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The key to motivating your students is knowing what will work for them says Paul Priester, PhD, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee psychology professor who's been teaching for 15 years and frequently mentors young teachers.

Way before the formal end-of-semester evaluations, ask students what they find to be the most interesting part of the class. What's dry? Where are they getting confused? The information you get can be turned into strategies that can bring excitement to your classroom, he says.

There's much more to teaching than just passing on information to students, agrees Elizabeth Vera, PhD, associate professor and graduate program director in the counseling psychology department at Loyola University. "Making psychology relevant to students and engaging them in the intellectual pursuit is the goal of a great teacher," she says.

Just implementing student suggestions is a way to motivate, Priester adds, but be sure to let your students know that you're implementing their suggestions and that they have ongoing influence.

"It gives students a sense of their responsibility in the class, that their learning is a collaborative project between myself and the class," he says. "That alone makes a huge difference in getting students invested in the class."

With motivation in mind, here are some enlivening strategies Priester suggests:

  • Use real-world examples. Bring the course material to life by having students find related newspaper articles-like an article about a statistical analysis done on census data for a statistics class-or examples of dysfunctional relationships from film and literature that can be used to further understanding of the psychology of relationships.

  • Know your audience. Think about the cultural, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds of the students you are teaching and make sure that the real-world examples you use relate to them, Priester says. For example, salacious examples worked well for Priester in a community college setting, but when he tried them in a more conservative university, they were not well-received, and students lost interest. Instead, in the more conservative setting, Priester used real-life examples from studies on education efficacy. "You have to be guided by the students you're working with," he notes.

  • Employ variation. Vary your teaching techniques from week to week, says Priester. Consider adding multimedia, such as films, music and still visual images to your lectures as a way to punctuate new concepts. Make use of PowerPoint, not just for lecture outlines, but as a way to incorporate pictures, infographics and quotes. Finally, consider brainstorming with people in your information technology department on ways to use their resources to improve your lessons.

  • Encourage use of new skills. Give students a chance to try out new concepts such as research design by collecting their own data outside of class and collaborating with other students on how to best design their statistical analyses.

  • Use your presence to engage. Move around the room, sitting or standing next to students. "It's hard to be ignored by a student when you're right next to them," he says. "Depend on your group counseling skills. Call on the person who's rolling their eyes."

  • Ensure a comfortable setting for students. This is a particular challenge when teaching sensitive topics like multicultural psychology. By taking tips like these into account and being mindful of student reactions, even the newest teachers can be good motivators, Priester says.

"I'm a firm believer that education is a lot like therapy-it's all about creating the right context," he says. "Create a context where different opinions are valued, all individuals have a responsibility to participate and classes are stimulating, and you're well on your way to being a great teacher."