Initial Publication Date: December 8, 2008

Motivating Students in your Introductory Courses

Students in introductory-level courses wind up there for a variety of reasons. While some may have a budding interest in the geosciences, the reality is that many students take these classes simply to fulfill a requirement. On one hand, that makes it harder to keep them motivated and engaged, but on the other hand, there is great potential to turn students on to the relevance and wonders of geology. Imagine that your job is not only to deliver the subject matter, but to also ignite unrealized interest in your students.

What can You do to Motivate Students?

The motivation level in a class is a result of both student and instructor behaviors. A teacher's behavior and teaching style, the structure of the course, the nature of the assignments and informal interactions with students all have a large effect on student motivation. This page offers practical advice drawn from the educational literature, presentations from the 2007 Affective Domain Workshop, and a reference list.

Set a Motivational Tone Right from the Start

What better way to motivate students than by grabbing their attention on the very first day? This page from the First Day of Class website shows examples of ways to kick off your course by engaging your students immediately. Techniques include making explicit connections between the course material and students' lives, challenging students with a problem-solving task, or highlighting career opportunities in geoscience.

Engage your Students with Relevant, Exciting Content

Using compelling, timely subject matter in an engaging format is an effective recipe to draw students in. The First Day of Class module contains a wealth of useful activities that are designed to set a positive tone in your classroom by engaging students, motivating them, and making them part of the class with interactive techniques. Further techniques such as case studies, applying course topics to students' hometowns, and using popular media were explored at the 2008 workshop.

Use Immediacy Behaviors in your Classroom

Instructional immediacy is behavior that brings the instructor and the students closer together in terms of perceived distance. Non-verbal immediacy includes behaviors such as smiling, gesturing, eye contact and having relaxed body language. Verbal immediacy refers to calling the students by name, using humor and encouraging student input and discussion. This page includes specific examples of immediacy behaviors and suggestions for implementing them.

Collective Wisdom: Essays about Student Attitudes

This is a collection of essays written by faculty, with responses offered by other faculty. The essays and responses are began at the 2007 Affective Domain Workshop as a way of harnessing the collective expertise of the participants to help each other figure out how best to deal with scenarios and situations that commonly arise in the classroom. These essays address topics such as resistance to math and science, fixation on grades, and motivation in "weed out" courses.

Learn More

Browse 34 references about motivation in the Research on Learning reference library.