Avoiding The 7 Common Mistakes When Motivating Students

Many of us understand the importance of motivation in the school context. Motivation drives the hunger to learn and energizes students to actively participate in the learning process. Yet, the eagerness to motivate students may cause educators to commit mistakes in their strategies, and end up being counterproductive. 

Let’s take a look at some of the common mistakes educators make when trying to motivate students and how we can prevent them: 

Underestimating Students

A teacher’s instinct when dealing with struggling students might be to simplify instructions and give them easier tasks. For example, some educators design students’ assignments simpler when students start to complain about how tough their assignments are. With their assignments simplified, students can easily complete the assignment in a short amount of time. They might also find that they have not learnt anything new. Besides hampering the learning of students, this can actually come across as the teacher not having confidence in students’ potential. As a result, some students may feel discouraged. They might start showing less interest in the lesson, and their motivation to study begins to erode away.

Using Fear to Motivate

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 3 in 4 Singaporean students fear failure, higher than the global average. Fear of failure is unsustainable for long-term motivation. It relies on the use of negative reinforcement that can lead to low self-esteem and performance.

As educators, it is important to not ’threaten’ students into pursuing great achievements. For example, some educators might try to encourage students to put in more effort in their studies by telling them how they will not be able to achieve their dreams if they don’t put in concrete effort now. This may do more harm than good by adding to the amount of stress and pressure they may already be experiencing. Students might even be discouraged and turn away from their dreams.  Instead, create a nurturing environment for the students will lead to a goal they desire.

Not Giving Students A Defined Purpose

As teachers, we tend to overlook the importance of highlighting the purpose and value of education to our students. We proceed straight into teaching a topic without actually addressing why students are learning that topic in the first place! Instead, what we should be doing is providing a clear rationale on the significance of the topics to be discussed. For example, before the start of every lesson, refresh students’ memory by getting them to repeat the main points mentioned in the previous class. Ask them what they would expect to be learning for the subsequent class and explain to them the lesson objectives. This helps students to see the value in the topic, increasing their engagement with the subject and thus motivating them. 

Knowledge For “Next Time”

When unsure of how to provide a proper rationale on a topic, teachers tend to resort to using the, “You will use it next time” phrase, which is arguably an explanation. An inability to draw relevance and relations between studies and real-life circumstances will cause students to lose interest in a subject and procrastinate. This is because they are under the impression that such knowledge is not very important to possess after all. Therefore, to prevent this situation from happening, educators should take the time to go through lesson objectives and ponder upon what kind of questions students would be asking. Think in the perspectives of the students and be prepared for various kinds of questions or concerns that students could possibly raise. 

In addition, try asking students how they can apply the knowledge they have just learnt in the real world context. From there, we would be able to analyse the extent to which our students have understood our teaching and repeat them if necessary. 

Stereotype Threat

Stereotype threat refers to the fear or anxiety of conforming to a certain stereotype of one’s social groups, for example, “women can’t drive,”, “they will fail….”, and “xxx”, etc. Some educators use this threat as reverse psychology to “motivate” students, but there are dire consequences of such a strategy. By raising negative stereotypes as a motivational method, it generates self-doubt, anxiety, and self-hatred in students instead, which can potentially cause them to perform poorly. 

Generating Temporary Interest 

Games and interactive quizzes are often used in the classroom to help students better visualise and understand what they are learning. Students tend to be more attentive and interested in their learning when they feel engaged. Although this is a good method to garner the interest of students, it can backfire by making students lose interest. This is because it is not possible to conduct interactive games for every lesson due to time constraints. When students start to realise that they will not be getting their usual games and quizzes, they might be less motivated to focus for subsequent lessons. Therefore, plan for games and quizzes once a week and continue with the delivery of lessons for the rest of the week.

Furthermore, try not to update students on the day where games and quizzes would be conducted. This prevents students from waiting around and getting disappointed when the games and quizzes do not happen. 

Not Allowing Mistakes to Be Made

Some educators may believe that students should make as few mistakes as possible in their academics. Although this may be the ideal scenario, reprimanding students when they make mistakes can cause students to fear the subject and shy away from it. Allow students to make mistakes so that they can learn from them and prevent repeating them in the future. Making mistakes is part of a learning process which should be embraced and not discouraged. When students continue to make the same mistakes even after a few rounds of corrections and revisions, educators can then better understand the areas their students are lacking in and help them accordingly. 


Even as educators, we make mistakes when trying to motivate students. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to motivate students as every student learns differently. The approach that works on one student might not work on another student. Therefore, educators have to be very careful with the approach they are adopting and cater to the various needs of every student. Follow the tips mentioned above to minimise making mistakes when motivating students.

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