Providing Extrinsic Motivation Effectively in The Classroom and Utilizing the Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation in Your Students


In the book “Drive” by Daniel Pink, there are many examples and ways to use intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in your students. In this blog, I will describe the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, tell when each should be used, and also provide lesson plans, that are in my subject (biology and chemistry), to teach you how to use them. This book does not say that all extrinsic motivation is bad. It just should be used in certain situations and not others. I will go over each type of task that each should be used. Pink does a very good job differentiating between when each should be used, and he describes the difference between the two motivations. He does an exemplary job at giving examples in psychology and how it relates to the school system as well as the business world. We all start with the belief that extrinsic motivation (money, grades, etc.) motivate us. Pink says that this isn’t always true. “Carrots and Sticks” or extrinsic rewards can actually backfire in certain situations. In the next paragraphs, I will discuss in depth my thoughts as well as Pink’s thoughts on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and how it can be used.

What is Extrinsic Motivation?

Extrinsic motivation, according to Daniel Pink, is the use of external rewards (outside ourselves) to encourage a certain behavior. It can be punishments or rewards. For example, if a teacher gives out extra credit for children bringing in things to the classroom, this is extrinsic motivation. There is a specific type of person that does best only when extrinsic motivation is used. This person exhibits Type X behavior, as mentioned in the book. They rely on things that are outside of themselves to stay motivated. Extrinsic motivation in the classroom can include things like: small prizes, tokens, extra credit, stickers, grades, etc. As we have noticed in “Drive”, extrinsic motivation can backfire. This is because people feel they are entitled to something. They will also feel like they are getting “paid” to do a job. This results in the task not feeling like play, but rather work. People soon learn that they are doing the task, not for internal reasons, but external. Creativity can go out the door, people will not be able to solve problems as well, and they will not value their work as well.

What is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is the motivation that comes from inside. It is not dependent on outside sources. It is just the enjoyment of doing something, for one’s own well-being. For example, when given a problem to solve by a teacher, but offered no reward, you will find that many students will work just as hard on the task or even more than if given a reward. Intrinsic motivation is making play out of work. It is doing things not for extrinsic rewards, but just because they are enjoyable and interesting. People who find their own motivation in tasks are referred to as “Type I’s” in Daniel Pink’s book. Intrinsic motivation does a great job at fostering creativity and problem solving skills, because people are not working for a reward. They are just doing the task for personal enjoyment.

Extrinsic Motivation

  • External rewards, “Carrot and Stick”
  • Turns play into work
  • Reward come from outside oneself, physical rewards
  • Autonomy suffers
  • Not much creativity or problem solving
  • Used on problems that have only 1 correct answer or a few specific ones

Intrinsic Motivation:

  • Rewards come from within
  • Turns work into play
  • Task becomes enjoyable
  • Reward comes from inside oneself
  • Used much on projects that involve creativity or problem solving
  • Used mostly on problems that have more than 1 correct answer or paths to it.

Here are two videos that I found helpful in my journey in writing this post. The first one describes intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation and the second one makes you think about what your purpose is and what motivates you. What is your sentence?


This is a picture of my boyfriend’s Rubik’s Cube collection! Rubik’s cubes use algorithms and algorithmic tasks are the best suited for extrinsic rewards.


When Should Each Be Used?

Extrinsic motivation, according to Pink, should only be used on tasks that have one or only a few correct answers, involve little creativity, and are algorithms. Think about solving a rubik’s cube. When I first started dating my boyfriend he attempted to teach me how to solve one. He showed me different algorithms or ways to get the correct answer and solve the problem. Algorithms are basically tasks that have only one or only a few correct answers, like a Rubik’s cube. For classroom examples, solving problems on the board, multiple choice tests, matching tests, speed at solving problems, etc. are examples of problems where extrinsic rewards can do more good than harm.

When you have a project in class that involves mostly Problem solving and creativity, extrinsic rewards can actually be more harm than good. These projects or assignments should not be offered a reward. Students should be allowed to enjoy just the task and learn from it. They should be given more intrinsic rewards, rather than intrinsic. If the work is good, an extrinsic reward can be given, but it must not be expected. In other words, it cannot be a “If-then reward”. This type of reward says that if you do this, you get this. This is not effective. Intrinsic rewards should be used to foster creativity and problem solving. Examples of this type of work in classrooms are designing pamphlets, posters, power points, solving multi-step problems or puzzles, etc. Intrinsic rewards are “feel good” rewards, Students just feel satisfaction from making something nice and doing the project.

How to Foster Creativity and Intrinsic Rewards in the Classroom:

There are 3 main components or needs that must be met in order to foster this in the classroom, according to Pink. They are as follows.

  1. Autonomy– Students need to feel like they have a choice and have certain influence over their work. They need to feel that they are in charge of their performance and can make a difference. The root “auto” means “self”.

2. Mastery– You must foster the students’ drive to get better and better at something and “master” it. This will give them a sense of pride in their work and a sense of accomplishment.

  1. Purpose– The students need to feel that the task has purpose and that by doing the task, they will benefit. They need to feel their work has purpose and there is a reason to accomplish what they are doing.

If you tie in these three elements into your classroom, success is within your reach!

Lesson Plans for High School Science Involving Intrinsic Rewards:

We all know that adolescents love having choices and to bring autonomy into your classroom, you need to give them choices when necessary. For example, what format they want to present their information in. This will help them have autonomy over their work. You also need to help them with master and purpose by being positive and encouraging them to do their best. Also for purpose, you need to have the learning targets planned and communicated with them before you start a lesson.

Biology- One lesson plan example that I can think of that provides students with the three needs and fosters creativity and problem solving is giving them a choice to research a disease or pathogen and do it in alternate formats. For example, some students can make power points, pamphlets, videos, collages, posters, etc. Giving students the choice of what to research (what sparks their interest?) and giving them the choice of the format, gives students freedom and fosters creativity. It also provides intrinsic motivation because it allows them to explore what they are interested in.

Chemistry- One lesson plan that I did in my own chemistry class, that I really like, is the creation a visual representation of an element. For this project, we picked an element of our choice and made a story cube about the element. We wrote down the atomic number, atomic mass, symbol, how it is used, how it was discovered, etc. on each side. We were able to draw pictures to describe the element further. My element was Rubidium! We also attached a visual representation, a circle, representing the size of the atom. My teacher loved my pictures and hung all of our projects up in the shape of a periodic table. This project meets the three needs and uses intrinsic rewards effectively.

How can Extrinsic Rewards be used? Examples?

Extrinsic rewards can be used as well! They can be given to students for great behavior, as well as, solving algorithmic problems and completing algorithmic tasks, where there are only one or a few correct answers. Examples of Extrinsic rewards that are for high school students and approved by most teachers are listed below. Notice candy is left out!

  • Stickers for tests
  • Pencils
  • Homework passes
  • Extra credit
  • Free Computer Time
  • Lunch with teacher and friend

As you can see, there are ways to use both in your classroom! Have fun with it and remember that you can always foster creativity in your classroom and can teach your students to be Type I individuals! This will set them up for success and make all of their work painless!

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