What to Do When Students Lack Interest

Ideas for Helping Students Get Interested and Motivated

Lack of student interest and motivation can be quite a challenge for teachers to combat. Many of the following methods are researched based and have been shown to be effective in motivating students and sparking a desire to learn. 

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Be Warm and Inviting in Your Classroom

Teenage girl (16-17) sitting in classroom, looking away
ColorBlind Images/The Image Bank/Getty Images

No one wants to enter a home where she does not feel welcome. The same goes for your students. Your classroom should be an inviting place where students feel safe and accepted.

This observation is steeped in research for over 50 years. Gary Anderson suggested in his 1970 report, "Effects of Classroom Social Climate on Individual Learning," ​that classes have a distinctive personality or “climate,” which influences the learning efficiency of their members. Anderson stated:

"The properties that make up a classroom environment include interpersonal relationships among students, relationships between students and their teachers, relationships between students and both the subject being studied and the method of learning, and the students’ perception of the structure of the class."
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Give Choice

Research shows that giving students choice is critical to increasing engagement. In a 2000 report to the Carnegie Foundation, "Reading Next—A Vision for Action and Research in Middle and High School Literacy," researchers explained that choice is important for secondary school students:

"As students progress through the grades, they become increasingly “tuned out,” and building student choices into the school day is an important way to reawaken student engagement."

The report also noted: "One of the easiest ways to build some choice into the students’ school day is to incorporate independent reading time in which they can read whatever they choose."

In all disciplines, students can be given a choice of questions to answer or a choice between writing prompts. Students can make choices on topics for research. Problem-solving activities give students a chance to try different strategies. Teachers can provide activities that allow students to have more control over learning and achieve a greater sense of ownership and interest. 

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Authentic Learning

Research has shown over the years that students are more engaged when they feel that what they are learning is connected to life outside the classroom. Great Schools Partnership defines authentic learning in the following way:

"The basic idea is that students are more likely to be interested in what they are learning, more motivated to learn new concepts and skills, and better prepared to succeed in college, careers, and adulthood if what they are learning mirrors real-life contexts, equips them with practical and useful skills, and addresses topics that are relevant and applicable to their lives outside of school."

Therefore, educators should attempt to show real-world connections to the lesson we are teaching as often as possible.

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Use Project-Based Learning

Solving real-world problems is the beginning of the educational process instead of the end, and it is a learning strategy that is quite motivating. Great Schools Partnership says that project-based learning involves solving real-world problems. The group describest PBL as follows:

"It can improve student engagement in school, increase their interest in what is being taught, strengthen their motivation to learn, and make learning experiences more relevant and meaningful."

The process of project-based learning takes place when students start with a problem to solve, complete a research project, and then solve the problem using tools and information that you would typically teach in a number of lessons. Instead of learning information out of the context of its real-world application, students can use PBL to help them connect what they have learned in school to solving real-life problems.

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Make Learning Objectives Obvious

Many times what appears to be an unmotivated student is really just a young person who is afraid to reveal how overwhelmed she feels. Certain topics can be overwhelming because of the amount of information and details involved. Providing students with a road map, through accurate learning objectives, that shows them exactly what it is you want them to learn can help allay some of these concerns.

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Make Cross-Curricular Connections

Sometimes students do not see how what they learn in one class intersects with what they are learning in other classes. Cross-curricular connections can provide students with a sense of context while increasing interest in all classes involved. For example, having an English teacher assign students to read the Mark Twain novel, "Huckleberry Finn," while students in an American History class are learning about the system of enslavement and the pre-Civil War era can lead to a deeper understanding in both classes.

Magnet schools that are based around specific themes like health, engineering, or the arts take advantage of this by having teachers in classes across the curriculum find ways to integrate the students' career interests into their lessons.

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Provide Incentives for Learning

While some people do not like the idea of giving students incentives to learn, an occasional reward can nudge the unmotivated and uninterested student to get involved. Incentives and rewards can range from free time at the end of a class to a popcorn-and-movie party or a field trip to a special location. Make it clear to students exactly what they need to do to earn their reward and keep them involved as they work toward it together as a class.

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Give the Students a Goal Larger Than Themselves

Ask students the following questions based on the research by William Glasser:

  • What do you want?
  • What are you doing to achieve what you want?
  • Is it working?
  • What are your plans or options?

Having students think about these questions can lead them to work toward a worthy goal. You might partner with a school in another country or work toward a service project as a group. Any type of activity that provides students with a reason to be involved and interested can reap huge benefits in your class.

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Use Hands-On Learning

The research is clear: Hands-on learning motivates students. A white paper from the Resource Area For Teaching notes:

"Well-designed hands-on activities focus learners on the world around them, spark their curiosity, and guide them through engaging experiences—all while achieving the expected learning outcomes."

By involving more senses than sight or sound, student learning is taken to a new level. When students are able to feel artifacts or be involved in experiments, the information you teach can acquire more meaning and spark more interest.

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Your Citation
Kelly, Melissa. "What to Do When Students Lack Interest." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/when-students-lack-interest-8086. Kelly, Melissa. (2023, April 5). What to Do When Students Lack Interest. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/when-students-lack-interest-8086 Kelly, Melissa. "What to Do When Students Lack Interest." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/when-students-lack-interest-8086 (accessed June 6, 2023).