How a deadline can motivate students

March 23, 2021


Last week the participants of the CLIL Challenge had access to the materials for the last time. Interestingly, I noticed a peak in both logins and responses in the group. I wonder why that is the case…? It made me think about the use of a deadline to motivate students in a CLIL lesson.

Estimated time to read this article: 4 minutes

Why a deadline works to motivate everyone

It surprises me every time: how a time limit or a deadline increases engagement.

Deadlines create a sense of urgency and help to focus on the task at hand.

And you have experienced it yourself plenty of times as well. Recognise any of these situations?

  • You notice you are out of an ingredient for tonight’s meal.
  • You want to watch a movie on Netflix and see the notice ‘available for 2 more days’
  • You see you have a meeting in an hour you still need to read an article for
  • You receive an email from your colleague who asks for the status of a small task you were supposed to complete a week ago and completely forgot about.

What do you think the next task of these situations is going to be?

If it is a small task, it is very likely you will leave everything you were doing and complete it immediately.

The focus this sense of urgency brings can be very helpful, but of course also very stressful.

More on that in a moment.

Key Take Away

Deadlines and time limits influence you to take action every day. The same applies to your students' tasks.

3 ways to make tasks more effective

How does this work in class?

Simple: make sure you set a time limit for a task at hand.

This is one element of what I define as ‘setting an effective task’.

To make a task more effective in class, include these three elements:

  1. 1
    A time limit, so students know what to expect.

A deadline will help them focus but will also motivate them. I don’t know about you, but when I receive a task and the teacher said “you have 30 minutes” I did not really feel the urge to start…

  1. 2
    A check for understanding. 

Simply ask: does everyone understand the task?

This is important in a CLIL lesson as you can also include a check for language here, for example by asking students to rephrase the task in their own words.

  1. 3
    A follow-up task, so students who are finished can continue with something else.

This can be very basic, like: “when you are finished, you can start with the homework”.

The purpose is to keep students from raising their hands and asking what they can do now that they are finished.

Key Take Away

Setting a time limit is an important element of making tasks more effective because of the sense of urgency it creates.

Time limit vs. stress

Obviously you should be very careful with time limits.

I have discussed Kahoot before, and I really like this app, but you should be careful with the time limit in this piece of software.

Even if students receive more than twice the time necessary to complete the task, a ticking clock will stress them out.

Be sure to give them enough time, but at the same time set clear expectations for them.

Key Take Away

Be careful with time limits: you do not want to stress out students who struggle.

In my experience, deadlines and time limits like this work.

Not just for Netflix, but also in class.

What about you, do you use time limits in class?

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