How to reward and praise adult learners

 | Teaching House Nomads Blog

History has shown that adults who have had difficulty learning a second language often feel frustrated and discouraged. This is because they are trying to learn while already being proficient in their native tongue, which can feel like fighting against the current - it's hard! 

The roles of an ESL teacher as both an educator and motivator are crucial for boosting their motivation. To help boost motivation levels among these learners you need patience as well as acceptance of all effort made possible by your students; this will give them more confidence when speaking or writing during class time together. With those attitudes adjusted there shouldn't be any problem getting everyone on board with improving speech habits.

In this article we discuss the best ways to reward and praise adult students that can best attract, retain, motivate and educate them.

Encourage connections between students and educators 

As teachers we can encourage students to feel a connection with something larger than themselves. Educators should take a proactive approach to connecting with students and encourage contact between their students. It is important to recognise that the teacher-learner relationship is a two way street. Allowing students to openly discuss in class makes them feel heard and a part of a group, which in turn makes them feel valued as a student. 

Acknowledge academic achievement 

Success and achievement can look like many things to different students. As educators, it is important to identify students’ goals and progress and announce even the smallest achievement. Feeling a sense of accomplishment goes a long way in developing positive wellbeing over time for students. Acknowledgment of any kind of achievement needs to be sincere and personal for it to be effective to adult learners. 

So examples of praise can simply be:

  • You have really grown (in these areas)
  • You’re really working hard today 
  • You’re doing (specific activity) much better 
  • Keep working on (specific activity). You’re good.
  • What good work!


Give prompt feedback 

Feedback is most effective when it recognises a specific behaviour and is given as soon as possible after the students work occurs. Providing prompt feedback is a significant means of improving achievement in learning. 

When adult learners are provided with detailed feedback it gives them the opportunity to identify the areas they are good at as well as areas that they can improve on. It is always best to begin with positive feedback before negative. Positive feedback motivates and encourages students to continue learning. 


Creative ways to express general appreciation 

When appreciation is personalised it works more effectively. Teachers should be creative when finding ways to praise their students. Some ways you might do this include:

  • Encouraging student outings 
  • Taking a break to get to know your students 
  • Celebrating the birthdays of students and staff 
  • Creating awards or certificates to give to your students 


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