05 March, 2009


By C. Radhakrishnan

Many students feel some subjects as "hard and boring". It is difficult to motivate students to invest the time and effort necessary to succeed in those subjects. To tackle this challenge, I have collected a list of ‘Nine Gems’ for keeping students focused and motivated. These ‘Gems’ are developed through constant formal and informal interactions with my humanities students. Indeed, most of these suggestions apply to any subject that students find hard and boring. This encouraged me to share my ‘Nine Gems’ with every one.

Gem 1: Emphasize the most critical concepts continuously. Repeat these concepts in lectures and assignments throughout the session. Include questions relating to these critical subjects in every exam, thus rewarding students for learning, retaining, and, hopefully, applying this knowledge in a variety of contexts.

Gem 2: Provide students with a "visual aid" when possible to explain abstract concepts. Majority of today's students are visual learners. For these students, a simple diagram or flowchart truly can be more valuable than a thousand words in a textbook or a lecture.

Gem 3: Rely on logic when applicable. Point out to students which information is merely "fact" that must be memorised and which information is based upon "logic." Show students how to employ logical thinking to learn and retain new information. For example, in the double-entry bookkeeping system, "debits" equal "credits," and debit entries cause assets to increase. These are "facts" or features of the system; they are not based on logic. However, once the student accepts the system, logic can be used to operate within the system. Continuing the example, if debit entries increase assets, it is logical that credit entries will cause assets to decrease.

Gem 4: Use class-fun activities to reinforce a newly presented topic. After a new concept or subject has been presented via text reading, lecture, or class discussion, allow the students to put the concept into action by completing a class-fun assignment. These assignments can be short, but they must be developed to ensure that the students understand the critical concepts underlying the new topic. Usually, most learning takes place when students are permitted to work in small groups, to refer to their text and notes, and to ask questions to the teacher while completing the assignment. If these class-fun assignments are part of the grading scheme, class behaviour and attentiveness improves.

Gem 5: Help students create a "link" when teaching something new. If the student can "link" the new topic to something already learned, the chances of learning the new topic are greatly increased. Examples of possible links include: prior critical concepts learned in this topic, concepts learned in previous topics, and real life experiences of the students outside the classroom.

Gem 6: Recognise the importance of vocabulary in a topic. Students often struggle with new words/vocabulary in many topics. To understand these topics, students must become comfortable with the new terminology. As topics are presented, new or confusing terms or vocabulary should be identified and introduced to the students. Present "real-world" definitions and alternative terminology, in addition to textbook definitions. One way to help students incorporate the topic vocabulary is to create a glossary on the classroom clip-board where new terminology is added, explained, and illustrated throughout the lesson sessions.

Gem 7: Peer group motivation is very effective. If you can make highly motivated students motivate the less motivated ones then you can save lot of time and energy. For this technique to succeed you must have excellent understanding and rapport with your students.

Gem 8: Treat students with respect. Encouraging and rewarding behaviour is very essential in school teachers. However, some senior students will not respond well to these techniques. Give students their dignity, and they will give you their best efforts.

Gem 9: Hold students to a high standard. If students are not required to maintain a specified level of learning and performance, only the most highly motivated students will devote the time and effort necessary to learn. In contrast, maintaining high standards not only will motivate student learning, it will also be the source of a student’s feelings of accomplishment when those standards are met.

Each of these rules can help motivate even the most lazy student, but Gem 8 and 9 are the most important. If students are not treated with respect and held to a high standard, meticulously following the first seven gems will have much less impact and might end up being an exercise in futility.