Encouraging Intrinsic Motivation in Your Students

Motivating your students isn’t always easy. But when you break down the concept into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, the conversation can get interesting. It could be argued that much of the motivation happening in today’s classrooms is extrinsic; That is, driven by the desire to attain an outcome. It could be the desire to get a good grade, get into a good college or university, or to not get in trouble with teachers or parents. This is usually the type of motivation teachers use in their classrooms. Extrinsic motivation is built into our societal norms and even our syllabi! This is even despite the fact that most teachers would much rather have their students intrinsically motivated, even if we don’t often think of motivation in these terms.

Intrinsic motivation is driven by an interest in or enjoyment of the material or subject matter. Students who are intrinsically motivated are what teachers are always looking for. You know the ones: they read more books than you ask them to, they ask probing questions, and they’re interested in finding out more about things. But intrinsic motivation isn’t only a natural thing: there are a number of things you can to do encourage intrinsic motivation in your students. The graphic below from Mia MacMeekin explores 27 ideas to encourage this type of motivation in your students. Keep reading to learn more.

Encouraging Intrinsic Motivation in Your Students

  • Share your story with your students
  • Incorporate the student in their learning experience
  • Spark curiosity in the subject matter
  • Eliminate extrinsic awards
  • Create a lesson that is free of grades
  • Ask students what motivates them and then tap into that
  • Challenge students to find a new solution to an old problem
  • Encourage creative ways to accomplish a task
  • Use teams or groups
  • Praise students for meaningful accomplishments
  • Practice what you teach
  • Play a game that teaches the same principles
  • Discover your passion
  • Discover your students passions
  • Allow time for the process to happen
  • Demonstrate, show, describe, and engage with purpose
  • Add energy to what you are doing
  • Create a new atmosphere for creativity
  • Set milestones to reach, and display them
  • Create skill assessments that students choose to take
  • Allow students to measure progress throughout
  • Create a trusting atmosphere
  • Create a class vision
  • Engage in community service
  • Let students have a choice – in what they do, how they do it, and how to assess it
  • Share with others what is happening in the classroom
  • Incorporate students’ lives and stories into the classroom



  1. Permelda Joseph

    August 7, 2014 at 12:02 am

    I love this piece. Was gratifying to know that other teachers are dealing with unmotivated students like myself. The ideas are something I will definitely include and continue in my teaching- learning experiences.

    Thank you!!!

  2. Kelly Long

    August 7, 2014 at 6:55 am

    In addition to this excellent advice, I believe teachers and students should listen to Dan Pink’s TEDTalk on motivation at http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation. I am currently reading his book, The Puzzle of Motivation to help me learn how to better motivate my students.