6 Strategies to Motivate Students in Mathematics

Do you have students who groan in dread the moment you announce their Math homework? For every one student found scratching their head over a vexing Math question, there is always another who derives satisfaction from solving such challenging puzzles. What sets these two students apart? Answer: their mindsets. 

The one who enjoys Math has learnt to embrace the obstacles that Math brings — demonstrating a growth mindset. On the other hand, the one who avoids Math without giving it a chance leans towards a fixed mindset. A student with a growth mindset constantly strives to do better even in the face of challenges. Those who enjoy Math are not necessarily good at it all the time. They too can experience frustration at the uphill climb towards a solution for a problem. However, these students view such hardships as crucial learning experiences on their journey to success. 

Hence how do we motivate those who run away at the mention of Math?

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

Motivation can come in two forms — extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation stems from external factors, such as credit for good performance and praise when work is done well. Intrinsic motivation is motivation that stems from within, such as the need to fulfill a personal goal. Extrinsic motivation can pave the way for intrinsic motivation. An example would be a class reward system where points are awarded to students in Math lessons. Simultaneously, one can engage students by providing them with questions that require them to think of a variety of solutions to the problem. This can capitalize on their curiosity and desire to want to learn more, helping them to develop a growth mindset in the process.

Open Up The Doors To Maths In Real Life

Often, students who steer away from Math do so because their only exposure to the subject is through textbooks and rote learning. However, one way or another, Math is all around us beyond the classroom walls! One way of increasing students’ willingness to perfect Math would be to demonstrate to them the applicability of what they learn in real life situations, and how it’ll help them in certain careers in the future. These students will then be able to see the relevance of the subject and be motivated to try harder.

Create A Culture That Allows For Mistakes

One reason why most students dislike Math is because they dread getting the same question wrong repeatedly. Yes, it’s painful to keep failing despite putting in your best efforts, but those mistakes can actually facilitate your learning. Instead of struggling on your own, take the initiative to discuss it with your peers and teachers. Unless you did not put in much effort in the first place, most of the time those mistakes are actually close misses. By discussing it with others, you may realise that those mistakes can actually help you to piece together the puzzle and lead you to the right solution.

Create More Hands-On Activities 

Often, students perceive Math as a subject that is full of formulas that need to be applied in the right context. Unlike other subjects like Science, students usually do not get to experiment with Math. They may then perceive Math as a “fixed” subject whereby there is not much to venture into. As a result, students may not be too interested in studying Math. 

What educators can do is to create more engaging and hands-on Math lessons to drive up students’ curiosity and engagement. For example, get students to construct a small structure using cardboards and get them to find the lengths and angles of the structure using formulas such as — TOA CAH SOH. Students are not only given the opportunity to make use of their creativity, they are also encouraged to think of ways to apply Math into such activities. Hence, students can better engage in Math and allow their curiosity of the subject to come into play.  

Work In A Team

Students often groan when it comes to Math class. Most of the time they are stuck in their seats, watching their teacher write down tons of formulas on the whiteboard — which they have absolutely no idea how to use. They get lost and confused every time their teacher introduces a new concept or an alternative method to solve a question. As a result, students often see Math as challenging, and would avoid dealing with the subject as much as possible. 

Instead, teachers should allow room for flexibility in Math classes by allowing students to form teams to work on challenging Math questions together. Setting students up in teams will enable them to discuss and share their knowledge with one another. Students are given the opportunity to voice out their opinion, and their peers can correct them if they are wrong. 

This encourages students to open their minds and try to see things from new perspectives. Sometimes, students understand a concept better when their peers explain it to them. This is because students of the same age relatively have the same mindset and understand one another better. Students may then explain the complex Math concept to their peers in a simpler manner, making Math seem much more approachable and manageable. 

Be Positive

As a Math teacher, constant repetition of the same concept can be daunting especially when students continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. With time, your energy and mood drop. When students start to feel the drop in your enthusiasm, they may feel dejected, further painting Math as a subject that is unapproachable and challenging. As a result, they may then try to steer away from the subject as much as possible. 

To prevent this from happening, get excited about Math! Continue to encourage students to not give up. If possible, allow the class to take a short 5-minute break where you and your students can relax. You can also take the opportunity to think of alternative methods to help your students better understand your teaching. 

Furthermore, as a teacher, you inspire and encourage your students and they see you as a role model. Therefore, stay positive and your students will too!


Math may be seen as one of the most challenging and confusing subjects for many students. Even as a teacher, Math may be one of the toughest subjects to teach due to its complexity. However, with the right amount of effort and motivation put into play, Math can be a fun and engaging subject! Remember, Math plays a part in our everyday life! Let’s learn to appreciate Math and substantially increase our motivation in learning about Math! 

If you are a teacher who is constantly struggling to make your students feel enthusiastic about Math, or if you are a student who dread studying Math but wish to adopt a love for Math — try out the strategies mentioned above! 

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