Can motivation be embedded in the lesson plan?

Happy ARCSing!!!

If someone asked me about my most frustrating teaching moments, I would not have to think twice; nothing can be more discouraging than a group of bored students, doing something only because they are told to do it. At the same time, if asked about my worst experience as a student, I get the same image of a boring lecture or activity, with my mind starting to wander elsewhere, thinking of what I will be doing after… In either case, personally, I strongly believe that it is the teacher who can work the magic and make the learning experience more exciting, engaging, and interesting.

So, the question is:

Can motivation be embedded into the lesson plan?

Luckily, the answer is YES. Two years ago, while working on my final project for the “Instructional Design” course, I was introduced to Keller’s ARCS model, and ever since then, Embedding Motivation into the Lesson Plan has been a magic tool in my teaching toolbox!

The ARCS stands for – Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction.

According to Keller (2000), these four categories represent “sets of conditions that are necessary for a person to be fully motivated.”


Gaining learners’ attention is the first step, and the following are some strategies to achieve it: a simple eye contact, unexpected events such as a loud whistle or an upside-down word in a visual (Keller), an appealing or surprising visual, an intriguing question or anecdote.

Keller suggests to ask these questions when planning a lesson:

Capture interest: What can I do to capture their interest?
Stimulate inquiry: How can I stimulate an attitude of inquiry?
Maintain attention: How can I use a variety of tactics to maintain their attention?

I have attended numerous lessons or sessions where a teacher/presenter would jump right to her/his content or speaking without even paying attention if anyone is listening. Perhaps, I have done it myself more than once. A great reminder from Keller is that such practice lacks of a key element that can engage a deeper level of curiosity. Luckily, it does not require too much time; the key is to develop that conscious habit to pause and make contact with the audience, even for a split second! Surprisingly, that connection can change the course of the entire class.


Building relevance is the next key tactic. The following is my favourite quote from Keller’s work: “Even if curiosity is aroused, motivation is lost if the content has no perceived value to the learner. Relevance results from connecting the content of instruction to important goals of the learners, their past interests, and their learning styles.” (Keller, 2000).

So true! How many lessons have been wasted simply because learners saw no value in the topic or subject? I could certainly think of quite a few all the way through my secondary school and even college (even despite the fact that I love learning and can get excited almost about anything!) Reading or learning about something that cannot be immediately applied doesn’t feel that exciting or important.

One question to ask at this point is Why do my students want to know this material? Asking learners to think of the answer might be  the step in the right direction. What value do they see in the topic/subject/concept? If they see none, what can be done?

Keller suggests to ask these questions when planning a lesson:

  • Relate to goals: How can I best meet my learners’ needs (do I know their needs?)
  • Match interests: How and when can I provide my learners with appropriate choices, responsibilities, and influences?
  • Tie to experience: How can I tie the instruction to the learners’ experiences?

Based on my own experience, teaching with a textbook makes life easier. However, no matter which textbook, the selection of units can be hit and miss (at least in the field of ESL). While I have no doubt that textbook writers do their best to include a variety of topics and activities, they still target a rather diverse audience. I have noticed that courses that are tailored for a specific group of students result in much more student engagement, participation, enjoyment, and retention of the material. More on my approach to personalized learning can be found in my previous post “What can I give to my students that they cannot find on their own?”


According to Keller, confidence can be accomplished by “helping students establish positive expectancies for success”  or “by making the objectives clear and providing examples of acceptable achievements.”

He suggests to ask these questions when planning a lesson:

  • Success Expectations: How can I assist in building positive expectations for success.
  • Success Opportunities: How will the learning experience support or enhance the students’ beliefs in their competence?
  • Personal Responsibility: How will the learners clearly know their success is based upon their efforts and abilities?

Often, students are not given an opportunity to reflect on their successes or failures. Sometimes, a failure can be just a necessary and unavoidable component of learning. Some other times, it can be attributed to external factors, over which the learner has no control. Failing over and over, yet without reflecting and analysing the reasons, can result in a wrong “diagnosis” that the student is just not capable to succeed. It’s not surprising, then, that with no hope for success, a learner has no motivation from the start.


The fourth condition of motivation is satisfaction, which Keller attributes to “positive feelings about one’s accomplishments and learning experience; i.e., students receive recognition and evidence of success that support their intrinsic feeling of satisfaction and they believe they have been treated fairly.”

Questions to ask when planning a lesson:

Intrinsic motivation: How can I provide meaningful opportunities for learners to use their newly acquired knowledge and skills?
Rewarding outcomes: What will provide reinforcement to the learners’ success?
Fair treatment: How can I assist students in anchoring a positive feeling about their accomplishments?

When students see meaning, they feel happy about their learning experience. When they are happy, they want more!

To conclude, teachers can make a difference by embedding motivation into each and every lesson. It’s all about the learners, and not the content. It’s all about what the learners discover, as opposed to what teachers cover. It’s all about stimulating that attitude of inquiry, keeping it relevant, building confidence, and discovering satisfaction in learning.

Happy ARCSing:)


Keller, J. How to integrate learner motivation planning into lesson planning: The ARCS model approach. 2000. 

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Tsisana Palmer and published with kind permission.

 You can read other articles by Tsisana by clicking here.

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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