Classroom Motivation Activity
Last updated 11-12-2015
Edmund Sass, Ed. D.



In groups of four or five:
Analyze each of the situations below and attempt to determine:

     A. What specific motivation problem (e.g. overuse of reinforcement, low arousal, lack of relevance, etc.) the teacher is facing? Use your handout, “Motivation: The Four Factors,” to find this information.

B. Into what category (reward/avoidance, intrinsic, task, or teacher) the problem fits?

C. What can be done to improve student motivation in each situation?


1. For the 4th consecutive day, Ms. B.O. Ring is lecturing to her U.S. History class about the depression and F.D.R.’s “New Deal.” The 60-minute period is nearly over. As she finally looks up from her notes and pauses to catch her breath, she notices that two students are sleeping, one is passing a note, and several appear “spaced out.”


2. Mr. R.E. Ward is convinced that immediate reinforcement is the key to motivating his 4th-graders. Therefore, he tries to give some form of reinforcement every time he sees a positive behavior. However, as the school year has progressed, he finds student motivation becoming more of a problem, particularly on independent work.


3. Ms. A.S. Sume is scoring her 2nd-graders’ first reading unit test. She notices that Marianna scored very poorly and is considering moving her from the middle to the lowest reading group. Ms. Sume is not surprised at Marrianna’s low score because the girl’s mother is a single parent and high school dropout, and in spite of the 1st-grade teacher’s recommendation, Ms. Sume knew all along that Marianna should have been in the low group.


4. Mr. E.X. Turnell is meeting with Kendrick, a student in his 9th-grade math class, about the boy’s consistently poor performance. Kendrick tells Mr. Turnell that his tests are unfair and that he “has it in” for him, just like all the other math teachers Kendrick has had. Mr. Turnell responds defensively, and the situation goes from bad to worse as Kendrick becomes angry and leaves the office.

5. Mr. R.L. Vance has just finished giving his 6th-graders an overview of the life-cycle of African Dung Beetles. His announcement that the students will now see a film strip on the life-cycle of Asian Silk Worms is met with a chorus of groans. Willie says aloud, “Who cares about Asian Silk Worms.”


6. Believing that her inner-city 3rd-graders come from homes lacking structure and discipline, Ms. K. Olds has concluded that she needs to be tough with them. This morning Jeremy is wriggling in his seat, and Ms. Olds sternly tells him to sit still, or she’ll write his name on the board. Maria and Sasha are whispering, and Ms. Olds scolds them and then makes them sit in the front of the room. This afternoon she is teaching a geography lesson and asks if anyone can name a country that borders the United States. Terell raises his hand and tentatively says, “Alaska?” Ms. Olds frowns and stares at the boy for what seems like an eternity to the third-graders. She then sternly replies, “Alaska is a state. Don’t you remember anything from our unit on the 50 states? Who knows the name of a country?” She looks around the room, but no one volunteers an answer.


Permission is granted to anyone wishing to use this activity for instructional purposes.
Contact me at

Return to Psych and Soc.