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David Spencer: MOTIV8: Eight Key Factors in Motivating Teenage Students

On Saturday the 8th of November, English Book in Georgia, in conjunction with the Ministry of Education and Macmillan Education held a conference discussing “English Language and Economic Development in the Globalized World”.

One of the speakers, David Spencer, talked about “Motiv8: Eight Key Factors in Motivating Teenage Students ”.

During his talk, Spencer referred to the article below. We’d like to provide it for you today, so that you can review your notes and introduce these ideas to your classrom or school.

MOTIV8: Eight Key Factors in Motivating Teenage Students

David Spencer

Tbilisi, Georgia

8th November 2014

 1.) Personalisation

For students to communicate comfortably in another language, it’s important to create an atmosphere of personal trust in the classroom, where students feel at ease talking about their lives.


  1. Talking T-shirts: Ask students to bring to class (or simply describe) one, two or three T-shirts that have some personal significance to them. They give a short presentation to the class explaining the significance. This allows the students to learn about each other in a relaxed, interesting away.

  2. Selfies: After the holidays or weekend, draw two or three simple rectangles on the board. Ask students to imagine that this is the screen of their mobile phone. They should draw ‘selfies’ or photos of their holiday/weekend. Then they show their ‘photos’ to a partner. Their partner asks them Yes/No questions to find out about what they did.

2.) Challenge

 If you treat teenagers as if they know nothing, they’ll act as if know nothing. Try to challenge students in terms of grammar, vocabulary, texts, and interesting content. Think also about having open-ended activities for fast finishers to avoid bored, potentially disruptive students.

Activities for fast finishers:

  1. Rose-Rise-Rice…: Students continue the list by changing one letter (any letter) at a time. E.g. Rose-rise-rice-nice-nine-fine-…

  2. The Three Letter Game: Write three letters on the board. Students think of as many words as possible containing those three letters, in any order. Remind them that word formation can help them. Example answers for the letters RTN: train, north, natural, naturally, unnatural, presentation…

3.) ‘Do-ability’

Give teenage students structured activities that help to make difficult things easy, or do-able.


  1. Madlib story:

Ask students to write down:

1. a country   2. a boy’s name – famous, fictional, unusual…   3. a girl’s name– famous, fictional, unusual…   4. a city   5. a verb in the past simple (+ object if necessary)  6. an animal   7. a superhero   8. a place   9. a type of food   10. a number

Then give them a skeleton text below to put their words into. Let them compare texts. Then analyse the linkers and use those linkers as a structure for the students’ own text.

This story took place in (1) _______. It all began when (2) _______ met (3) _______. They decided to go to (4) _______. Lots of things happened there. First they (5) _______. Then they saw a big (6) _______. The (6) _______ attacked them but just at that moment (7) _______ came and rescued them. (7) _______ took them to (8) _______ and they ate (9) _______. In the end, (2) _______ married (3) _______ and they had (10) _______ children.

4.) Engagement

The main thing we need in any class is that the students are engaged and active in our activities. Enjoyment is an important factor.

  1. Kim’s Game: Show the students 15 objects (on a tray/in a photo). Give students time to memorise the objects, then take them away. Students, in pairs, try to remember what they saw. Then show the same objects again, but having taken away three or four. Can they identify the missing objects?

5.) Progress / 6.) Success

Help students to see the progress they’re making. Do regular progress checks, guiding them to extra practice if they need it. Include cumulative practice and revision throughout the year.


  1. Rewriting a low-level reader: Give B1+/ B2/B2+ students a simplified reader at A1/A1+/A2 level. Ask them to ‘improve’ short sentences by adding linkers, relative pronouns, and conjunctions.

7.) Variety

Make sure there is variety of skills and language work, interaction, task types, and media. Activities that are out of the ordinary will help to keep the students’ interest.


  1. Mime the picture: Ask for a volunteer to come to the front of the class. Secretly show them a photo. The students should adopt the same position as the person in the photo. The rest of the class ask the student Yes/No questions to discover what exactly is in the photo.

  2. Alphabet Cards: Distribute the cards to the class.

(a) Spell words. Students who have a letter that appears in the word come to the front of the class and position themselves to spell the word correctly.

(b) Call out a category. Students have to think of a word beginning with their letter for the category. They hold up their card and say the word. If they can’t, they lose a point.

8.) Teacher Motivation


  1. Visit for teacher tips, videos, etc.!


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