are the only ones to struggle, fail or make mistakes. This poster can be a strong punch to the stomach, quickly convincing those youngsters that many of the world’s biggest successes floundered and got discouraged too.

To use this item as a poster, print it in color with dimensions of 11 x 17 inches. To use this item as a worksheet or discussion starter, you can print it out in any size you wish, or show the image on your projector.


Re-Brand and Market Education for the

Most Unmotivated Students

In my workshops, I often hear teachers describe teaching their students as being an awful lot like “trying to lead a horse to water and force it to drink.” After teaching a workshop in California, a teacher handed me a note. It said: “You can’t lead a horse to water and force it to drink, but you can give the horse salt and it will drink voluntarily.” That clever comment is exactly what I have been trying to teach for years about how to motivate students. You may wonder “what is the salt?” The salt is anything that lights a fire under a student. You may be thinking that many of your students claim to have no dreams, no goals, no preferences, no hope. Here’s a strategy for very negative and discouraged students for when it certainly seems that there is no human equivalent of “salt” for the unthirsty horse: Ask the student what they want to be when they grow up. If they give a useful response, then you can use that wished-for occupation as “salt” by showing how math, science, reading, writing and other educational skills will be required for that career or job.

However, for your students who profess that they have no goals and no hopes, here’s a terrific workaround. This alternative will also work well with your students who say that they want to grow up to be nothing. For students who claim that they want to “nothing,” say: “Okay, but if you did want to be something, what might it be?” For students who say that they have “no idea” what they want to be when they grow up, say” “Okay, but if you did know what you want to be when you grow up, what might it be?” This strategy allows the student to hang onto their negativity and discouragement rather than be expected to somehow jettison, overlook or override those strong, long held, negative feelings. You are in effect detouring around the negativity and discouragement instead of attempting to modify it. Attempting to modify the negativity will almost always fail but this “detour around it” tactic completely avoids the distraction of a power struggle over the student’s outlook. You have now learned that very important piece of information: what the student cares about in their future, and you can immediately use that information as “salt” as described above. You will use the students’ hopes and goals to re-brand school and education as the only path to reach their dreams.

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how to motivate students

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k12  motivational posterUnexpected Motivational Strategies

Can Produce the Best Results

Straight talk about motivation often produces meager results so ditch the verbiage in favor of unexpected strategies that catch students off guard and “sneak in” your motivational message about school and education. An example of these “sideways” motivational strategies is pictured at right. It’s our Poster #328. You can read its message: “Four thirds of math students don’t think they need to learn fractions.” Depending on your students’ age and skill level, they may or may not get the joke. For students who don’t understand the poster, it will be unsettling and uncomfortable and will plant the seed that “maybe, just maybe, I will need to know fractions and math.” That is the start of motivating students. You plant the seed and keep adding more and more strategies that build on that beginning. Remember: No student is going to say: “Wow! That motivational strategy really helped me to realize how much I need math!” In fact, the opposite is more likely: students will often not let on that a motivational strategy made them think, reconsider or worry about their lack of skills, or wonder if they would be unable to get by without learning fractions, and so on. Teachers plant a seed that they don’t always get to see flower and bloom. However, when you use unexpected motivational strategies, their impact is far greater than conventional interventions like just talking to the student.


Let Unmotivated Students Experience

Life Without Education

Teachers often wish they could somehow convince students that they will be incredibly vulnerable and terribly handicapped as adults if they lack education and skills. Here’s a dynamic way to let students experience the downsides of a poor education and missing skills. This activity requires a few props. You will need a large amount of small candies like M&MS or similar; a clean, 3′ by 5′ large table cloth or similar; and masking tape. Place the cloth on a table and scatter the candy all over it. Next, tape all of each student’s fingers together in random combinations using enough tape to seriously restrict each child’s use of their fingers for fine motor activities. Next, let one student at a time, or small groups of students, attempt to pick up and eat as much candy as they can in 10 seconds. Students will struggle mightily to pick up much candy and will be frustrated and impatient with their results. After each student has had a turn, discuss with the students their reactions, allowing them to emphasize how frustrating it was to try to pick up candy without full use of the fingers and hands. After students have finished venting their frustration, quietly say “Going through life without all the education you need is like trying to pick up M&Ms without use of all the fingers you need. This is what life can be like for you if you don’t get a full education.” This unexpected turn to the activity will cut through a lot of the oppositional reaction that students would have to a more straightforward, conventional approach. Students may remember this unusual activity and it can begin to chip away at the belief that “I can get by without education.”


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About Ruth Herman Wells

Author/Trainer Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. is the director of Youth Change Professional Development Workshops. In 2011, Ruth was rated as a Top 10 U.S. K-12 educational and motivational speaker by Speakerwiki and Speakermix. She is the author of several book series, a columnist, adjunct professor for two universities, and a popular keynote speaker and workshop presenter. Ruth's dozens of books includes Temper and Tantrum Tamers and Turn On the Turned-Off Student.