Motivating our students – Chiew Pang

Without The Egg, There Can Be No Chicken

– Chiew Pang

Before you can motivate your students, you yourself must first be motivated – that’s the first step. Students can tell if their teacher is in a bad mood, if they’re tired, or if they aren’t happy with the material. Strong feelings rub off; if you’re enthusiastic about your lesson, you’ll make your students enthusiastic. If you’re excited about a project, they will be too. For some tips on keeping yourself motivated, read up on iTDi’s posts on staying healthy and motivated.

This time, however, we’ll take a look at some ways we can help our students.

Know your students

This is so basic yet so neglected. If you treat your students as mere names and numbers on your register, then you might as well start looking at the classified ads for something that will suit your talents better. Show you care, show you have feelings and they will reciprocate. Try to adapt your lessons to their interests. If you’re using a coursebook, be bold enough to modify or supplement it. Why do a text on Madonna if they’re more interested in Lady Gaga? Why discuss polar bears when the pandas are more real to them? Students will have more interest if they can relate to the topic.

Be realistic

iTDi Ways to motivate your students

Set realistic expectations, appropriate to their level. Go step by step. Set achievable short-term goals and praise them when they managed to reach the goals. The higher you get, the further you’ll fall. Go gradually. If they fall, help them up. By all means, push them, but know their strengths and their weaknesses, know their limits and push them just beyond that. Guide them. Encourage them. Demonstrate how tasks can be done.

iTDi Ways to motivate your students
Images by C. Pang

Sing high praise

As mentioned above, praise them for accomplishing their tasks. Display their work on the walls. Consider setting up a class blog where their projects can be posted and discussed. Encourage parents and other classes to participate. Promote it via your PLN (Personal Learning Network) – perhaps you can succeed in getting students from different parts of the world to visit and comment on the blog.

Let’s work together!

Involve the students in creating rules and punishment. Set roles and rotate them. Put them up on the wall so that everyone knows their own responsibilities. Examples are: marking attendance, tidying the class, wiping the board, posting to the class blog, and collecting homework.

At the end of some classes, try asking them these questions:

  • What have you learnt today?
  • What did you like about today’s class?
  • What did you not like about today’s class? How would you change this?
  • What would you like to do in the next class?

These questions may have some unexpected results. Click here to see what it has done for a couple of teachers.

Do group work often. Relating to one another is important and sometimes they learn more from their peers than from the teacher.

Extend the classroom

From time to time, if possible, take the students on a field trip, or even to the schoolyard or playground, anywhere outside the confining classroom walls. They are in the classroom for many hours and it can be very mind-energising to have a class outdoors, to feel the breeze, to see the sky and to touch the earth.

Open up!

Try your best to create a positive helpful learning environment. Be accessible. Let them know that they can approach you for anything that is troubling them. I know teachers who take advantage of social networks to maintain accessibility out of classroom hours but not everyone is willing to go this distance. How much you’re willing to give is up to you but knowing that there’s a teacher who cares for them can be extremely motivating. And motivated students can be incredibly motivating for us, too.

Without the egg, there can be no chicken.

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Learning to See – Chiew

Seeing Beyond The Classroom Walls — Chiew Pang

When I was asked to contribute to this topic,

one of the first things I did was to put feelers out to my PLN (Personal Learning Network).

I asked them, “What do you see each time you walk into your classroom?”

Photo taken by Chiew Pang, used under a CC Attribution, Noncommercial, No Derivative licence 



I’d like to share their comments with you.

Michael Griffin @michaelegriffin: I see an empty room that will soon be filled with humans and possibilities.

Jo McN @cunningcanis: I see community spirit.

Yitzha Sarwono @yitzha_sarwono: I see smiles and laughter painted on each wall.

Anne Hendler @AnneHendler: I see the potential to turn the room into anything we want today.

Christopher Wilson @MrChrisJWilson: I see a space that wants to be filled. Anything could fill it: my voice, their voice, handouts, pictures…

Abby Popowich @abbypopowich: … an opportunity to help somebody!

@JohnPfordresher: …vast but reluctant potential

Generally, they were all very positive comments except, perhaps, for John, who qualified “potential” with “reluctant”.

Now, what do you see? Do you see your students as a reluctant potential, too? What do you really see when you walk into your classroom? Do you have a preconceived idea before you walk in? Or do you try to empty your mind, or alternatively, fill it with unrealistic over-optimistic thoughts of how you want the classroom to be? Or, perhaps, you have nothing in your mind but the plan you had prepared and a determined effort to see it through. Or, maybe even, you have hardly anything prepared, and you walk in with nothing but your experience, and have the intention only to play it by ear.

Well, do you know what you see? I’m willing to bet that the majority of us see different things at different times; after all, we are humans and we are affected by many factors, often beyond our control. That is OK. What is important, however, is that we try to be positive. We try to see the goodness, rather than the opposite, in our students. They are humans, too. They, regardless of their age, have their stories to tell; they have their experiences to bring into the class; they have their ups and downs, just like you and me.

It is more usual than not that there is always one, or a few, “bad eggs” ready to cause turmoil, ready to push you to your limits. But, do you know them? I mean know them? Do you ever talk to them, find out what their story is, what their life is really like when they leave the classroom door?

Next time you walk into your classroom, before you say anything, make eye contact with each and every one of your students. Look at them. What do you see? Do you see a life behind those eyes? Reach out to them and let yourself be reached.

What is also, maybe even more, important is this: what do you see at the end of the class? Do you try to see yourself? Do you try to see you as the students did during whatever time it was that you were in the classroom? Do you ask yourself:

What did I like about this lesson?

What didn’t I?

What did the students learn, if anything?

What would I change if I were to have this lesson again?

Learn to see not only that is visible but that which is not. Don’t be like the people Ralph Waldo Emerson saw: “People only see what they are prepared to see.”

Prepare yourself to see beyond the classroom walls.

Connect with Chiew and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

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Your support makes a difference.

Strategies for large classes – Chiew Pang

Managing the large classroom

First of all, how large is a large classroom? 30 students? 50? 3,269? It’s all somewhat relative, isn’t it? For someone who’s used to a 100-student classroom, having 30 students will have him gleaming with joy! So, the real difficulty may not be the number itself but rather the consequences of having such numbers.

One of the most nagging complaints you hear from teachers is the number of students in their classroom. But, what is the real problem? Not enough air? Not enough chairs? Unlikely. Too noisy? Too impersonal? Perhaps.

The most common practice in the large classroom is, undoubtedly, group work. Set a task and the groups get to work while the teacher moves around, monitoring. Any emergent language issues can be dealt with the whole classroom later. To avoid valuable class time in forming into groups, pre-arrange them. Set a fortnightly or monthly group list and ensure that everyone knows to which group they belong. Stick it up on the classroom wall.

There are various criteria you can follow for forming groups and they all have their own advantages and disadvantages. You can form groups of similar levels so they can work at the same pace, or you can mix stronger and weaker students together so that the former can help the latter.

An extension of group work is to set up work stations where each station caters for specific skills and tasks. Students decide on the stations they wish to work on and when they complete the task, they move on to another on a different station.

If you are fortunate enough to have a computer lab, this is a great environment to use for large classes, too. I like setups, such as a horseshoe formation, where the teacher can see at a glance what the students are doing and can dart in and out to help and direct whoever needs it. I have created interactive quizzes, games, etc, on my personal blog, which I have used to great effect in the past. I’ve created activities where I can receive the results of the students’ attempts so I can check their progress. Have several links pre-prepared, or you can use a Google Doc and put the links there. Students do the tasks at their own pace, and repeat as many times as necessary.

Discipline is often an issue in big classes. Set up rules from the first day and abide by them. Better still, have the students themselves decide on the rules! They’re more likely to follow them. Elect a few “assistants” to help you with management. Know the school rules regarding disciplinary action. Know what you’re allowed or not allowed to do. Can you reflect good/bad behaviour in the grades, for example?

Noise is often an important issue in these classes. How do you get the students’ attention? Shouting isn’t the solution, nor is banging the table. Perhaps you’d need a microphone if your class is that big! Perhaps a whistle – I have been told that the sound of whistles affects teenagers more than adults. Have a sign – again, establish this in the first class – for example, raising of the arm (or the sign of the llama) means that the whole class has to repeat the sign themselves and become silent.  You wait for silence to be restored before putting your arm down and speaking again.

(I’d like to thank @michaelegriffin, @phil3wade, @Roselink, @kevchanwow and @cherrymp for their contribution to my crowd-sourcing document. – Chiew )