I work as a private math tutor.

I have a student, she is 10 years old. Her mother has asked me to provide assistance in preparation for the admission process to the eight-year high school.

My student is extremely unmotivated to study math. Last week she told me that she has lost all her papers containing examples, that I gave her as a homework. Her mother has found all the papers later - the examples there were not computed. In addition, when I come to their house, my client, at least in the last couple of lessons, always comes late and sits late (5-7min) to her chair.

My analysis is that she has no desire for acquiring new knowledge in mathematics.

question: What can I do to motivate my young client to study?

I have talked to one friend, who already has a child, and he told me, that if a child is ordered to do something, it can either work or the child can create even a stronger resistance than before.

Thank you.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Maybe introduce her to some online math games? They exist at almost every level. You could start with fraction games. Some are quite engaging. E.g., this one: link. $\endgroup$ Mar 9, 2020 at 13:04
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    $\begingroup$ As one of the first steps I would get rid of loose sheets with examples and worksheets. Let her get a notebook with blank squared paper. Get her a proper textbook, not a workbook, not a sheet with examples, and neither a 1000+ page brick. Something 200-300 pages with reasonably large print. You would explain the material. Then she has to copy exercises from the textbook into her notebook and solve them. Grading should take neatness and mathematical accuracy into account. Give her word problems that involve drawing pictures, so she could switch between drawing and math. $\endgroup$
    – Rusty Core
    Mar 9, 2020 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ Strongly recommend speaking to the mom about the lack of motivation. Sometimes parents can help motivate a child. Other times you may realize that the parent is creating the problem. $\endgroup$
    – Amy B
    Mar 11, 2020 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ Hi, Have you seen Dan Meyer blog? Could be helpful blog.mrmeyer.com/2011/the-three-acts-of-a-mathematical-story $\endgroup$
    – May
    Mar 13, 2020 at 14:37

2 Answers 2


One summer I tutored the two sons of my chiropractor (a trade). One enjoyed math and wanted to improve. The other didn't enjoy it. I offered them both a few problems to try between sessions, but I knew it wasn't likely that they would do them. For the unmotivated student, I searched for puzzles he'd like. He enjoyed logic and got good at it. I kept his mom informed of what we were doing, and she was ok with not doing the regular math. My goal was to help him enjoy it more. I was somewhat successful at that.

If the student is really resistant, you may not be able to change that.


Welcome to my world...

I’m also a private maths tutor and I’ve had this situation quite a few times, so I can sympathise.

Basically, there are quite a few things you can try. It’s your job as a maths tutor to try to see what works i.e. what motivates and engages them- what makes them “tick”.

Try: visual learning/including shapes when explaining things (e.g. shapes when teaching fractions really helps). Also asking the student what their interests are and then trying to relate the maths to their interests often works. But that’s just 2 things. There’s lots of things you can try. Search google and ME SE for more decent advice/articles on what else you can do to get them engaged in lessons.

Then, just keep doing those things- the things that actually work for that individual student, even if you find them unusual. It’s really important they don’t find the lessons boring, even if you find the maths basic and “obvious”.

But most importantly, if it’s been a few lessons and you are trying lots of different things to get them engaged but they still are not caring, then you should not blame yourself- you’re doing all you can and they are not caring. That’s not your fault. This sounds like the advice Robin Williams gives in that scene from “Good Will Hunting”, but it’s true. Leave the lesson, go home and at the end of the day say, “well I did my part”. Sometimes the kid just isn’t in the right place mentally to learn a bunch of maths. Maybe they have ADHD or some other learning difficulty. Maybe they’re just a kid and they are thinking about the crazy stuff kids think about. Maybe they just hate maths and they’re totally blocking learning anything related to maths out. Who knows. You’re not a psychiatrist (although sometimes it can feel like you are lol).

As a maths tutor, part of your job is to be a detective trying to figure out how you can help the student.

Obviously you should always be communicating with the parents. Be straightforward and tell the parents, “he/she was not engaging at all in today’s lesson...”.

But don’t spend 10 hours a week worrying about helping 1 student who isn’t being engaging or responsive or giving any real feedback. That’s their problem.

And by the way, loads of students (probably about half of my students)- even ones who do well in lessons - try to avoid doing homework - basically due to laziness. There’s not much you can do other than remind them (and the parents) it’s for their own benefit- which is certainly true.

I was actually thinking today- how much does a student improve when they do their homework compared to when they do no homework? I estimate around 3-10 times more (faster) improvement when they do their homework compared to when they do no homework.

So in conclusion- try your best, but don’t beat yourself up about it if what you try doesn’t work- you’re not going to be able to help everyone all the time. And it’s probably (usually) not your fault. And you just have to accept this fact and move on.


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