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How To Motivate Students as a Tutor

How To Motivate Students as a Tutor

Learn how to motivate students under your tutelage, encourage curiosity, and make the most of in-person and virtual classroom settings.


Tutors typically work with students to supplement their classroom learning, prepare for an important exam, or perfect an advanced skill. These pupils are often very busy, taking on tutoring on top of school or work. So, as much as they want to achieve their goals, attending a session can sometimes feel like one more thing to do in a long day. 

When students are feeling burnt out, it’s natural for them to lose motivation. In fact, 79% of college students and 40% of high schoolers have reported feeling unmotivated. For some, the COVID-19 pandemic made things worse: remote classes don’t suit all learners, and many students struggle to work amid distractions at home. 

While motivation can easily be lost, it’s essential to success. After all, motivated students perform better and are more likely to reach their goals. 

As an educator, it’s your job to help your students get the most out of each session. But what can you do to keep pupils inspired and engaged in learning? Don’t fret — we can help. Here’s how to motivate students as an in-person or remote tutor.  

How to motivate students in the classroom

Whether you meet with students at a library or tutor in a virtual classroom, it’s key to understand what makes your pupils tick. Why did they decide to seek out a tutor, and what motivates them to want to succeed? Armed with this information, you can create engaging lessons that appeal to their needs and remind them of the importance of their hard work.

Here’s how to keep students excited about reaching their goals—no matter where or how you run sessions: 

  • Review goals before you start work. Nothing squashes motivation like constantly coming up short. When students set unreasonable goals, like raising a grade from an F to an A, they risk feeling demoralization when they don’t reach them. And not achieving these far-reaching objectives isn’t anyone’s fault—not the tutor’s or the student’s. The issue is the unrealistic outcome. Talk with your students about their goals before each session. Can your SAT pupil hope to boost their score by that many points in just a few months? Is it reasonable for a struggling high schooler to aim for an A on an upcoming test, or should they shoot for a B? If the students’ goals are unrealistic, help them pivot and aim for a more manageable win.
  • Let the student take the reins. There are two main types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from within. For example, a student whose dream is to attend a top college is intrinsically motivated to earn high grades. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from an external source, like a parent inspiring a pupil to learn a new language. When it comes to tutoring, aim to spark your students’ intrinsic motivation. Let students help direct their studies by teaching in a way that suits them. A language student may learn best by watching foreign films and discussing them with you afterward, while a young math student may grasp concepts better using tactile methods, like making changes with play money. When your students begin to succeed in learning, frustration can turn into pride, excitement, and an intrinsic desire to keep improving. You can find out how students work best by observing them, asking them what they enjoy, and discussing what makes learning easier. For example, an older student may be able to tell you that they don’t learn well from reading textbooks and prefer visuals. Incite these conversations by asking new pupils or their parents to have a discussion before starting sessions.
  • Use student interests to your advantage. Slogging through monotonous worksheets can make tutoring sessions feel like a chore. Most people feel motivated when working on subject matter that holds their attention, so encourage your students to learn while exploring what’s important to them. If you’re working with a college student on composition, have them write essays about something that interests them, like sports, fashion, or current events. Younger students may get more out of the learning process if you create math problems around characters from their favorite movie or book. 


Tips for creating engaging online sessions

Online educational platforms provide an easy way to connect with students, even outside of your geographical area. But virtual classes come with a unique set of challenges. You and your student may have to work harder to connect, and it can be difficult to monitor a pupil's work from afar. 

Here’s how to overcome these hurdles and keep students engaged in a virtual session: 

  • Make classes interactive. Avoid non-stop lectures and long, one-sided explanations over Zoom. Frequently ask students questions to ensure they’re following along, and when possible, try to put pupils at the helm of the class. Have a Spanish student read an article aloud or practice conversational skills, or ask a math student to share their screen and show their work while solving a problem.
  • Set students up with the right tools. When attending in-person classes, students often arrive with books and activities in hand. Provide this experience virtually by giving students access to reading materials, games, online flashcards, and guided study applications. There’s a wealth of free and paid learning tools online — however, students may feel demotivated if they want to try additional tools but hit a paywall. If you have room in the budget, consider signing up for paid accounts on sites like WolframAlpha and LitCharts for pupils to use during sessions. 
  • Ask students to track achievements. It’s easier to feel empowered to keep moving toward our goals when you can see yourself making strides. Use an online learning platform or spreadsheet to track learning metrics such as practice test scores, assignment grades, and time spent on complex questions. Data provides a quantified marker of students’ progress and helps them visualize their competence and effort.

Help students get in touch with their inner learner

Motivated students understand how they learn, have the tools to succeed, and feel themselves progressing toward their goals. But not all students know what they need from the jump. Help your pupils pinpoint how they learn best with the following tips: 

  • Encourage self-reflection. Ask students of any age if and how they struggle when learning at school or independently. This is an important first step in identifying their academic strengths and weaknesses. An entry survey can help guide their thinking if they don’t know where to start. Pair this information with your own observations. Perhaps you see a student’s face scrunch up in confusion when you explain complex grammar — ask them if they feel verbal instruction is helpful for their learning. It’s important for the pupil to express that they find these explanations challenging to understand. Once you and your student are on the same page about their learning style, the pupil will know how to voice their needs, and you can create more engaging lessons.
  • Create a safe environment. If you want valuable, honest feedback from your students, establish a safe space for communication. Let your pupils know you welcome all insights, including constructive criticism. Knowing how you can better serve pupils can make all the difference. A positive student-tutor relationship also makes pupils feel more comfortable when they make mistakes. You can build trust by showing a student you encourage errors and remaining patient during sessions. Change how you present the idea, then congratulate the student when they grasp it.
  • Reward curiosity. Students become more motivated to participate when they form a deeper connection with the material. Let your students know when they ask great questions and empower them to get outside their comfort zones. You can also reward curiosity by congratulating students on the little things they do that go above and beyond, such as ordering at a restaurant in a foreign language or applying math concepts when playing at home (like in a family game of Monopoly).   

Manage your clients with Practice

As a tutor, your focus is motivating students and ensuring their success. But running a tutoring business comes with a slew of other responsibilities that can eat into your time. That’s where Practice comes in.

Our customer relationship management (CRM) platform allows entrepreneurs and freelancers like tutors to safely store client information, receive payments, and schedule sessions — all in one place. Plus, we offer a secure chat feature where you can send your students messages of support, take questions, and have them sign a contract before their first session.

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