Inspiring the Why Generation: How to Motivate Students

How to motivate students? A constant complaint from teachers, parents, and adults, in general, is that today’s young people are unmotivated. How do we go about motivating these young people? As a teacher, I usually refer to my 7th through 12th-grade students as the “Why Generation.” I do not mean that they ask “why” like a two-year-old that is learning through asking questions. This generation of students needs to understand why they are being asked to do certain things, especially when it comes to education and to their future. What are the pros and cons of having a generation that questions everything about traditional education and its practices?


As parents and teachers, most of us have taught our children that questioning leads to knowledge. We encourage our young children to ask how electricity works and how flowers grow and all other sorts of questions that increase their understanding of the world around them, but as they grow and begin to question the whys of life and society we begin to feel threatened. The major positive of a why centered generation is that it makes it easier to motivate these students. One would think it would be the opposite, but when we can provide a clear answer to the “why” questions this generation proves to be very ambitious. Those who seek to know why they are doing something dramatically increase performance. Those that do not understand the importance and reason behind a task tend to attack it half-heartedly.


There are some difficulties or negatives that come from having a generation who asks why about every task or requirement. A recent question that arises in many public school classrooms is why students have to take state tests. This is a very relevant question for students who must pass certain state-administered tests in order to meet graduation requirements. However, this is a difficult question to answer and even teachers, principals, and other school officials do not have the perfect answer. Most educational leaders have to express to students that this is the requirement and that it must be done. In the past that was enough, but for the new generation of students that is no longer enough.

Another negative or con is that students are placing too much emphasis on the why and not enough on the process. They are more worried about why they must complete these assignments or requirements and less worried about the actual process of completion. The end result is often mediocre at best.

Bridging the Gaps

What actions can be taken to close the gaps between this questioning generation and the older generation? How to motivate students? First, adults have to communicate openly with adolescents. Often young people are spoken at rather than to. It is assumed that they either do not understand, have no interest, or should not question authority to begin with. This type of behavior only increases the gap between the generations. Young people today are interested in their futures and are thinking about the future much earlier than many would believe. Adults have to show a level of respect when speaking to young people about their interests, skills, and passions. Discussion about interests is an excellent way to navigate the topic of why certain requirements must be met. It is easier to explain to a student who has identified his or her dominate interests why state tests must be taken and passed and why certain courses are required for graduation.

How To Motivate Students

So, the question is how to motivate students? How can this generation of young people be motivated to complete the necessary requirements with a positive attitude? As mentioned above, targeting the individual interests of students is key to discovering how to properly motivate him or her. Discovering interests can be done by conversation or interest inventory tools. Many students in the public school system are now required to complete at least two interest inventories at some point during their high school career. Unfortunately, many students do not have an opportunity to dig deeper into their results. Teachers, counselors, and parents could and should work together to tap into student interests and use the information as a motivational tool.

Ultimately, it is a matter of perspective if questioning the reason behind every task or requirement is a positive or negative quality with both sides having strong arguments for their cause. People are individually unique and so are their interests and motivational drives. We must invest time in those who we are teaching or working with to ensure that their needs are met so that they can fully apply themselves.

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Inspiring the Why Generation: How to Motivate Students

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