If all physical education students were intrinsically motivated, our jobs would be much easier! Motivated students put in greater effort, make better choices, and have a better attitude. Below you will find a list of suggestions on how to motivate PE students, many of which, were inspired by Dr. Sandra Gibbons and her research in creating relatedness-supportive learning environment for girls in physical education.
1. Use a variety of strategies
Some students are motivated by grades, others by rewards and prizes, some may enjoy being recognized, and others may be motivated by simply enjoying your class. If you use a variety of motivational strategies, you will have a better chance of motivating more students.
2. Tell students that they are able to succeed
At the beginning of the semester I make it clear that everyone in the class can earn an “A” – even if they have never had one in PE before. There is no skill mark in my Women’s PE class. As long as you attend regularly, try your best, and complete assignments, you can do it!
3. Develop your program based on what is interesting and relevant to students
PE teachers have quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to meeting the prescribed learning outcomes, so ask your students what they are interested in and spend more time on those activities. Students are also more motivated when they find something meaningful and relevant to them – tell them why it is good to do cardio, what the benefits of doing push-ups are, and how stress management techniques can help them in their life now.
4. Set students up for success
Cover basic skills first – even if you think that they should know how to do something by grade 12, a lot of them probably don’t. Always give modifications when possible, and make sure that you do so in a non-judgemental and inclusive way. Also make sure that your expectations for students are realistic and attainable. Introducing students to physical activities that are new to everyone (ex. Tai Chi) also levels the playing feel and can increase enjoyment, effort, and motivation.
5. Provide opportunities for self-directed learning
Create a peer teaching unit where students can share something that they are good at or enjoy. You can also focus on having students set personal goals, or allow them to choose what health aspect they want to focus on in your wellness unit. I have been very pleasantly surprised by students who have shared what they are passionate about. I have had experts in everything from Highland Dancing to Attention Deficit Disorder.
6. Contact home with positive news
Most of us don’t feel as though we have enough time for things like this, but it can really make a difference in student motivation level. I tell students at the beginning of the semester that I am going to call home for every one of them by the end of the semester – it’s up to them if it is going to be a positive call or not. I also make a point of making a positive call every Friday or every time I have to make a not-so-positive call. Calling home if someone does something extra-special; especially if they are a student who doesn’t usually get positive feedback, is also very motivating for them; and also usually a positive surprise for their parents/guardians!
7. Build and maintain “fun factor/excitement”
Award novelty prizes and trophies, give out fun stickers, play silly warm-up games, and pick games from a hat. Students love variety, games that they have never played before, and games that they haven’t played since elementary school. The photo below is my gear to to start out the new year – incentive charts, funny stickers such as “I was helpful today” and “I was caught being good today”, pencils, bracelets, certificates, and incentive punch cards. I don’t give these items out every day, but I try to do it regularly, and definitely make sure that I recognize students for their achievements at the end of each term.
8. Use a sticker chart
I tried this tactic out as a joke with with my Social Studies 10 class a few years back. To my surprise; it actually worked for the majority of them! I’ve used it ever since – they will do anything for a sticker! I give stickers for a lot of things – effort, attendance, handing in forms and assignments promptly, demonstrating leadership, being extra helpful, being kind, having a personal best, etc. At the end of the term I have enough prizes for everyone – you can get a lot of donated prizes (gym passes, parks and recreation passes, etc.). Whoever has the most stickers gets first choice, and down the list we go.
9. Play novelty activities
As mentioned; fun, variety, and new activities rank high when considering student enjoyment of a class. Minute To Win It, Amazing Race style activities, parachute games, rubber chicken games, and made up games such as partner kickball are all usually a hit.
10. Get out into nature
I hope that you are able to incorporate some of these strategies into your PE class. Please let me know what works for you, and if you have any motivational strategies that you would like to share. To read all of Dr. Gibbons relatedness-supportive action suggestions for teachers please refer to her paper: