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by Erica Fischer on May 11, 2013

29 Proven Ways to Motivate Your World Language Students

29 Proven Ways to Motivate Your World Language StudentsInfusing culture into the classroom, travel and dance are just a few ideas that always seem to get world language students motivated to learn.

“Kids love variety, creativity, and want some choices about what they do,” @dr_dmd explained. His comment hit the core of what the chat was about on Thursday night. Teachers from all over the continent shared what excites their students to learn, and found that world language students are motivated by the same basic things.

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29 Proven Ways to Motivate Your World Language Students

1. Real-world applications. A huge number of teachers talked about how important it is for world language classes to connect to the real world, on a small or large scale. @dr_dmd said, “When we have activities about the REAL world, students seem to be curious, want to know more.” @SraHass said, “I think a great intrinsic is having big real world projects, maybe spanning years, culminating in service travel maybe.” @DiegoOjeda66 said, “Every example, every lesson has to be connected to students’ real world.”

2. Travel. Going to a country where the target language is spoken can be one of the most motivating events in a student’s world language experience. @cadamsf1 said, “I had a parent write and tell me how much more motivated her child was after a trip where she was the only one who could speak the language.”

3. Classroom climate. Most world language teachers agreed that classroom climate is one of the most important elements in keeping students motivated. @SraHass said, “I agree that creating a good class culture is important for students to take risks.” @placido said, “Trying to take a cue from band teachers…make the class feel like a family, like a club, like the kids are special for belonging!”

4. Progress. Nothing is more motivating to a world language student than knowing that they have made personal progress in the language. @CatherineKU72 said, “Students [are motivated by] seeing their progress over time. They sometimes forget where they started and how they have grown.” @trescolumnae said, “[A lot of positive class climate] comes from the excitement of accomplishing a worthwhile task!”

5. Have high expectations. Students will be more motivated if they know that, when they do accomplish something, it will be a real achievement. @dr_dmd said, “Have high expectations! Don’t compromise, but do scaffold for success. They CAN do it, but help and coach!”

6. Invite guest speakers into the classroom. When students meet people who have been successful at learning the target language, they form personal connections with it. @placido said, “I bring in guest speakers whenever possible! Native speakers and former students who have study abroad experiences!

7. Be unexpected. Many of the #langchat world language teachers talked about how important variety is in their students’ motivation. @CatherineKU72 encouraged, “…unexpected activities that change up the class. I sent second years out onto campus w/iPods to take pictures of objects and adjectives. Motivation!” @c_macd shared, “I had students playing MASH. It was such a great way to bring their interests into language activities.”

8. Humor them. Students are more likely to want to come to class if they know they will laugh at least once. @Sra_Kennedy said, “#langchat I use humor to motivate students. Silly faces during songs. Funny voices during dialogues. They eat it up.” @dr_dmd agreed, and gave some excellent advice: “Incorporate HUMOR often! The more laughter, the better! But not at anyone’s expense! Costs too much. Make it safe!”

9. Connecting globally. Many world language teachers shared their positive experiences with global connections to motivate their students, mentioning Edmodo, Skype and Google+ as great tools. @profeslack said, “I’ve been able to set up Skype sessions with people/classes in Spanish speaking countries. Students love using L2 for real communication”

10. Be interdisciplinary. @msfrenchteach said, “I find it important to make those interdisciplinary connections with a broad-range of topics (like w/the 6 major AP themes).” @SraHass said, “I tried connecting with geography so our unit topics would coincide; everyone’s so busy!” @cadamsf1 said, “My science students that are in language like it when I choose short readings or topics for them.”

11. Artistic elements. @HJGiffin said, “I have found my success with art as the content to be very effective. We make art…in Spanish.” Other teachers agreed that art is a great way to get students more involved in world language. @dr_dmd said, “Anything art related is very interesting to kids! Check out the @GoogleArtProject for some inspiration!”

12. Music and dance. Music and dance are great introductions to culture and get the students moving. @cyberfrida said, “I sometimes dance in front of class with Spanish music! Some join me, others sing.” @Innablog shared, “In Spanish club we do Zumba, Bachata, Cumbia and Salsa. Kids love it and then sing songs.” @klafrench said, “Songs and music videos really get them involved, for me. No iPad games or chats when we do one of these. They are all focused.”

13. Journaling. Having students write journals makes language learning more personal and long-lasting. @HJGiffin said, “Every day the students write a journal in the TL about personal topics and opinion (today = What is love?) Kids want to share.” Even group journals can be great motivation, as @Marishawkins explained. “We did a fake Facebook page and the students loved it!”

14. Give students creative expression. @SrtaTeresa encouraged teachers to incorporate, “…anything with few parameters where they can use their creativity. I have students who come to life when they are given freedom.” @msfrenchteach agreed: “Great point regarding creativity and freedom! Nice to have challenge of developing tasks that motivate even least creative students.”

15. Performance based tasks. One of the key ideas that many teachers agreed upon was the elimination of focus on traditional grades in favor of performance-based assessment. @julieeldb00 said, “I agree. Performance-based tasks motivate my students. They like to see what others create.” @trescolumnae said, “The effort-results connection is key, and for grade-motivated students, grades should reflect that.”

16. Technology. Any world language teacher who uses technology in class knows that kids light up when they are allowed to use their phones, Ipads or computers to learn. The Edmodo software was brought up as a good example of motivating technology. @dr_dmd said, “@edmodo rocks BIG TIME! My kids will write compositions in @Edmodo when they won’t on paper!” @AudreyMisiano said, “I see my students logging in outside school time, during vacations and checking out content! It’s a great motivator!!”

17. Television and videos. Watching and making videos can be a great way to get world language students excited about class. @HJGiffin said, “We also watch real telenovelas in Spanish w. Spanish subtitles. They picked it up SO quickly because the acting is so obvious!” Reader’s theater and other video productions can also be fun for teachers. @trescolumnae said, “Readers’ theater or, if you have time, making video versions of what you read – exciting for many students AND for me.”

18. Mentoring. Many teachers have found success in programs where their students help teach to younger or more inexperienced classes. @AudreyMisiano said, “Another motivator for my students this year has been cross-age teaching. They prepare for teaching younger students in our district.”@Sra_Kennedy agreed, “My third graders will do just about anything for the chance to help out with kindergarten.”

19. Connect with students’ interests. In order for students to be interested in coming to class, they have to feel that they personally connect with the lesson and language. @trescolumnae expressed it perfectly, “So, to create the joy we have to connect everything (language, cultural products/practices/perspectives) with students’ compelling interests.” @HJGiffin agreed and added, “…and themes that are relevant to their lives (body image, divorce, etc).”

20. Connect with community and home. @SraHass said, “Connect with the community – community exhibitions for authentic audiences, how #WL is present in local hospital/businesses, etc.” @julieeldb00 said, “I like to flip the class – students take the notes at home and then use all class to apply and practice.”

21. Games and props. @AudreyMisiano said, “I also use a lot of games for motivation. I love games because I design them so the learning is disguised…they don’t even know it!” @Sra_Kennedy said, “My students love props. I’ve never seen them go so crazy as when I pulled out a bucket of plastic food during our restaurant unit.”

22. Provide rewards. Having a good reward is a great way to keep kids engaged in the lesson. @SrtaTeresa said, “Smelly stickers and ones with praise words motivate as well, even high school students.” @SrtaTeresa suggested using free reading as a reward for early finishers. “Classic children’s books in Spanish can be fun to look through if someone finishes a test early.”

23. Teach organization. @DiegoOjeda66 said, “Organization is a very important aspect of motivation.” @CatherineKU72 said, “We go through binder organizing every other week. What’s missing? Replace, organize. It really helps distressed students.” @Sra_Kennedy encouraged teachers to run an organized classroom as well, to help alleviate stress for students. She said, “Having a well-established routine all around I think helps students know what to expect.”

24. Promote participation. @klafrench said, “I find it is easier to “hook” them the younger they are. My 7th graders are all motivated to participate and share.” @CatherineKU72 said, “I ask students if they have any other class where they have so many cool activities. Other classes use workbooks, drills. Not French.”

25. Friendly competition. Many students love to be able to compete. Friendly competitions can get students working together and much more engaged in the lesson. @DiegoOjeda66 said, “I include competition sections in my tests. Students are divided in groups and score points for their teams if answer correctly.”

26. Give students freedom to choose. So often, students are mandated activities and assessments. Giving them the option to be in charge makes them much more motivated to complete a task. @DiegoOjeda66 suggested allowing students to help prepare the day’s lesson. He said, “Like @SECottrell has advised us in the past, allow students to design their own assessments.” @dr_dmd said, “Give students opportunities for voice and choice as often as possible, and daily in some manner – students need to OWN the class as well”

27. Be passionate. Many teachers suggested that personal passion for the language is one of the best motivators for world language learners. @klafrench said, “When they see your passion, it is catching! They will catch the spirit and be just as excited as you about it!” @cadamsf1 responded, “That is so true!! You can bring them up from the dead sometimes if you are passionate enough about it…”

28. Use inquiry-based learning. Helping students to foster an inquisitive mind and allowing them to research their own answers is a great way to motivate students with higher-level thinking skills. @alisonkis explained, “Inquiry-based approach engages students in learning process.”@dr_dmd suggested, “Invite students into the inquiry – when they have a question, can they do some digging to find the answer and teach the class?”

29. Don’t overdo it. With all of these great ways to keep kids motivated, it can be very easy for a world language teacher to get overwhelmed. @CatherineKU72 has some words of wisdom for the world language teacher who wants to do everything now. She said, “I would add: temper your energies. Burning out because you gave 150% everyday is not good either. Lots of energy, w/breaks.”

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How to Motivate the Unmotivated

@CatherineKU72 said, “We provide a great deal of motivation, but how to help those who cannot motivate themselves or feel no motivation to try..Trickier” @klafrench said, “@DiegoOjeda66 That is absolutely true. Just being tough on them all the time gets us nowhere as teachers.

Even the best lessons and teachers run up against a student who just doesn’t want to be in class. But, some, like @msfrenchteach sees it as a positive challenge. She said, “Motivating students to find interest in WL learning keeps me on my toes. Without challenge, life as an educator would be dull.”

@placido gave some of the best advice of the night for reaching the unreachable students: “Kids just love to feel loved and special. If you can figure that out, the learning comes easy!” @dr_dmd responded, “We must believe in our students, and not just some, but ALL of them. Even mushrooms grow!”

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Thank you!

Thank you to our moderators, @dr_dmd and @placido, as well as the other #langchat moderators that were present, @diegoojeda66, @msfrenchteach and @SECottrell. It was a great, fast-paced chat that was over sooner than most of us would have liked. Also, thanks to everyone who came out and actively participated. It is always great to have new resources in the search to keep world language students motivated.

Please help us be a better professional learning community by sharing with us what you would like to chat about during #langchat. Visit us online to share your topic ideas for upcoming chats. You can also find a complete transcript of last Thursday’s chat.

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Additional Resources

No Child Left Monolingual
Kristy Placido
Edmodo: Mrs. Audrey Misiano
BLOG: The French School In Mount Vernon
Edmodo: Mr. Don Doehla
Spanish Class – Authentic Materials
The concept of self, Part 1
The concept of self, part 2
Slam Poetry Resources
Unidad: La inmigración
My Spanish Games
Project-based learning in World Languages
ARCS Model of Motivational Design (Keller)
Fresh Prince: Google Translated
Google Translate Cover Of ‘Call Me Maybe’
French Class with Alec Baldwin in Saturday Night Live”
Les mois de l’année
AIM rap
El rap de la entrada
AIM Entry Routine
Tuve Para Dar Remix Block 2
Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a champion
Guía del Prado


Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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