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  • Writer's pictureTara O'Brien

How to Motivate Primary Students: A Research and Practice-Based Approach

As teachers we are always looking for new strategies to engage and motivate our students. In the early years of schooling, motivation seems to come naturally to students. Students are excited to come to school and actively participate in the classroom. Over the years, this enthusiasm tends to fade and teachers struggle to motivate students. This is a dangerous trend as we know from educational research that a “Lack of motivation leads not only to disengagement with school in general, but to underachievement and dropping out of school” (Hong, Eunsook., Rowell, Lonnie (2013, p. 159)

And so the question remains…

How can we engage and

motivate students throughout

the Primary Years?

What Students Think About Themselves Matters

Students should be academically challenged, but in a supportive and positive classroom environment where healthy relationships are at the center of classroom management practice. As teachers, we should notice and celebrate student effort, despite the outcome. When students understand that teachers support their efforts, understand that effort eventually equals results, and believe that they can be successful, mindsets change. The way that a student perceives themselves matters. As teachers we play a crucial role in facilitating positive self-perception.

Autonomy Excites!

Students are motivated by choice! As teachers we should give students opportunities to make choices in their learning. Even small choices can engage and motivate. By giving students choice, teachers acknowledge the agency and uniqueness of every child.

Belonging Matters

Positive relationships between teachers and students are crucial to creating a positive classroom culture. As teachers we work every day to build supportive relationships with our students. We also help students to make connections with classmates as well. When students feel that they belong, they collaborate better with classmates, and are more likely to take academic risks.

Goal Setting

Even the youngest learners can be facilitated through the goal setting process. Learning to set goals is an integral process in “learning how to learn.” Setting a realistic goal, and working step by step to achieve it, helps students to develop self-efficacy, take control of their learning journey, and develop a growth mindset.

Connected Learning

Students are more engaged and motivated when they understand the “why” of a task and can relate it to their personal experience, interests, and goals. As teachers, we can explicitly explain the "why" of every task and help children see the value in learning.


Hong, Eunsook., Rowell, Lonnie (2013). Academic Motivation: Concepts, Strategies, and Counseling Approaches. Professional School Counseling , (Vol. 16, No. 3), p. 158-171.

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