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Motivation and Language Testing

Motivation and Testing

Are your learners bogged down with tests? Does this cause a drop in motivation in your language class? Language learning can be a joy for many students. However, in the world of language education, students are eventually faced with a language test. This can kill the motivation of even the most proficient language learner, but these language tests can be hugely beneficial for the students’ progression. A high grade may open doors for further language learning experiences. I have been teaching ESL in Japan for over 8 years, and motivating students is still a major classroom challenge. Here are ways you can keep your students motivated while helping them to prepare for language tests.

Get To Know Your Students!

First it is important to find out what motivates your students. Knowing this early will help you develop your lessons.  When Phil Wade interviewed Elena Matveeva she explained that the most difficult thing for her was understanding her student’s goals. She explains that it takes time to build a rapport with students.

One simple method is to start by just talking with your students. All students are different! A one to one interview can be a great way to get to know your student’s motivations. This may be time consuming if you have big classes. In that case, what I like to do is ask students to interview each other about their motivations. This gets students speaking and sharing their motivations. Groups can even present posters of their motivations to the class.

The following questions can be used to get to know your students and find out their goals:

Where are you from?

Why did you take this class?

Do you want to travel abroad (Where?)

Do you want to take an English test (TOFEL, TOEIC,..)?

How do you use English now?

What areas do you want to work on in class: Speaking, listening, reading, or writing?

For a more in-depth look at setting student goals please check out this paper by Ronna Magy who specialises in training adult education teachers.  

Communication Is More Fun Than Testing

My students are first year university students, and I have found that the majority of them enjoy using language for communication. They don’t like studying for the tests though. Does this sound familiar?

Many students enjoy cultural things like watching movies, listening to song lyrics, making friends and travelling. As teachers, we often need to test our students to show their progression. These tests can be tedious, boring and difficult.

So what’s the solution?
Use your student’s interests for the test content!

Motivation and Language TestingFor listening tests, students can listen to exciting music and answer questions on that song.  They can discuss the song and its meaning to them.  If your class has a screen, then let students watch a movie scene. Then they could answer test questions about that scene. If your students are studying for a test like TOEIC, TOEFL etc then try to match your listening questions to that test format. Just the content changes!

Using Glee For TOEIC

Take a look at this supplement from my Glee listening lesson in my TOEIC preparation class. We begin with pre-listening where the students think about the characters. They imagine who the characters are and what they are like. Only after the discussion do they start answering the questions. We watch the scene and they answer the questions as a test. During post-listening, the students check their answers with each other before the teacher gives the correct answers. 

This allows the students to think about their answers. Why did they choose it? Does it make sense? For taking tests, these are good skills. Students become more aware of how to answer the questions. It also reduces the amount of pressure of getting the answer wrong. The lesson is laced with discussion, helping the students understand the context and the questions.Here is a great article which lists 10 post listening activities for students

For reading, students can look at movie posters, magazine articles and song lyrics. Make it their Interest! Use something which is relevant and popular among students. I like to use popular songs in class from such artists as Beyoncé, One Direction and Lady Gaga. Students can find missing words and grammar, then listen to check their answers. Here they are working on reading practice, but also listening for specific information. Remember, the test format stays the same as the test your students will take, only the content has changed. Make sure your students are learning skills they can use for the test. Don’t waste valuable class time with something they could be doing at home.  For more reading activities check out 10 post reading activities.

As your students move closer to their final test date, remind students of their goals. Start to make your test content more in line with the actual test. Since the students know the test style and how to think about the questions, answering the questions should be much easier. The result is……. A better chance of getting a better test score!

When the student sees they have done well on their final test, they will be motivated to continue their language study! (Certainly it won’t demotivate them!)

Some things to remember:

  • Get to know your students’ interests and goals
  • Use those interests in your class to build your lessons
  • Teach testing skills using those interests
  • Don’t waste time! The content has to benefit the students’ goals.

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