Many students need a little push to get them more actively involved in their studying. Motivating your unmotivated student can be as simple as providing an incentive that means something special. Below are some thoughts on this topic.

If you want to learn more, please attend our free webinar on this exact topic, Motivating your Unmotivated StudentClick here for the schedule and to register.

1. Dig beneath the surface.

Sometimes we interpret a behavior by the result, as opposed to trying to determine what might have caused it. Before deciding that your student isn’t motivated, it may be helpful to do a little sleuthing.

Maybe your student is dealing with an issue he isn’t able to articulate or identify. Ask: is your student not working to potential in one or all of her classes? Is there a social issue or distraction influencing motivation and focus? Could there be a physical issue, such as not hearing everything the teacher is saying, or not being able to read the whiteboard? Could it be that your student is tired because they are not getting enough sleep? Why is studying challenging?

Before jumping to the conclusion that your student lacks motivation, it may be wise to take a closer look at the bigger picture.

2. Reinforce good study skills.

Educators agree that study skills are the foundation for effective and efficient studying. Without them, the school will become exponentially more difficult.

Observe your student doing homework and speak to his or her guidance counselor or a favorite teacher and determine: Are they easily distracted? Disorganized? Managing time poorly? Clueless about planning? Maybe a dose of study skills and executive functions is what is needed. Active reading strategies, note-taking skills, and using a planner will encourage interaction with—and retention of—the material.

3. Agree on a specific goal.

If it’s decided that a motivating incentive is in order, make sure that the motivator and the motivated are on the same page.

This means that both agree on the vision for what’s to be accomplished. Work with your student to set a specific goal that he or she wants to achieve over the next month. Is it to encourage your student to read for 30 minutes a day? To prepare and thoroughly study for midterms? To encourage more self-advocacy, perhaps by making an appointment to meet with a teacher? To adapt one or two new studying habits? Make sure the goal emphasizes the process, not a grade.

4. Praise often, but don’t offer false praise.

If you want to encourage someone to continue to do something, tell them how well they do it.

Struggling students often have poor self-esteem and don’t see why they should even try. A little bit of praise can go a long way to building up a student’s self-esteem, and thus motivation. There is always something that can be praiseworthy – even if it’s only, “I’m so proud of you for giving that a try!” On the other hand, offering praise for minimal effort can have the opposite effect.


There are many ways to motivate an unmotivated student. Analyzing why your student may not be working to his or her potential could be the key that unlocks blocked effort. Determining whether or not your student has good study skills, and knows how to use and apply executive functions, can go a long way to finding the key to their academic success.

If a tangible reward is used as an incentive, make sure all parties agree to the goal. Finally, encourage often, but be authentic in your encouragement. Rewarding and reinforcing achievement can offer the energy needed for a student to push through to the finish line. The key is to know your student’s strengths and weaknesses so that the appropriate strategies can be put in place to support them in achieving their goals.

Learn more on how to help your student improve their study skills.

4 Ways to Motivate Your Unmotivated Student