How to Motivate Different Types of Students

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Motivational Styles of Instruction

Presented below are two different instructor styles. Which one do you find more motivating?

Student Interruption (00:36)

Professor Beats Student (2:42)


Most students like to know that their TA is approachable. They want to be comfortable coming to you with a question, and they want to feel that you have some interest in them as individuals. And, of course, knowing your students as individuals will help you as a teacher since you'll have a better sense of their needs and interests – and can shape your classes accordingly.

  • Learn your students’ names. Even in large courses, it is possible to know many, if not all, of your students by name. Simply making the effort to do so, even if you get it wrong at first, shows students you think they are important.
  • Come to class early. The time right before class can be an excellent one to talk with students. Some students will come early, and they may have questions about the material. Talking with individuals about what they did over the weekend, or the latest campus news, can be just as useful in building a sense of approachability.
  • Stay after class. If possible, linger after the class is over – shuffle papers, erase the board. This is another excellent opportunity for students to come up to you and raise questions about assignments, readings, or ideas discussed that day.
  • Have a sense of humor! Like in the video above, be quirky and have fun with your students. When appropriate, humor in the classroom will go a long way in motivating and engaging your students in the curriculum.
  • Last, but not least, be yourself. Students recognize when you are authentic and this allows them to feel more comfortable in your presence and motivated to learn.

How to Motivate Your Students2

Students arrive in our classrooms with the full range of motivations – and sometimes with what we see as a remarkable lack of motivation. Motivating students is one of the most challenging things we do as educators, and some of us want to throw up our hands in frustration or proclaim that there is little we can do to motivate students to learn. It is true that students carry with them many past experiences that contribute to their motivation in our classrooms. However, teachers can make a difference, for better or for worse, in motivating students to learn.

Please download the following PDF article to find out how to motivate your students. The article is written to give you a basic understanding of what motivates students and to provide some sense of how you can create this motivation. Keep the following points in mind as you read:

  • Our ideal goal as teachers is to help students develop the intrinsic motivation that will allow them to become life-long learners.
  • While this article provides many tips you can use to motivate students, many of the outlined ideas follow a simple rule: respect your students as learners.
  • Teaching Assistants, because of their closeness to undergraduates, are often in an excellent position to show the respect, caring and concern as teachers that motivate students.
  • Active learning – engaging students in the class and working with their peers – is an important contributor to student learning.

Different Types of Students or Motivational Issues You May Encounter in Your Courses

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