Boosting Student Motivation in World Language Classes This Year
Avoiding lectures in favor of games and lessons that emphasize culture can help remote students stay engaged.
With students learning in hybrid and virtual formats, optimizing engagement and increasing motivation are more challenging than ever before. In any setting, involving students in their own learning is key; we cannot expect them to be enthusiastic or motivated if they are merely fed information and lectured to.
Despite the newly added obstacles that came along with the pandemic, there are still ways to motivate and engage students. How can we achieve this on a regular basis and reach our students who may be resistant to language learning? How can we strive to make students active participants in their own learning? Similarly, how can we ensure that our language classes provide positive, enriching experiences for all?
Make Interdisciplinary Connections
In addition to taking a culturally focused approach to your lessons, strive to increase motivation by planning with interdisciplinary connections in mind. For example, when I teach my Spanish I students about the environment, the seasons, and weather expressions, I tie in geography. I typically focus on South America in this unit by exposing students to the fact that the seasons occur in a different order in the Southern Hemisphere. My students are always fascinated to learn that in Argentina or Chile, for example, the summertime begins when the winter begins in New Jersey.
I compile a series of authentic resources, such as weather maps or forecasts from countries in South America, and students are able to practice reporting the weather in Spanish, in writing or orally. We then compare the week’s weather in one of these countries with our local weather in our state (I provide more detail about finding and utilizing authentic resources in my previous article linked here). Moreover, we spend a great deal of time looking at maps of South America over the course of this unit, as I expose my students to landmarks and capitals of different countries.
Many of my students who might not love the language are able to connect to the interdisciplinary parts of these lessons. Some are immediately interested in the geography, while others enjoy learning about different countries’ landmarks. Tying the content into other subject areas can undoubtedly increase motivation and engagement by piquing students’ interest.
Provide Positive Reinforcement
When interacting with students in the classroom or in the virtual setting, try to provide as much positive reinforcement as possible—this can motivate students to continue contributing and working hard. Rather than saying a vague “Good job,” try to give specific positive feedback. For example, if a student gives a detailed answer, rather than replying with a single word, commend the student for that by saying, “Excellent job providing so much detail in your response!” This shows the student that you appreciate the attention to detail. If more reluctant students raise their hands, commend them for contributing, and express your enthusiasm. Positive reinforcement can be given out loud during class or in written/voice comments on students’ work.
Additionally, don’t hesitate to send emails with positive feedback to students’ families. A note of encouragement can go a long way! Recognize the little things; this makes a tremendous impact not only in terms of building relationships with students but also in heightening their levels of motivation and engagement. Being a source of positivity ensures that students know they are entering a safe space each time they walk into your classroom.
Whether you’re in a physical classroom space or online, letting loose by playing games in the target language is likely to inspire greater enthusiasm and motivation. After spending time on new vocabulary or expressions in the target language, playing Quizlet Live is always a fan favorite. You can have students work in teams or individually. In teams, students must collaborate in order to determine who has the correct answer. Individually, students are working entirely on their own but are each competing against one another rather than against other teams.
Once you have a Quizlet study set, there is no prep required to get students playing—it’s merely a click of a button. Add some more exciting elements to Quizlet Live by having a set number of rounds.
If you want to get a little more creative and gamify an in-class activity, have students play a drawing game using the draw-your-response feature on Pear Deck. Typically, I will read a description aloud to the students in which I use vocabulary we’re studying. Students need to listen and draw what they hear. Upon finishing, students can vote on who came up with the most accurate, detailed drawing.
Another online game worth considering is Gimkit, which combines similar elements of Monopoly and Kahoot. In Gimkit, students work individually on their own screens but are competing for “money” and racing against time. They earn money by answering questions correctly and can spend their earned money for power-ups and upgrades. Unlike with a vocabulary-based game like Quizlet Live, students are actually answering questions or prompts. Each of these game ideas described involves even the most hesitant or quiet learners.
The reality is that some students will naturally be more motivated than others—regardless, it’s possible to increase engagement and motivation for all in your world language class. Making interdisciplinary connections, providing consistent positive reinforcement, and incorporating games will aid you in reaching all types of learners, ranging from those who are the most extroverted and outgoing to those who are more reserved.
When the established classroom environment is an encouraging and uplifting one, students will enter the classroom each day feeling comfortable and ready to learn. Not every student will leave your class an expert in the language of study; yet, if they can leave your class with a more motivated, inspired attitude, you have succeeded.