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Motivating and Engaging Students

31 August 2011

Numerous techniques exist to encourage students, convincing them that they can achieve success if they invest time and effort, and that their work has value.

By Bradley J. Ware, Ph.D., and C. Lévesque Ware, Ph.D.

Students are at times already highly motivated when they enter the lab/classroom due to past successes or an interest in the course topic. There are also those individuals who have not experienced the same positive results or who have a preconceived dislike for a course based on a perceived degree of content difficulty. It is precisely in the interest of both these groups that motivation and student engagement should be of primary importance for the chef/instructor from the very first day of lab/class. It is imperative to retain and foster the enthusiasm of highly motivated students and of dire necessity to help motivate others to achieve success.

Motivated students need to see a chef/instructor who is passionate and engaged in the material and its delivery. This educator should be organized, dynamic, informative and challenging, and should offer opportunities for growth and learning. Students who lack motivation must first be encouraged and convinced that they have a reasonable chance of success if they invest the necessary time and effort, and that their work has value and will ultimately have a connection with real-world applications. Numerous techniques exist to assist the chef/instructor in both motivating and engaging students.

Motivational techniques include:

  • Telling students on the first day of lab/class what they need to do to be successful. Review the syllabus, course objectives, evaluative criteria and overall student expectations.
  • Creating assignments and in-class activities that pique curiosity and are also challenging.
  • Relating the course-content assignments and in-class activities to the students’ interests and their career goals.
  • Providing feedback in the lab on a daily basis. Be positive and give students direction by regularly evaluating their work.
  • Offering constructive feedback on essay questions, projects, research papers and presentations.
  • Urging students to strive for short-term goals. When an assignment or exam is returned and a student receives a grade that is lower than anticipated, sit down with the student to develop realistic benchmarks.
  • Reminding students that you care about their overall success. See them before or after labs/classes or during office hours and try to calm student concerns about the course.
  • Providing students with strategies to achieve success: peer-tutoring, study groups and study guides for quizzes and exams.

Once the student is motivated, varied activities should be used to engage the student to spring into active engagement. This process of converting energy to action can be accomplished by employing a variety of both in-lab/in-class and at-home activities such as:

  • Analytical Teams. Groups of two evaluate a lecture, presentation, demonstration or a video and report in either oral or written form.
  • Case Study/Scenario Work. Groups of three or four students attempt to resolve industry-related problems. This exercise also encourages teamwork.
  • Debates. Students are divided into two teams and are asked to either defend or rebuke a stated premise on a controversial course-related topic.
  • Demonstrations. An exhibition by a chef or students on how to prepare a particular food item is always an effective hands-on exercise.
  • Films. This media can be both entertaining and engaging when students are asked to discuss or answer questions provided, which relate to the film.
  • Portfolios. A collection of recipes, menus, photographs of plate presentations and other course assignments can serve as a great summary of student work as well a valuable resource to present on future job interviews.
  • Poster Sessions. Students create posters based on their research of a theme-related topic. They are asked to discuss their work in front of the class.
  • Writing Contemporary Journals. Students select articles on current events and connect these articles to course topics. They may be asked to offer solutions or personal insight on the topic.

The chef/instructor is responsible for designing and implementing strategies that motivate and engage the student to provide a positive learning experience. Although achieving these goals is not always simple, chef/instructors must face this challenge head-on if they want their students to ultimately succeed in the course.


Bradley J. Ware, Ph.D., is a professor in the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. C. Lévesque Ware, Ph.D., is a professor in the John Hazen White School of Arts and Sciences at Johnson & Wales University in Providence.