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 attending class early is having short connecting conversations with your students before class starts. Tell Great Stories — Use an opening story to 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 regularly of how activities support course and unit objectives.


Acknowledge the Emotions in the Room — Harness the emotions in the room and set the class's tone through various methods. Use film clips, tell jokes, and share stories to activate your students’ feelings and prepare them to learn. Make It Social — Emotions are contagious; use this knowledge to your teaching’s advantage. Students can learn cooperatively by promoting engagement with each other and 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 gives students reasons to care about what they are working hard to learn.

Quick Tips

  • Get to class early. Use the time to pique your curiosity and get to know your students more personally.
  • 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 positively impacting 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 using a visual space on the board or by frequent oral reminders.
  • Show enthusiasm for your discipline and 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 stDoc ID117981
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2022-04-14 12:11:56Updated2024-04-04 09:40:33
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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