Unmotivated and Disengaged in the classroom



Children who are motivated to learn generally attend school regularly, do better academically and display pro-social classroom behaviour. Unfortunately, up to 20 per cent of students in any year are described as disengaged. [1] Many do not catch up academically in later years. [2]

Unmotivated children tend to opt out, do the bare minimum required and can be difficult to teach. They are unwilling to participate in class discussions, frequently look bored, tune out, distract others, give up easily on tasks, talk out of turn, arrive late to class, disrupt the flow of classes and have poor attendance. As they get older they are more likely to skip classes, engage in challenging anti-social behaviours,[3] and are more at risk of dropping out of school.

This ebooklet contains content that will raise your general awareness about promoting and managing student motivation and engagement, and ways of responding to students who lack motivation. This will assist you to fine-tune and select appropriate strategies for individual children and specific situations. Strategies can also be easily adapted to be included in student’s Individual Learning Plans and the recommendations section of psychologist’s reports.

These strategies are designed for use with students in primary and junior secondary schools.

[1]Angus, M., McDonald, T., Ormond, C., Rybarcyk, R., Taylor, A., & Winterton, A. (2009). Trajectories of classroom behaviour and academic progress: A study of student engagement with learning. Mount Lawley. Western Australia: Edith Cowan University. Australian Education Union. (2008). New Educators Survey 2008. Results and Report.


[3] Alter, A., Walker, J., and Lanters, E. (2013). ‘Teachers Perceptions of Student’s Challenging Behaviour and the Impact of Teacher Demographs’. Education and Treatment of Children, 36

  • Preliminary strategies
    • Talk to previous teachers and review attendance data
    • Talk to parents
    • Build your capacity as a teacher
  • Whole-class strategies
    • How do you present as a teacher?
    • Build strong trusting relationships
    • Create a well-resourced classroom
    • Structure your lessons to increase engagement
    • Check that students understand the task
    • Empower students to have greater ownership of learning
    • Ensure that homework and assignments are fair and accessible
    • Use a variety of teaching styles
    • Effectively manage low-level disruptive behaviours
  • Whole-school strategies
    • Build a culture of learning and engagement
  • Additional strategies
    • Investigate possible reasons for lack of motivation
    • Build self-belief and persistence
    • Build social skills if the child has friendship difficulties
  • Resources
  • Appendix 1: What to do if you find it difficult to like a particular child