Humanising Language Teaching
Year 6; Issue 2; March 04
MOTIVATION II: PATHS TO MOTIVATION secondary and adult
Ian Tudor, Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
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II.1. Helping students to connect
II.2. Attitudes and beliefs
II.3. Personal expression
II.4. Culture and curiosity
II.5. Creativity and communication
II.6. Pragmatic relevance
II.7. An intellectual game
II.8. In conclusion
This is the second of a two part article of which the first part, Motivation I: Towards a Methodology of Motivation, appeared in the January issue of hltmag. In the first part, I suggested that motivation plays a key role in language teaching, proposed a view of motivation as "connection", and introduced the concept of a "methodology of motivation". In the second part of the article, I suggest six perspectives on, or paths to motivation. They relate to: Attitudes and beliefs, Personal expression, Culture and curiosity, Creativity and communication, Pragmatic relevance, and language learning as An intellectual game. Each of these paths to motivation relates to a specific way of presenting language learning to students so as to help them connect with the activity in a personally meaningful manner. The rationale of each path is outlined briefly and then illustrated by means of a number of sample activities.
II.1. Helping students to connect
In the first part of this article, I put forward a view of motivation as "connection", which involves students discovering a sense of personal meaningfulness in their language learning. I also suggested that helping students to connect with language learning is one of the main concerns of practising language teachers. In which way, however, are we to go about achieving this goal? First of all we need to understand what our students bring with them to the learning process in terms of their attitudes, interests, goals and aspirations and, in this light, what the language and the learning process actually mean to them. On this basis, it is then possible to evaluate which motivational strategies are most likely to help students to interact with language learning in a personally meaningful manner. These strategies will be many and various for the simple reason that our students are individuals who will live out their language learning in a variety of different ways. Motivation is a learner-centred phenomenon, and this means that there are many paths to motivation. For this reason, I present six paths to motivation, each of which represents a more or less different perspective on language and language learning.
Each of these six paths to motivation would merit an article in its own right in order to explore the perspective on motivation in question more fully, to describe a wider range of activities, to describe the sample activities in greater depth, and also to explore the potential of the activities in terms of language and skill development. As it stands, the article briefly presents each path to and suggests just a few sample activities, with the main focus being on the motivational potential of the activity in question. The goal is to offer teachers a discrete and manageable range of options with which to work in approaching the task of motivating their students.
(NB. A number of activities make reference to "English" or "the UK". This is simply a matter of convenience at the level of wording. The same activities can, of course, be applied to any language.)
II.2. Attitudes and beliefs
The attitudes and beliefs which students bring with them to the language classroom influence what they do and how they view themselves as language learners. If students believe that language learning is a feasible, an interesting, or a useful activity, there is a good likelihood that they will experience their language study in this light. Equally well, negative attitudes to or beliefs about language learning are likely to become self-fulfilling prophecies. "I am no good at languages" or "English is difficult: There are all these exceptions that I can never remember" are attitudes which can undermine students' openness to learning and demotivate them from day one. Helping students to develop realistic but positive attitudes to language learning and to their own abilities as learners is therefore a fundamental motivational strategy.
II.2.i. "Something I do well."
To get students thinking about something they do well in whatever field as a basis for developing positive attitudes to language learning in general and for working out specific language learning strategies
Working individually, students identify one activity they are good at, or at least that they enjoy doing. Then, working in groups of 3 or 4, they pool ideas on what "being good at something" entails in terms of attitudes, practice activities, and so on. On this basis, each group tries to see how they can apply these ideas to learning a language with the goal of making at least two practical suggestions regarding what they and their fellow students can do to approach their language learning more effectively. The teacher notes the suggestions on the board and asks the class to discuss and "vote" for the various suggestions made in order to come up with an ordered list of the strategies put forward by the class.
II.2.ii. "What I CAN do in English."
All too often, learning a language is presented in deficit terms - what one does not know or what one can not do (correctly), which can be very demotivating. On the contrary, being able to evaluate one's own abilities in a language in positive terms is very motivating. This activity is designed to help students to take stock of what they have learned and what they are able to do in the target language (TL).
"What I CAN do in English."
Working in groups of 3 or 4, the students draw up individual lists of the situations in which they are in contact with the language and what they do in it, even if this is only in receptive terms (eg. reading, watching television, or listening to the radio). They then evaluate how well they can perform these activities on a simple 1-5 scale. One group member then reports back on what the students in their group can do in the language. As a follow-up, the teacher and class can discuss the skills that students most wish to improve and the learning strategies they can adopt in order to achieve this goal.
II.2.iii. "What English can help me to do."
Especially in formal educational contexts, one of teachers' main concerns is to help students perceive why they are learning the language and what it has to offer them. Once students feel that the language is relevant to them, a major motivational hurdle has been overcome. This activity has the goal of helping students to become aware of what learning the TL can allow them to do and of the possibilities it can open for them.
Students conduct a brainstorming session on their aspirations (work, study, etc.), interests, hobbies, etc. Students then work in groups to think of the different ways in which a knowledge of the TL can help them and their fellow students to pursue their goals, interests, etc., and present the results to the rest of the class. As a follow-up, the teacher and students identify a number of shared aspirations and discuss the means of integrating these into ongoing teaching-learning activities (eg. via choice of study materials or communicative activities).
II.3. Personal expression
Most people enjoy discussing, describing, or exploring subjects which interest them or have some personal resonance for them as individuals and virtually everyone is interested in something or other, whether it be stamp collecting or sky diving, current affairs or ancient history. If channelled into language learning activities, these interests and concerns can provide a rich source of motivation. Personal expression is therefore a path to motivation which involves the use of activities which offer students the opportunity to "be themselves" in their language study by working on subjects which interest or are important to them as individuals. Relevant topics include personal interests and hobbies, opinions, goals and aspirations, personal experiences and anecdotes, etc. The range of potential activities is very wide, as wide in fact as the personal interests which students bring with them to the language classroom.
II.3.i. "OUR news report."
It is sometimes remarked that the "The News" is, in fact, just what a given group of individuals consider to be important. This activity offers students the opportunity to select and present what they consider to be the most important news of the week, whether this be on an international or national level, or with respect to events in their local community.
This activity lends itself to use as one component of a weekly slot such as a "Students' Day" which is reserved for student-centred activities. One group of students per week is responsible for preparing and presenting their own news report of about 10-15 minutes, with question time at the end. (It is helpful to establish a basic format - headlines plus the more detailed treatment of a set number of items, so that students can concentrate on the particular items they have decided to deal with without having to worry about the overall format of their news report.)
II.3.ii. "The personal interest slot."
To give students the opportunity to speak on a subject of their own choosing and in which they have a particular interest. This would generally be a regular slot, as part of a "Students' Day", together with activities such as "OUR news report".
Each student is given 10-15 minutes to present to other group members a subject of their own choice such as a hobby, their favourite sport, a certain type of film, music or holiday destination. A simple general structure can be helpful. For example: What I am interested in / enjoy; Why I am interested in / enjoy it; How one goes about doing the activity
etc. Students are encouraged to support their talk by relevant pictures, examples, explanations, etc. Another 10-15 minutes are reserved for questions from other group members.
NB. An alternative activity is "The opinion slot." or "Speakers' corner." In this activity, students have the opportunity to express their opinions on a controversial subject or one on which they have strong opinions.
II.3.iii. "My / Our Top Five
This activity is probably best treated in a fairly light-hearted manner. It may relate to a specific area, such as music or films, or it may be open "My / Our Top Five
of the week". It allows students to discuss topics of personal interest to them and also to share ideas with their fellow students.
This activity can be used either on a regular basis or as an occasional "reserve" activity. The format is very simple: Students work in groups to propose their "Top Five
whatever", and then present and justify their choice to the class. The teacher writes the suggestions on the board and the class votes for their preferred list. This is the class' "Top Five" of the day or week.
NB. In addition to their immediate motivational value, personal expression activities provide the teacher with an insight into what students are most interested in and can, in this way, guide the selection of learning materials and activity types. This has the added benefit of allowing students to influence what they are doing in the language classroom, which is a further source of motivation.
II.4. Culture and curiosity
The tourist industry, the numerous travel guides and books one finds in high street book stores, and the frequent holiday guide programmes on television are all indications of the attraction exerted by "foreign shores". The language classroom may not open directly onto sunbathed beaches or exotic landscapes (unless one is particularly lucky!). However, learning a language involves getting to know a different culture - how the people of the country in question live, how they express their ideas, and so on. In this way, learning a language classroom can offer "a taste of foreign shores", which is why language teachers often decorate the walls of their classrooms with attractive posters of the TL country. Activities relating to the culture of TL speakers can open up new horizons and stimulate students' curiosity and, in this way, contribute to their motivation to learn a language.
NB. In learning groups made up of students from different national or ethnic backgrounds, the "curiosity gap" can operate among the students themselves, students exploring the culture of their fellow students.
II.4.i. "Where I would most like to spend my holiday / live."
To encourage students to explore geographic and tourist information on the TL country or countries. Students undertake this research with the goal of finding the place in the relevant country or countries where they would most like to spend their holiday or even to live.
This activity is ideally conducted by means of an internet search of tourist sites of the target country. (The teacher may wish to pre-select the relevant sites.) Alternatively, the teacher provides students with a selection of maps and tourist material. Students mill around to make an initial choice (eg. a given area) and then work in groups to fine-tune their choice to a specific town or location. They then present and justify their choice to the other groups. (To conclude, the class may vote for a "general favourite".)
NB. With multinational groups, the activity could be modified so as to focus on the home countries of various groups of students. In this case, students from a given country operate as national experts for the others. They work together to present the attractions of their country such as the climate, scenery, historical monuments, or cuisine to other groups members, who then have the chance of asking the presenters any questions they wish in order to make their choice of their preferred destination. As a conclusion, students present and explain their choice to the other group members.
II.4.ii. Culture quest
To get students to explore TL documents with a view to discovering interesting or amusing aspects of the TL culture national traditions, local dishes, personalities, historical events etc.
Working individually or in small groups, students research an aspect of the TL culture via the internet, the media, reference works on the country in question, etc. They then present their discoveries to the class as part of a "Culture slot", which could be a regular feature of class activities. If this activity is popular with students, the teacher could organise an occasional "culture quiz" based on the type of topics chosen by students within the "Culture quest".
NB. An alternative with multinational groups is for students from a given country to present aspects of their own culture around a given topic (national traditions, historical events, etc) to other group members. In this way, students can build up an understanding of the culture and way of life of their fellow students.
II.4.iii. "The UK news".
To encourage students to explore documents relating to current affairs in the TL country.
This may either be a regular slot or a fairly substantial once-off activity designed to launch students into the TL culture(s). Working in groups, students research and present a news report on the TL country or countries. In the case of a language such as English, which is spoken in various countries, each group could focus on a different country. Students are asked to select news items which give a particular insight into various aspects of the TL culture.
II.5. Creativity and communication
Students' creativity and the normal human desire to share ideas with others opens up many possibilities for the development of motivating learning activities. For some students, language learning is a pastime with a strong social component, and such students will actively look for occasions to use their creativity and share ideas with their fellow students. For other students, language learning is an obligation, and being given the opportunity to channel their personal creativity in the language classroom may make all the difference between them getting involved in their language study or tuning out altogether. Activities geared around students' creativity and the sharing of ideas with others can therefore play a powerful role in motivational terms. The range of activities which can be undertaken here is virtually unlimited, and those outlined below hardly even scratch the surface of the possibilities which exist.
II.5.i. "My ideal holiday / house / partner / society
To give students the opportunity to express their personal creativity and imagination with respect to what they feel to be their ideal holiday, house, or whatever. What is chosen as the "ideal" depends on the interests of the group: It can be something "serious" like an ideal society, or something lighter like an ideal holiday, house, or partner.
Students work individually or in pairs to work out their ideal
and present their ideas to the class, being ready to justify their choice. In order to give a conclusion to the activity, the teacher or one group of students may be asked to pull together the common threads that have emerged in the various presentations. Again, this may be more serious (eg. the ideal society) or more light-hearted.
II.5.ii. "If I won £1 million / the national lottery."
To allow students to talk about their dreams and aspirations in an unfettered, imaginative manner.
Students describe what they would do with a large sum of money. The activity would therefore be individually based, though an initial brainstorming phase at group level might be helpful to generate ideas and also to ground the activity in terms of vocabulary. Students work out what they would do and then present their projects to the rest of the class. Depending on the group dynamics, class members may vote for the project which they most liked and justify their choice.
II.5.iii. "Designing a soap opera."
To give students the opportunity to work on a creative project.
This is a project type activity which may be spread over a whole term. In the first phase, students view episodes from one or more popular soap operas to get a feel for the type of characters present and the situations which arise. They then work out the general scenario for a soap opera which would interest them. (If students are in a language school, for example, this might in fact be a language school.) They then work out the scenario for their chosen soap opera the setting, plot, characters, etc. The activity could terminate here. Alternatively, students could take things further to prepare the staging of one episode of their soap opera, perhaps as part on an end-of-term students' social evening.
A simpler version of this activity is to have students view a few episodes of a given soap opera, study the characters, and then create their own version of the following episode - faithful to the original or with some bizarre twists.
II.6. Pragmatic relevance
"Why am I learning English?" or "Why am I doing this activity?" are questions which our students can ask us at any point in a course. The answers we give can have a significant effect both on their involvement in a particular activity or with respect to their longer term motivation to learn the language. One answer to these questions is that the language will help them to be do something that they need or wish to do via the TL order a meal in a restaurant, find information on the internet, use the telephone at work, or whatever. Whether students have a spontaneous motivation for language learning or not, an awareness of the pragmatic relevance of what they are doing in the language classroom can be very motivating.
II.6.i. "Selecting the right location."
This activity would be used with a group of business people. It allows them to use their professional knowledge to set up a scenario, to undertake an information search, and to argue a case within this scenario.
Working together, the students develop a business task involving the selection of the location for a new production facility, subsidiary, etc., in a TL country. The students draw up a list of the desiderata of and for the company in question in as much detail as possible (access to air and road transport, cost of labour, etc). They may either invent a company or imagine that an existing company wishes to set up the new facility. The students then split up into groups and each group researches via the internet the different possibilities which exist with respect to the various locations which are available - geographical position, transport facilities, offers made by local enterprise councils, etc. Once the research has been completed, each group presents its chosen destination to the other groups and argues the benefits of their choice. The class as a whole then selects the best option.
II.6.ii. "Planning a holiday / an initial visit / a business trip."
To help students develop the language skills needed to plan a holiday or another type of journey to the TL country. The "holiday" option would be more relevant for students learning the language out of personal interest and who wish to spend their holidays in the TL country, the "initial visit" option for learners intending to go to a TL country for a period of study, and the "business trip" option for secretaries or personal assistants who have to arrange journeys on a regular basis for their employers.
The class as a whole works out the basic format of a visit to the TL country within the goal orientation which is most appropriate to the learner group in question - flight and / or train times, including the possibility of cut-price flights, routing, hotels, etc. This should include the relevant constraints such as the target period of time, the available budget, and so on. The students split up into groups and work out a travel plan in accord with the goals and constraints in question. The groups then compare and evaluate the various travel plans put forward.
II.6.iii. "Dealing with clients."
This is a role play activity relevant to students who have to deal with clients in the TL, either face-to-face or via the telephone (eg. as in a call centre).
The students (or, at least, those who have such a job) describe the type of situations they have to deal with the types of clients, the questions asked, the difficulties that arise, etc. Other group members then select and develop a few scenarios and the students have to role-play the situation in question with fellow students in the role of the client. On the basis of the role-plays, the teacher and / or other group provide feedback to the students who enact the role-plays.
NB. In addition to its motivational potential, this type of activity is an excellent form of ongoing needs analysis in that it allows the teacher and students to spot areas which require attention in remedial terms, and thus set the agenda for subsequent language and skill development activities.
II.7. An intellectual game
One only needs to look at the number of people who do crosswords on the commuter train or be attentive to how much word play is involved in humour to realise that many people enjoy playing with language. In addition, the vast games industry shows just how popular games and puzzles of various sorts are. There are thus substantial numbers of people who enjoy playing games or resolving puzzles of various sorts. In part at least, learning a language involves cracking a code and can, in this way, be an entertaining and enjoyable intellectual game. This applies in particular to the study of grammar, vocabulary patterns, collocations, idiomatic expressions, etc., in other words, what is often seen as being "basics" of language learning. Indeed, this part of language learning is too often presented as a matter of Grammar, Red Ink, and Mistakes (in other words, as GRIM), whereas it can in fact be an intriguing and enjoyable activity. Introducing a game-type element into language study can therefore open up scope for a wide range of valuable learning activities and can enhance students' motivation, especially with respect to their study of the language system itself.
II.7.i. "Phrasal verb building."
To help students to extend their knowledge of phrasal verbs and to explore this aspect of the English language.
The teacher presents students with two lists, one of verbs (try run point, etc.) and another of prepositions (in out down, etc.). Working from their intuition or with the help of a dictionary, students match up words from the two lists to produce acceptable phrasal verbs. They then create a sentence using each phrasal verb. This can be used as a team activity, with the winning team being the one who creates the greatest number of correct sentences.
NB. A variation of this activity is "Word families". Here, students focus on building up their vocabulary range by working on the use of prefixes and suffixes. The core word is provided (eg. divide) and students have the task of building as many words as they can from the core word (eg. division, sub-divide, etc.).
II.7.ii. "Story telling."
To provide students with the possibility of using a certain structure (tenses, modal verbs, etc) within the framework of a story development task.
The teacher (or the students) selects an aspect of the language system which has been studied fairly recently or which has emerged as relevant from the observation of students' performance on other activities. The students then work in groups to prepare a story which has to include the target structure, either a given number of times or as many times as they can. One or more students from each group read out their story to the rest of the class, with the teacher and possibly a neutral student "umpire" monitoring for the correct use of the target structure. The class may then vote for the story they feel to be the best in creative terms.
II.7.iii. " "Correct my mistake."
To focus students' attention on the correct use of a given structure or area of vocabulary. This activity is probably best used as a revision exercise.
The students work in groups to prepare five sentences, four of which are correct and one of which contains a deliberate mistake. (At this stage, the teacher circulates among the groups to check that the "correct" sentences are in fact correct.) Each group then presents its five sentences to the other groups on the OHP or blackboard; the other groups have two tries each to spot the sentence containing the deliberate error.
NB. A variant of this activity is for students to produce five sentences, four of which are complete, and one of which has a missing word or two. The activity is organised as above, but in this case the task is for the students to spot the sentence with the missing element(s). (One point for spotting the gap; two points for finding an appropriate filler.)
II.8. In conclusion
With the global village becoming an ever more present reality, increasing numbers of people are learning languages. When they opt to learn a language out of spontaneous personal motivation, the teacher's task is generally a fairly easy one. When, however, language learning is imposed within the framework of formal education teachers are frequently faced with the challenge of motivating their students to learn. In the second part of this article, I have suggested six paths to motivation which may help teachers approach this task around a manageable number of perspectives on motivation. Different students are of course likely to respond positively to different approaches. Some may be most motivated by activities which are related to their practical needs in the TL (Pragmatic relevance); others may find activities which allow them to use their creativity to be the most motivating (Creativity and communication), and others may respond best to an approach which varies the focus and content of activities. This is a consequence of the learner-centred and thus diverse nature of motivation. A methodology of motivation will inevitably be a varied and multifaceted phenomenon. For this very reason it is not always easy to realise amid the constraints of formal education, with set syllabi and imposed coursebooks and yet it precisely in such contexts that it is probably the most relevant. I hope that the suggestions made in this article will provide teachers with some useful guidelines in the fundamental task of helping their students to discover just how varied and enriching learning a language can be in one or more of the many different forms which language learning can assume.
For reasons of space, I have been able to outline only a few of the many activities which arise out of each of the six paths to motivation put forward. To conclude, I would therefore like to mention a few resource books which I have found to be particularly helpful, and which readers may wish to consult to extend the limited number of activities which I have presented in this article.
Campbell, C. and H. Kryszewska. 1992. Learner-based Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Deller, S. 1990. Lessons from the Learner. Harlow: Longman.
Griffiths, G. and K. Keohane. 2000. Personalizing Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rinvolucri, M. 1985. Grammar Games. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Univesitι Libre de Bruxelles
PART I OF THIS ARTICLE MOTIVATION I: TOWARDS A METHODOLOGY OF MOTIVATION APPEARED IN THE JANUARY ISSUE OF HUMANISING LANGUAGE TEACHING