Active Learning

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Small teaching approach: Motivation


Motivating is based on the theory students’ perceptions of the value and likelihood of a positive outcome of a learning task impact student success and the classroom environment. Working with and through existing student emotions provides an avenue for engagement that can provide the basis for student motivation. Motivating involves: capturing students’ attention, infusing learning with a sense of purpose, and leveraging the social aspect of learning.

How to apply this approach

Get To Class Early — Use the few minutes before class starts to get students thinking about what is next. As students get seated, display an image, an artifact, or a passage of text that relates to the day’s content and informally ask questions like, “What do you notice?" Another advantage of getting to class early is the opportunity to have short connecting conversations with your students before class starts. Tell Great Stories — Use an opening story that will pique students' interest and activate their emotions. Framing a class as a story helps students comprehend and remember content and cultivates curiosity. Start the class with a question that the class session will help the students answer. Invoke Purpose — Over time, students will lose sight of the bigger picture of the course. Students need reminders of the larger purpose of individual activities, class sessions, and units. Remind students of how activities support course and unit objectives regularly.


Acknowledge the Emotions in the Room — Harness the emotions that exist in the room and set the tone of the class through a variety of methods. Use film clips, tell jokes, and share stories, in order to activate your students’ emotions and get them ready to learn. Make It Social — Emotions are contagious; use this knowledge to your teaching’s advantage. Provide students the opportunity to learn in a cooperative environment by promoting engagement with each other and with you. Show Enthusiasm — Care about what you teach and why you teach it. Just as important, care about your students as human beings. Showing enthusiasm for the subject matter and compassion for your students provides students with their own reasons to care about what they are working hard to learn.

Quick Tips

  • Get to class early. Use the time to pique curiosity and get to know your students on a more personal level.
  • Begin classes with something that affects student emotions by sharing something to wonder about, telling a story, or providing them with a surprising piece of evidence. Grab their attention and get them ready to learn.
  • Share how this content or the people who research in this field are making a positive impact on the world. Remind students of your material’s potential benefits to society.
  • Keep the broader purpose of a class period at the forefront of students’ minds by either using a visual space on the board or by frequent oral reminders.
  • Show enthusiasm for your discipline and for the class topics.


Lang, James M. Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. John Wiley & Sons, 2016.pp. 102-116.

Keywordssmall, teaching, inspire, motivation st   Doc ID117981
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2022-04-14 12:11 CDTUpdated2023-07-18 15:12 CDT
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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