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Reviving the Classroom Spirit: Managing an Unmotivated English Class

It’s a busy day if you’re an English teacher in Japan. You might have four lessons, so you race to your classroom. They’re a good bunch of students and are always happy to see you. You crack open the door to the familiar faces and take your spot at the front of the room. As the bell rings, you call out “Good morning!” with all the cheer you’ve got.

They reply with a tired, monotonous “Good morning.”

Uh oh. That doesn’t sound good. Time to recover with a cheerful “How are you?” They give you back a weak “okay.” Yikes! What’s going on here? Where’s all the energy? Your students sound like they’re half asleep! Is this how the entire class is going to go?

Unfortunately, yes. Sometimes this will be your experience. It’s inevitable that at some point you’ll run into an unmotivated or low-energy class. At that point, trying to soldier on is just excruciating for everyone involved.  You don’t want dead silence in response to your questions, so what can you do?

Why Are My Classes Unmotivated?

Photo: iStock/ D76MasahiroIKEDAIt’s going to be a long day.

It’s probably the first question that comes to mind—why are these students unmotivated? If you knew that, it’d be easier to deal with the root cause, right? But sometimes that root cause won’t be something you can do anything about.

Sometimes the class before was a bit of a drag. We’ve all had those long, boring classes that seem to go on forever. Unfortunately, that attitude gets carried into your class too. Maybe they’ve just had a really grueling PE lesson, and the fatigue is catching up to them. All their energy was spent, so there’s not much left for your class.

Sometimes students are just too cool for school. They’re not here for all your jumping around and games. They want to chill in their chairs and feel above it all. None of those reasons is your fault, but you have to work with it. So here are some of our best tips for getting the most out of these classes.

Stand Up!

Photo: Pixta/ MarokeGet those little monsters on their feet!

If your students are unmotivated, sitting in their chairs going to put them to sleep. To begin, try an intro that has them standing up, or adapt your first activity into one that includes standing up. Some light motion will inject energy into your class, and it’s a lot harder to stay detached while you’re on your feet and actively engaging.

Try an opening like crisscross or standing Shiritori where students can sit after contributing a word to lead the class. Not only will the game be interesting and draw some enthusiasm, but being on their feet will have students more likely to want to participate, especially with the “reward” of sitting back down.

Get Competitive

Photo: iStock/ ferrantraiteClasses don’t have to be lectures.

Try to make one of your first activities something you can win or lose. Especially if there’s something to be won or lost. Perhaps the winners get to choose their own teams for future activity, or the losers have to perform a forfeit. Nothing will get unmotivated students racing like some competition.

A race to complete a task or a last-man-standing quiz game are excellent ways to get the competitive spirit into your class and motivate them for the rest of the lesson.

Relatability and Natural Communication

Photo: Pixta/ PearlinheartTalking to students naturally goes a long way.

As teachers, relatability is an important part of our lessons anyway. We want our students to be able to relate to the topics we’re teaching. However, it can be easy to let our relatability slack, especially if we’re caught up in the complexities of a difficult bit of grammar. But with unmotivated classes, relatability is our best friend.

If you know the class you’re working with has a lot of anime fans, dive into a few minutes talking about Spy Family or Demon Slayer. Don’t try to teach them English at this point—just talk.

Let the students chime in with their own opinions, even in Japanese. Spending a few minutes at the beginning of the class and letting students talk about their opinions not only gets them motivated, it puts them in the mood for speaking. Perfect for coaxing shy students to talk in your lesson!

Throw Them a Curveball

Photo: Pixta/ studio-sonicBring up a helper!

This is particularly useful if your lessons are quite formulaic or follow the same basic pattern. A good early lesson surprise can completely change the energy of a class that’s just lounging and really get them engaged.

The student teacher is an excellent example of this—rather than recapping the contents of the last lesson, choose a random student to do it. Or midway through the lesson, after explaining a grammar point, choose a student to summarize it.

No one will want to be caught napping at the front of the class, and you’ll be surprised how quickly everyone perks up when they know it might be them explaining the topic at the teacher’s desk.

Do you have a technique you swear by for unmotivated classes? Or will you be trying one of these for your next lesson? Let us know in the comments!

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