ARCS: Motivating Students

ARCS Motivating ESL StudentsESL learners come into the classroom with a wide variety of proficiency, backgrounds, and expectations.  These factors, and others, influence the motivation learners have to invest time and effort in their learning.  There are many things that a teacher can do to motivate learners while teaching in the classroom, but it is also very important to consider learner motivation when planning instruction.


Although originally conceived of in the context of large-scale instructional design, ARCS can also be useful for the classroom L2 teacher who hopes to create lessons and materials that will motivate ESL students to learn.

Attention (ARCS) – Motivating ESL Students

The first element of ARCS, Attention, tells us that students must be engaged in order for any learning to happen.  This may seem obvious, but it is often overlooked in the classroom.  If students are looking out windows at friends or using their cell phones in class, they don’t have much chance of understanding what their teacher or classmates are saying especially when English is not their native language.  Many opportunities for learning are missed because students aren’t paying attention.  There are many good teaching strategies to consider here, for example: use materials that learners find interesting; question students spontaneously on what you or other students have said in the class; pace activities appropriately and change activities often in longer sessions.

Relevance (ARCS) – Motivating ESL Students

The second element of ARCS is Relevance.  This is closely related to Attention in some cases, because it is much easier to get students’ attention when they find the content of reading or listening material relevant to their own lives.  Beyond this, students should also feel that the activities the teacher plans are relevant to their specific language learning goals and their preferred styles of learning.

Confidence (ARCS) – Motivating ESL Students

The next element is Confidence.  Students need to be challenged in their learning, but the activities and materials must not be overwhelming in terms of quantity or level of language.  Students need to have confidence that they can succeed in an activity or achieve a task.  Otherwise, they may feel there is little sense in trying.

Satisfaction (ARCS) – Motivating ESL Students

Satisfaction is the last part of ARCS.  Students need to feel that they have accomplished something through their participation in the activity.  This sense of accomplishment could come from the completion of a project the assignment of a grade, or even some encouraging feedback letting a student know that he or she is on the right track.

If you are concerned that your activities may not be as motivating for learners as you had hoped, try thinking about your activity design in terms of ARCS.

Pursue TESL Canada certification online. Ontesol’s 250-hour TESOL Diploma is recognized for TESL Canada Standard 2 certification after a 20-hour Practicum is completed.

Related reading:

Helping Students Become Independent

Storytelling in the ESL Classroom

Teaching Culture