How to encourage student motivation

It can be a challenge trying to get a student motivated – after all, their brains are still developing, and they have plenty of other things on their mind besides schoolwork. However, the encouragement and skills given to them during their school years can pave the way for them to become motivated and successful adults. To help students build their motivation, try these techniques backed by cognitive science!

Praise for effort over ability

Research shows that students who believe they’ve done well on a test simply because they are smart will be less motivated over time than their peers who think they did well because they worked for it.  Conversely, students who believe they have done poorly on a test because they simply aren’t smart are less motivated than students who believe they have the capacity to improve. 

Knowing this, it becomes clear that the way that we praise students is essential. Telling a student, “you’re amazing at this,” or “you’re so smart,” is, of course, well-intended, but could actually lead to decreased motivation in the long term. Instead, telling a student, “I’m so proud of how hard you worked on this,” or “your practice is really paying off,” instills the idea that their effort is necessary and makes a difference.

This practice is vital because it helps students form positive and motivating self-talk. A student who thinks to themselves, “I didn’t do great on this quiz, but I know I can study and get better,” is utilizing motivating self-talk. If the student thinks instead, “I didn’t do well on this because I’m just not good at math,” they are not utilizing motivation and are less likely to put in the effort to improve.

Encourage visualization

Visualization refers to the practice of picturing the end result of a project or goal in one’s mind. Encourage students to ask themselves:

  • How will the project look or sound?
  • How will it feel to have accomplished the task?
  • What steps do I need to take to reach this goal?


Keeping these concepts in mind can boost motivation and set a clear path for completing the project. 

Utilize cognitive exercises

With a program like HappyNeuron Pro, you can provide students with cognitive exercises. These exercises can help to develop skills such as attention, memory, and executive function. These skills go hand in hand with motivation because they provide a foundation for effective learning and studying. Students may be more confident after they build these skills. 

HappyNeuron Pro exercises are available through a school subscription to our digital program or in the form of worksheets!

student cognitive exercises

Encourage them to think about their values

This is an extension of visualization but on a larger scale. What is important to the student? What do they want to accomplish in their lives? Of course, young people are still learning these things about themselves. However, taking the time to think about their long-term values and goals will allow them to maintain an overall vision for their lives. It can encourage sticking to smaller goals and building a sense of motivation from within.

motivated student

Teachers and guardians do so much to help foster motivation and set students up for a self-sufficient and prosperous future. Praising for effort rather than ability, visualization, and encouraging them to think about their values are all great ways to build student motivation.

Aly Castle

Aly is HappyNeuron Pro’s Content Specialist. She is passionate about mental health and well-being and loves utilizing her design background to share important cognitive information clearly and understandably.

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