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Finding fool-proof ways to motivate high school students can make all the difference, and take you from being a struggling student-wrangler, to an engaging educator.

With motivation being a key factor to the success of a student’s academic career, it’s good to know that there are some teaching tips that can help you see your students through to success.

Let’s take a look at some teaching tips that can help you become better at motivating  high school students.

Prepare for success


Woman at the top of a mountain


To be able to motivate others, you need to start with self-motivation. Preparing your teaching strategy in advance can help you develop a clear plan at the start of the new term. It can also help you build on your teaching efficacy.

Teaching efficacy is the level of belief a teacher has in their ability to guide their students to success. Higher levels of teaching efficacy have been shown to establish motivation and improve learning outcomes for high school students. In fact, out of all the factors that affect student achievements, teacher efficacy has been shown to have the greatest impact.

Having a good level of teaching efficacy is also essential when working with adolescents, since this age group is more likely to work towards a goal when motivated – rather than instructed – to do so.

But, how do you build on your teaching efficacy and motivational capacity in practical ways? Here are eight ways to transform your teaching.

1) Be relevant


GVI volunteers with the children of the community


Engaging teachers make the curriculum and instruction of lessons relevant to students’ personal experiences, culture and long-term goals. This brings value to learning by allowing students to make connections between their personal lives and their education.

To do this, you need to gain a good understanding of your students. What types of societies do they live in? What challenges do they face? What are their short- and long-term goals? 

One way of gathering this information is by inviting students to express their opinions on schoolwork during class or as a homework assignment. In this way, you can start to see your lessons from your students’ perspectives. Responding to these perspectives can assist you in keeping lessons relevant.

Under-18 volunteer programs are a great way to give your students a sense of adventure while also allowing them to apply their knowledge and skills in a meaningful way. During these programs students can participate in projects that make a sustainable impact in a community or ecosystem around the world. 

2) Be authentic


GVI beach clean


Authenticity can contribute to the way your students relate to you as a person. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and share some information about yourself, such as your hobbies, small struggles you’ve overcome, or some of the accomplishments you’re most proud of. 

Being your authentic self in the classroom will encourage students to develop meaningful relationships with you and one another.

You’ll still have to make routines and expectations clear, but building a sense of community is more important than enforcing discipline. To help students engage with you and see you as more than just the person who lays down the rules, give a little of yourself.

Authenticity should also feed into your lesson plans. Authentic tasks include reading and writing tasks that are relevant to the world outside of school. 

These types of activities have been shown to increase the engagement of students who are usually disconnected from their academic work because they find it hard to understand why schoolwork matters.

3) Set goals and rewards


GVI participant planting a tree


Work with students to set short- and long-term goals with clear rewards. Setting achievable targets can help students to realise their individual progress and get them excited about reaching their next academic goals. 

Developing incentive programs or fun contests can be a good way to give students something to work towards.

Giving students affirmations for meeting a deadline, reaching a goal, or even finishing a project on time can be meaningful and encouraging. Plus, prizes can be interactive and add more to the learning process.

4) Be great at giving feedback


Learner and teacher in class


Feedback is one of the most important aspects of education, because it prompts students to be aware of their own learning and teaches them critical-thinking skills. 

But, feedback only works when done constructively. For example, praising effort encourages the idea that we learn from hard work, which in turn promotes a growth mindset. Whereas, praising intelligence can make students feel like the goal of learning is to compete against their peers – which can be uncomfortable and have a negative impact on a student’s learning and social experience.

Striking a balance between positive and negative feedback is the key to making your feedback constructive. Giving feedback that’s as specific as possible is also more useful in encouraging students to advance towards a set goal.

5) Help students think about their future plans


Graduates in graduation ceremony

Original photo: “People Men Women” by StockSnap is licensed under CC By-SA 2.0

Add to the way students connect their learning to the real world by showing them how it fits into their future plans. To do that, open up discussions about taking a gap year, going to college or perhaps participating in an internship. Provide them with resources and  tasks that involve thinking about their future.

You can also involve the class in selecting class projects and school trips for the year. Tailoring these activities to their interests and goals will contribute towards them feeling more involved in the learning process, which in turn means they’ll feel more invested in achieving a positive outcome. 

Getting students to come up with their own ideas and make decisions is empowering and allows them autonomy over their own education.

6) Think like a gen Z



Technology has changed the way students learn and teachers should adapt their teaching methods to current expectations.

Studies show that Gen Zs have been raised in a digital era where attention spans have shortened to eight seconds – from 12 seconds in millennials – to  match the instant responses and eight-second videos made popular by social media platforms. 

Breaking lessons up into more easily digestible sections and using digital applications whenever possible may be a better way to teach high school students than traditional methods.

If you’re not sure how to adapt to this mindset, simply ask your students. Get their input on ways to make the class more engaging and find out which apps they use to make their studies easier.

7) Track your progress


Students in class with a two teachers


Changing the way you teach and interact with your students is a process. Try taking an experimental approach. Not everything you do will work for every student or group, so try different methods and evaluate your successes or failures. 

As your techniques evolve, it’s okay to experience the occasional defeat – this is a chance for you to learn, too!

To track your progress, set a time to check in with yourself about how things are going. Take stock of what’s working and what you can expand on, and decide what you can write off (decide on what isn’t giving you the best results?). 

8) Never forget the importance of fun



Enthusiasm is still the best motivation for learning.

Fun is the antithesis of boredom. Using varied activities in the classroom can encourage everyone to participate, hold attention and break up the monotony of routine. Games can also be great educational tools, so having fun and learning can be mutually inclusive!

Another thing to remember is that you’re a representative of your subject matter and students take their cues from your attitude. If you show enthusiasm for the topic at hand, then they’re likely to follow suit. Think about what interests you about the subject matter and create your lessons that communicate that passion.

To sum it all up, you can combat the apathy students feel toward schooling by being genuine, and listening and adapting to what the students need.  This will also help them develop their self-confidence. With a little creative thinking and perseverance, you’ll be able to encourage teens to be engaged and independent thinkers. 

Disclaimer: The images in this article were taken pre-COVID-19.

Check out GVI’s teaching internships abroad for programs you can get involved in that’ll add to your ability to motivate high school students in the future. 

We understand that you may have questions about how COVID-19 will affect your travel plans. Visit our FAQs page which explains our latest safety protocols in response to COVID-19. 


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