Motivating ESL students in a mainstream classroom is probably the most
difficult challenge facing teachers today in their effort to effectively educate these
students. Below is a chart of motivational theories, along with a short description of each,
and some implications for educators teaching ESL students in their mainstream
classrooms with a few ways (suggestions) to address these implications.


Theory: Developer
Description of Theory
Implications for Educators Teaching ESL Students in Their Mainstream Classrooms/Ways to Address These Implications
Psychoanalytical Theory:Freud
Innate needs of acceptance and other basic needs influence behavior; unnconscious, egoistic needs may cause unexpected, and often inappropriate, behaviors
Challenged with establishing new friendships and being accepted (“fitting in”), ESL students may:
-Be withdrawn
-Use attention-seeking behaviors like aggression
-Not articulate needs of acceptance because needs are in the unconscious
-Be initially quiet and isolated as they master their new environment
-Feel safer observing from a distance, and with support, may soon jump in
Make your classroom environment as inviting and comfortable as possible for students.
Psychosocial Theory of Human Development:Erik Erikson
Universal stages of development:
-trust versus mistrust
-autonomy versus doubt
-initiative versus shame and doubt
-industry versus inferiority

These traits are developed early in life but become lifetime traits.
Students' cultural attitudes and values can have a powerful effect in school learning. Students with past environments that encouraged trust, autonomy, initiative, and industry will have an easier time adjusting in their new environment. Different cultures may depict trust, autonomy, etc. in different ways and forms than the American culture; for example, being passive is not considered a "lack of confidence" in many cultures; making eye contact with an elder while speaking is considered disrespectful in some cultures; etc.

As a teacher, communicate that you respect and value all cultures, and emphasize the contributions that cultural differences make to learning.
Theory of Cognitive Development:Piaget
Cognitive stages are universal; concepts of accommodation, assimilation, adaptation, and disequilibrium involved.
Cultural and language barriers under-represent ESL students’ cognitive abilities. They go through a period of disequilibrium as they assimilate their new culture.

Use differentiated assessment to help determine actual cognitive abilities.
Social Development Theory:Vygotsky
Learning occurs within a sociocultural setting through social interaction—beliefs values, and experiences are all part of the learning package; the zone of proximal development: the teacher and peer roles are important; language precedes thought
ESL students have different experiences that need to be taken into account and built upon in school. Soliciting help from people in the child’s culture (parents, older peers, and community people), as well as the help of peers in general is beneficial in helping them make connections between new culture and home culture. Helping students learn the language used in the classroom is critical for their continued cognitive development.

Use concrete examples to refer to abstract concepts. Begin language development and concept learning activities with experiences that provide a concrete frame of reference. Provide students with multiple opportunities to practice language in your classroom. Teach children skills that are essential for their survival in their new environment.
Ecological Systems Theory:Bronfenbrenner
Children live in a complex environment within which there are systems that affect one another (home, school, parents' work place, policies, etc.)
There is often conflict between Micro systems (school and home, etc.). This may cause confusion and slow adjustment. An understanding of systems unique to ESL students and the situation of their parents, their cultures, etc. is critical. It is very important to develop relationships and rapport with parents.
Make special efforts to initiate and maintain home-school communication.
Hierarchy of Human Needs:Maslow
Human beings’ needs are hierarchical:
-Physiological (starting need, bottom of hierarchy)
-Safety
-Love and Belonging
-Self-Esteem
-Self-Actualization
Initially, the families of many ESL students struggle to meet basic needs (food and shelter). Many children take quite a bit of time to form friendships and to feel accepted in the classroom. This may affect their academic performance.

Support, and encourage support from other teachers and students in their classrooms, to help children move up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.