Jokes and Kim Kardashian: Keeping Students Motivated

Ortizby Jenny Ortiz

A a Freeway Flyer, I’ve been given some tough time slots to teach. Currently I have a 7 in the morning business writing class at St. John’s and at at LaGuardia Community College a 6 in the evening writing class that ends at 10  (this is alongside my other courses for the semester) These two classes are very different but the same idea pops into my head: how do I keep these students motivated and interested.

Most students are sluggish and not responsive at 10 in the morning let alone 7. Most have a long day ahead of them;  these students go to work full-time and only go to class when it’s dark outside. For my students in this particular class, they come in with the idea that they’ll get some notes, memorize them during their lunch break and have time to grab a drink with friends after work only to go to sleep and start all over again.

As for my LaGuardia Community College students, they come to my class after a long day of work with the idea that four hours can be crammed in the first fifteen minutes of class. Their constant question is: will we get out early today? Although learning is important to them, the class is too long for them to stay upbeat the entire time.

Levels-of-Student-EngagementHow do I keep my students, especially in these particularly difficult time slots, motivated? I’ve come to learn that a student who isn’t engaged will have no problem sitting in class spaced out. For them, coming to the class should be reason enough to give them an A (one has to admit a dedication to attending early morning or late evening classes!)

With my morning class, which revolves around heavy note taking as well as lecture, I try to keep a steady flow of jokes and anecdotes going. I’m not very funny, but relating the lecture to things my students have seen on television, or about the hottest music artist seems to not only help their understanding of the material, but also keeps them alert. Many of the students have additional insights to the materials I give them. Current events allow the students to identify with material they normally wouldn’t encounter.

With my evening class, 4 hours is a lot of time to fill and keep my students engaged in their writing. I’ve found that straight lecture or long hours of writing cause my students to, one-by-one, disappear into the bathrooms or the hallways. Group work keeps my evening class engaged. I give them a visual, or reading an assignment and then break them up into groups. I leave it up to my students to initiate their learning process.

In order to successfully understand the material, it is up to them to discuss it amongst themselves. I move from one group to the next to help them stay focused and allow them to develop their ideas. Variety is the key to keeping students engaged during long classes.  By giving them group work and then time to write on their own, these students are self-motivating. I’ve found that my students can be more focused at 10 in the evening than they were when they first came to class.

Being a Freeway Flyer is about adaptation and learning to stay on one’s toes. Part of the allure of bouncing from one campus to the next is that I’m never bored and that my attention is always focused on the next task. Similarly, I’ve come to discover my students are the same way. They bounce from one class to the other and want to stay engaged. It’s my job to anticipate my students’ needs and remember if every class were taught the same, I’d be dying to leave too!

To keep my students motivated, I’ve played video clips of “True Blood,” listened to the Flobots, read about Taco Bell, explained how a cover letter is much like a first date and, which works every time, mentioned Kim Kardashian.  How does Kim relate to a writing course. I don’t know, but her name keeps them focused! What classroom techniques, do you all use to keep your students motivated in the classroom?

About the Freeway Flyer: Jenny Ortiz is a quite serious 23 year old New Yorker, except when unicorns (specifically chubby unicorns) are involved. When she isn’t pleading with Kurt Sutter via Twitter to be her mentor, she is teaching at St. John’s University, Adelphi University, and LaGuardia Community College (see, quite serious). When she isn’t teaching, she’s hanging out with her friends showing off  earth and water bending skills (not serious, but super fun).  When she is alone and it’s raining, she likes to read Haruki Murakami, or listen to the Broken Bells and daydream.  If you want to be a fan, you can read Jenny’s work on,, Jersey Devil Press,, Eighty Percent Magazine, Breakwater Review and InkSpill Magazine…or you can follow her on Twitter:

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