Increasing Motivation in the Classroom

I walk into the classroom and meet the thirty 15 year olds that I would be teaching for the year. A few seem eager to listen to my introduction and learn a few English phrases. Most give indication that they are there because they have to be. And one or two actually go to sleep. I ask those students a question and receive a blank stare and an “eigo wakaran’”. I’m now a third year JET and I’d like to say that this has only happened once or twice. Unfortunately, it happens almost every time.

Increasing motivation in a low academic high school is often a very difficult task. The important thing to remember is that their less than enthusiastic attitude in the classroom is usually due to lack of motivation and not to disrespect.

Participation is extremely important. It keeps students focused and helps to improve oral skills. Many ALTs have heard of and probably have even tried using the “Hanko Point System”. It may work fine for some but, it may be time consuming and ineffective with students who could care less about stickers or bonus points. I use a participation point system.

The “Sanka Point System” will either positively or negatively affect students’ grades. It is pretty easy to keep up with once you get a hang of it and it helps you get to know your students names.

Here is a basic example of what I do:

Write all the students’ names in Romaji in your grade book. Then, get them to fill out a seating chart. The students will receive “Sanka Points” each class and that average grade will be a certain percentage of their final grade (20 or 30 percent).

0- (0%) Talking or sleeping the whole class

1- (25%) Talking or sleeping despite being reprimanded

2- (50%) Told to stop talking, sleeping, etc. Not partipating

3- (75%) Model student behavior minus the participation factor

4- (100%) Model student behavior including participating at least once.

5- (125%) Model student behavior including participating more than once*

*Offering a 125% a day max. for participation seems like a lot. But, my students need this option. Although they rarely receive it, it lets them even out the days that they receive 3’s.

How to keep track of participation during class:

When a student participates, I write a little line in the box next to their name. If they participate again, the line becomes part of a five. If the class ends then the line becomes a four. If a student misbehaves I write a two beside their name that can be changed if they continue (I’ve never actually given a 0 or 1). Then after class the empty boxes get 3’s.

Tell students the rules of the game, including the following:

-Students who don’t participate will be penalized. Good students who don’t participate will as well.

-Learning a language isn’t any good if you don’t use it.

-When a student participates, whether correct or not, they will receive credit.

-On days that are activity only, participation will be determined on their use of English during the game.

-They can receive points for asking questions or answering questions in Japanese, too.

-English is different than other subjects, they don’t have to be perfect. Communication is the objective. So, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Making mistakes is part of learning a language.

Of course, you can and should alter the rules of the point system to better suit your students. You can usually get a good sense of their participation level during your introduction lesson. For students that aren’t motivated by the possibility of lowering their grade, try becoming their friend. Showing that you care and that you won’t give up on them helps motivate them a great deal. I will post more about this in a future blog.

When teaching anything, it is important to remain consistent. Decide the rules and consequences of your classroom and explain them to the students the first or second day of class (after your introduction). And ALWAYS enforce them. As a teacher, there has been no better feeling than seeing a previously unmotivated student raise their hand and participate willingly…a sign that they are learning. That is, after all, our objective. I’ve been surprised to find that my “problem students” have become my favorite over and over again.


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