A Guide to “Drive” Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom

“Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.”

-Daniel Pink

In his novel Drive, Daniel pink outlines how we can become truly motivated, not for extrinsic rewards or goals, but rather for our “deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to live a life of purpose”. From the novel, we learned that as humans we have three psychological needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. All three of these needs feed the logic that Pink gives behind the essential elements for true motivation. In this post I will outline how each of these psychological needs tie into the three essential elements of motivation:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

and how we can utilize these in the classroom!


Autonomy refers to “the desire to direct our own lives.” Autonomy is the first step into transitioning from being extrinsically motivated to being intrinsically motivated. To distinguish between the two, being extrinsically motivated means to engage in a certain behavior or practice a certain technique and expecting something in return for it. On the contrary, intrinsic motivation is when a person engages in a certain behavior because they find it rewarding; the behavior itself is its own reward. To be autonomous is to be intrinsically motivated to have control over our lives.

Application to the Classroom:

There are several ways that teachers can promote autonomy in the classroom to help shape their student’s intrinsic motivation:

  • Teachers can use praise as a factor that can increase intrinsic motivation within their students. If teachers keep their praise subtle and only in instances when it is well deserved, students will find themselves behaving in ways that will insight more praise from their teacher.
  • Teachers can dive deeper into other motivators of a student’s life and use these in the classroom; for example, what is a student’s motivation for succeeding in sports or games? Ask them these questions and suggest that they use this same perspective in the classroom
  • Ensure that your classroom environment fosters curiosity and creativity. Without these two factors, intrinsic motivation will be a far reach for students if they are going through the motions in class.


Mastery refers to “the urge to get better and better at something that matters,” according to Daniel Pink. Mastery is another key component to developing intrinsic motivation within the classroom. If a student is interested in something and has strong feelings on the topic, it matters to them. It should be a teachers goal to make their class matter to their students. Once their class matters to students, they will be more inclined to improve in class. Make it matter!

Application to the Classroom:

  • One way to make a class matter to a student is to encourage choice within your classroom. Allowing students to have a sense of independence will draw them into your class and content. It will make them care about what they are learning and want to improve for themselves and the choices that they were able to make in class.
  • Another way to make your class matter to students is to incorporate their lives into class. Ask them about their lives and interests and relate it back to class content. This correlation will give the students the impression that the things they feel are important in other aspects of their lives are just as important as their education. This is key for mastery in the academic atmosphere.


In Pink’s description, ‘purpose’ refers to “the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.” For a student to connect their academic habits and behaviors to a purpose is the utmost important step in developing intrinsic motivation in the classroom. Students find purpose in the classroom when they set aside their extrinsic wants/needs and participate for the sake of learning.

Application to the Classroom:

  • One way to encourage purpose in the classroom is to establish milestones in your classroom. If students are progressing forward to reach a milestone within their learning process, they will be continuing to move forward towards this milestone solely to reach a new level of understanding in material rather than receiving a grade or some sort of extrinsic reward.
  • Another way to encourage students to find purpose in the classroom is to have a purpose yourself as a teacher. Always teach lessons, answer questions, and make statements with a purpose. Give assignments and lectures with a clear purpose to your students. If you are transparent with your purpose in the classroom, it will be so much easier for students to develop and work towards their own.

Taking Pink’s three essential elements to motivation into the classroom will change the way both teachers and students will operate throughout their educational careers. Establishing these techniques early will help to develop students’ intrinsic motivation from the start and ultimately facilitate an atmosphere of desired learning and deep understanding.


  1. Lauren,
    Great post! One thing I was wondering is that if you’re setting milestones for learning for your students, isn’t that very similar to just setting a goal of a grade? I think it would be much more meaningful for the students to decide where they want to be and what milestones or check-ins they’re going to hit along the way. But I do love the idea of those milestones!

  2. Lauren V,
    I loved what you had to say about not only providing ample opportunities for our students to have purpose in the classroom, but also us as teachers having purpose ourselves. I liked that you explicitly pointed out having purpose when answering questions posed by students. Language and the words we use are very powerful and we can create and foster a climate of purposefulness by the words we choose. I also liked the points you brought up about having a classroom environment that promotes intrinsic motivation. What are some ways you will do this? Great post, and thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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