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How to Motivate Students Intrinsically

Janelle Cox

Do you know how to motivate students? Intrinsic motivation is something that has to come from within. It’s essentially doing something for the inherent satisfaction of just doing it. When you’re intrinsically motivated, you’re moved by the act of doing it for fun or for the challenge of it, rather than for an extrinsic (external) reward. Students that are extrinsically motivated will study for a test because they want to qualify for the football team, or get good grades because their parents promised them an iPhone. As teachers, we should know how to motivate students intrinsically to do well in school. This type of motivation is far more powerful because the student is motivated from something other than an outside reward. However, encouraging a student’s intrinsic motivation is not always easy, and it’s the least common way to get students motivated. But, with a little time and patience and few innovative teaching strategies, teachers can learn how to motivate students intrinsically. Here are a few suggestions.

How to Motivate Students: Be a Role Model

Have you ever heard of the saying “Practice what you preach?” When it comes to building students’ intrinsic motivation, you must be a role model for your students. If you want them to be motivated from the inside, then you must show them that you are, too. You can do this by simply having a conversation with them. Talk about yourself and give them examples of how you’ve motivated yourself in the past, as well as what you do now. Remember, your students are always watching everything that you say and do, so make sure that you are not only telling them how you’re motivated, but showing them as well.

Give Students Control

One of the best ways that you can use to help students build intrinsic motivation is to give up some of the control that you have, and give it to them. You can do this by giving your students a voice and a choice when it comes to their learning. Help students foster the belief that they have a voice and a responsibility when it comes to their own learning. Allow them to choose between assignments, or let them negotiate their learning contract or how you’ll grade an assignment. The more opportunities you give students to have some control over themselves and how they learn, the more it will motivate them to do well.

Vary Your Teaching Strategies

Another effective method to build intrinsic motivation is to vary your teaching strategies. You have a diverse classroom, which means students will vary by gender, ethnicity, social class, learning style, ability, interest, etc. You’re most likely already differentiating your curriculum to ensure your meeting the needs of all learners, but what you may have not realized is by doing so, you’re also helping to appeal to the strengths of all students, which is a great intrinsic motivator.

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Help Students Understand How They Learn Best

Intrinsic motivation can play a significant role in a students’ learning, that’s why it’s so important to help them understand how they learn best. When students know the best way that they learn, there’s a better chance that they’ll be intrinsically motivated. Offer opportunities for students to figure out how they like to learn by teaching them in a variety of different methods, give them student interest surveys, or find out where they lie in the multiple intelligence theory. Have students keep a portfolio of their work so they can see the different ways that they learn and can analyze which way worked best for them.

Set Students Up for Success

Intrinsic motivation arises from within yourself, and if we want students to not only learn to challenge themselves, but to really succeed in school and in life, then we must set them up for success. The best way to set a student up for success is by encouraging self-sufficiency. The more children learn to do something on their own, and that they can do it on their own, the more they will understand the correlation of how hard work pays off. Students need to not only understand this, but actually experience that what they do for themselves has a direct effect on their learning. Once they learn this, they’ll be able to reach for the stars.

As teachers, we have the unique opportunity to place students in situations (through activities and lessons) that will help them learn to persuade themselves to by intrinsically motivated to well in school. While we can’t force intrinsic motivation on our students, what we can do is provide teaching strategies and activities that can encourage and persuade them.

How are you motivated best? Do you believe intrinsic motivation is best for how to motivate students? Please share your thoughts and teaching strategies on this topic in the comment section below, we’d love to hear your thoughts.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.