6 Kind Strategies to Motivate Students Who Refuse to Work

Students who refuse to work is heartbreaking, but there are ways that we can motivate students. I believe with all my cells that students really can learn anything they want to learn. But, when they refuse to work, or refuse to try I know it won’t happen. Motivating students to work just might be the hardest part of teaching.

Motivating students who refuse to work is part of the job they don’t teach in college.

Now, I understand not everyone has to teach their class the way I do but when a student refuses to work It confused me a teacher would then send them out of the room. Maybe it is me, but it feels like they too have given up and sending the student out makes the teacher feel better. Well let’s just imagine as the adult we don’t give up, but rater try to make the student feel better. I will just say it, motivating students who refuse to work will never happen if they are not in the room any longer.

And that is how I got to the 6 kind things a teacher can do when motivating a student who is refusing to work.

Motivate Students Tip #1 Give the student a choice on how to try.

When a student is refusing to do any work, it might be they just can’t do what you are asking. I have this thing with yarn. I really can’t stand how it feels. So, when I was in 6th grade and we had a craft to wrap yarn around two crossed popsicle sticks, I just couldn’t do it. It didn’t really matter they were to take home and it was supposed to be fun. Nothing was going to make it worth it to me. When motivating a student who refuses to work, we might need to ask them why.

Had I been given the choice to do the activity with string, I would have been motivated. I wasn’t refusing to work, I just was creeped out by the feel of yarn.

I am not saying all students have a sensory thing going on but, maybe just a choice in exactly what they do or how they do it, might bring them around to try. If nothing else the student will see you are trying to be a partner in their learning and not just a task master.

When motivating students to work I might ask, if they want to try it on a white board. Possibly they would like to stand in the back to work. Younger students might be motivated to work if you offer them a thin colored marker.

Not all students develop at the same rate and some fine motor tasks may be difficult. If their skills are delayed they may feel shame and lack motivation for fear of criticism.

If we are asking students to do something that is hard for them, it might be impossible to motivate them to work.

Not all students develop skills at the same rate and some fine motor tasks may be difficult. If their skills are delayed they may feel shame and lack of motivation for fear of criticism.

Motivate Students Tip #2 Offer the student help in getting started.

It is not rare for adults to procrastinate on things that are hard or uncomfortable. Students are the same. Maybe they don’t have a motivation problem but, it could be the task in front of them just seems too much, for whatever reason and they just can’t get started. Daily I find myself writing someone’s name on their paper and asking them what I should write first. Generally, they have an answer and before long they see that the task is doable, and they can finish on their own. It turns out I didn’t need to worry about motivating them I just needed to get them stared. The typical go to in special education might be to chunk the task into smaller amounts. Motivating students might just involve having them do one piece at a time. I have found some struggle with packets. they are just overwhelming. By tearing off a single page to get started, many students can be motivated to work.

Motivate Students Tip #3 Is refusing to work a “now” situation?

Often student refusal is just a way to avoid the work to do a more preferred task. That is to be expected and is in their nature. After all, whom among us has not sat in front of Netflix to avoid a chore? The lesson here that a student may need to learn is that important things will always need to get done. So, if now is not a good time, “I understand but, it has to be done before ____.” This is another way to let the student know they do have choices, but the task of learning is why they are at school, and it is your responsibility to help them get in the practice by having them do the task.

Creating agendas for the class can motivate students to work as they learn that preferred activities are to come.

As students get older I have found offering benefits to working early. If a project is due on Friday, extra credit can be earned by turning it in on Thursday. This is motivating to students who care about their grades. Maybe even there s a piece of the project they don’t feel they can complete. By offering extra credit for working ahead I effectively am motivating students to use their time wisely and make choices for themselves.

Motivate Students Tip #4 Ask if the student feels ok.

We all have days where we don’t feel well. Ask if they feel ok. Maybe their blood sugar is off. Maybe they didn’t sleep well. All the things we feel and cope with happen to students, but they don’t always have the words to express what they feel. This is a kind way to check in with them and let them know you care. It goes a long way to motivate a student when the student knows you care how they feel.

Often a student will be laying their head down and our initial instinct might be to wake and scold them. This most likely won’t work. Motivating students who are ill or tired can be impossible. Being kind, asking if they need a snack, a walk or a drink of water typically works better.

Motivate Students Tip #5 Give them a break before work.

Because we are not mind readers it is hard to know what is going on but maybe they just need a little break before they try the hard thing, or just do the little thing. Offer a break to do a chore, run an errand, or just take a lap around the school. Fresh air and breathing can help clear out the cobwebs and bring the back ready to try.

Maybe they just need a break to lay their head down to move past whatever is causing them to shut down and refuse to participate.

Motivate Students Tip #6 Check in with the whole class.

This is my favorite. If someone isn’t engaged or trying, I go back to what did I ask them to do. More times than I care to admit, there is a whole cluster of students just doing something to spare my feelings and tell me I was confusing them. If a student is refusing to work, maybe I just need to review the task at hand and clarify what the expectation is and how I see it being accomplished. After all, I don’t ask them to do things that are truly impossible; it just seems that way sometimes.

It could be one or several students need some support tools to feel successful. Possibly I could add some aids like sentences starters or a word bank in ELA. Maybe we need multiplication charts or a graphic to help get the task done.

It is true at any age. When a person thinks they are going to fail at something, they generally are then ok with not even trying.

Recap – To motivate students who refuse to work…

1 – Provide Choice

2- Offer help

3 – Allow them to do the work later

4- Check they feel ok

5- Provide a break first

6- Check your directions

What motivating students who refuse to work is not

Motivation is not removal from the classroom. It is not a power struggle to argue about. It is not being done to you, the teacher personally. It is not a time to shame or belittle a student.

But what about the student who never wants to do work

It is my suggestion that students who are always refusing are feeling some of the things I talked about with the difference being they feel them more often and maybe have had these feelings for years.

Students come with their own life experiences. These successes or failures will inform them how to react in your classroom. If you have inherited someone with a history of not doing work it might take until May before they believe that you believe in them. But it is the kind and right thing to do.

Offer choice, support, breaks and tools so they can feel better about trying so they can be the student who asks for help or asks questions rather than just refuses because they think it is their fault, they feel how they feel.

What else can you do for the child who feels they can’t try?

Accommodating their needs is my suggestion. How? Well, each student is different but If you leave your email below, I will send you my Accommodation/Modification Idea Bank for free.

I know you didn’t go into teaching for the money. Neither did I. Now that we are in this together, let me share with you tested ideas that work.

Finally, After all this is said and done. . . .

Student’s who are too tired to focus, work or even stay awake can be even harder to motivate.

Read this article to find out symptoms of sleep deprivation and what to do. HERE

Right Below is a place to drop your email and get the free accommodation idea bank for students with IEP and 504 plans.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Kris

    I would love a copy of your accommodations and modifications bank

    1. Kimberly Jacobs

      Hi, just drop your name and email in the little form above. Thank you, Kim

  2. Cindy

    Please send my a copy of your accommodations and modifications idea bank.

    1. Kimberly Jacobs

      Hi, Kim here from Lessons in a Bubble. When you drop your email into the form, you should get an email right away. I apologize if that didn’t happen. Do you recall if you signed up to get it? Kim

    2. Kimberly Jacobs

      Hello, Kim here from Lessons in a Bubble. When you drop your email into the form, you should get an email right away. I apologize if that didn’t happen. Do you recall if you signed up to get it? Kim

    3. Kimberly Jacobs

      I am sorry if you didn’t get an email. When you drop your email into the form, you should get an email right away. I apologize if that didn’t happen. Do you recall if you signed up to get it? Kim

    4. Kimberly Jacobs

      Cindy, Hi, Kim here from Lessons in a Bubble. When you drop your email into the form, you should get an email right away. I apologize if that didn’t happen. Do you recall if you signed up to get it? Kim

  3. Tammy

    I would love a copy.

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