The Right Way to Motivate

  • “For those of you who get A’s on the next exam, I’ll throw you a pizza party.”
  • “If you make your bed everyday this week, I’ll pay you $10.”
  • “If you aren’t home by 11pm, you can’t go out for the rest of this week.”

I’m sure these sentences above look familiar. These are examples of extrinsic motivation. We have all been extrinsically motivated many, many times throughout our lives. School being one of the biggest examples.

In our society, we stress the importance of grades, GPAs, and test scores. As sad as this is, students feel pressured to do well in school in order to be successful in the future. Our job as future educators is to steer the students’ mindsets away from extrinsic rewards and into intrinsic ones.

But first, what exactly is the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation?

Beth Hennessey, in the video below, discusses her research on how to set up classrooms in order to enhance motivation and creativity. She also talks about the importance of getting students intrinsically motivated.

The video discusses how, unfortunately, in the US, teacher’s motivation techniques are opposite of what they should be doing. They are promising students rewards, setting up expectations of evaluation, limiting choices and time, and breathing down the students’ necks.

So what should teachers be doing instead?!?

  • Give students a choice
    • Allowing students to decide how they want to learn, or what they want to learn will keep them excited and engaged in the classroom. If they enjoy how or what they are learning then they will stay motivated to grow as a student.
    • Example: When learning a new topic ask students if they’d like to do an experiment, play a game, go outside and investigate, etc.
  • Create a lesson free of grades
    • Although society stresses the importance of grades for students, not all lessons have to be graded. A grade-free lesson will take the stress off the assignment and allow students to enjoy it much more.
  • Play a game
    • Incorporating games into lessons will help students tie course concepts together. Games present fun alternatives to otherwise mundane lessons. Besides, who doesn’t love winning a game?
    • Examples: Jeopardy, charades, kahoot, etc.

As a teacher, if you can increase the motivation of your students intrinsically, they will feel encouraged to engage in exploration, participation, and effort because of curiosity and not extrinsic rewards.


  1. Hi Shelby! I really loved your ideas for how we as teachers can intrinsically motivate our students. I think it is so important that we motivate in this way, but unfortunately this was not the way I was motivated through school. When you were in school, did your teachers use intrinsic or extrinsic motivation more? Will you use any of the methods your teachers used or will you change them and if so, how? I love your post and I agree with Emma that the graphics you used really added to the message you were presenting. Great job!

    • During school I had a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic techniques that my teachers used. In my chemistry class sophomore year, we worked with teams, played games and our teacher even let us pick the experiments we wanted to do. However, most of my other teachers extrinsically motivated my classes. For example, they offered extra credit and candy as rewards. In my future classroom, I plan to use some of the techniques my chemistry teacher used such as putting my students in teams and allowing them to chose the experiments and activities they want to do.

  2. I really enjoyed your examples of how to intrinsically motive your students. Looking back at high school, the classes that I enjoyed the most and was the most intrinsically motivated we did things very similar to your suggestions! Great work!

    • I agree! The classes I enjoyed most were the ones where I was intrinsically motivated. This just goes to show how important it is to intrinsically motivate students, so they can enjoy and get the most out of the class.

  3. Hi Shelby,
    I found your thoughts in motivation very interesting! I really enjoy your ideas on how allowing students to make choices in your classroom can lead to more creative thinking as well as higher internal motivation. I also love the idea of playing games make boring topics fun! One question I wonder is how you plan on implementing grade free lessons in a society who focuses so much on grades?

    • Hi Caitlin! I agree that it may be difficult to implement a grade free lesson into a society that is so grade heavy. My idea is just to have a grade free lesson every once in a while. That way the students are still able to receive grades, but just not with every lesson. This will take the stress off of students tremendously.

  4. I like the graphics you used in this. Using a diagram to breakdown intrinsic vs extrinsic examples worked really well and made it simple. I also liked how instead of just telling the reader what they should do, you gave them examples of techniques that you can use. Very good!

    • Thank you for the feedback! I thought the diagram of the intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation made the two types of motivation much more clear and easy to understand, so I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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