15 ways to encourage intrinsic motivation in kids


Rosie Byrnes


Find out how to foster intrinsic motivation in your kids with these 15 practical strategies!

One of the biggest challenges we face as teachers is keeping our students motivated to learn. Last week, we explored the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and why an intrinsically motivated learner is more likely to become a lifelong learner. Now, let’s have a look at the top 15 practical methods of fostering genuine intrinsic motivation in our students!

How can teachers help guide our students to be curious, independently motivated learners?

15.Use extrinsic motivation as a stepping stone.

Stickers, stamps, and rewards are great extrinsic motivators, but their effects only last so long. However, when used as a visual reminder of intrinsic goals, these trinkets can be quite useful! The key is to tell students why they’ve received the reward (“You were so kind to help clean up, you’ve earned a marble!”). By reminding them of the positive qualities they’ve shown, you can help forge the connections between feeling proud and doing the right thing.

14.Give specific, personalized praise.

Praise is another example of an extrinsic motivator that can, when used intentionally, help develop intrinsic motivation. Praise like “Good job!” might make kids feel good, but it doesn’t help them understand what they did right. Instead, try praising students using specific language; i.e. “I noticed you worked very hard to stay focused today.”

13.Create a classroom culture of ownership and accountability.

Have students create the class rules, keep systems organized, or lead daily routines. The more they feel that they are responsible for their own learning environment, the more they’ll internalize the idea that their learning is their responsibility.

12.Celebrate learning successes.

Pride is a strong intrinsic motivator, and as teachers we can help develop a sense of pride in our students by noticing their hard work and celebrating it. While something like a class party might count as extrinsic motivation, having something to look forward to can significantly increase learning stamina!

11.Encourage authentic communication.

Instead of having students direct every assignment to the teacher, try encouraging them to create something that will be meaningful out in the real world. Publish their writing, share their research, upload their videos… If students know their work has a purpose, they’ll take it more seriously. Used responsibly, the internet is a fantastic way to find and share real audiences!

10.Lead enthusiasm by example.

Kids subconsciously mirror the emotions of the adults around them. By showing our students that we are excited about even the most boring of subjects, we transpose our enthusiasm onto them. Disclaimer: You may have to practice your acting skills to pull this off for subjects you don’t actually like!

9.Have students set their own learning goals.

When we set goals for our students, we deprive them of the opportunity to analyze their own learning. If you use data to set students’ learning goals, find a way to make it accessible to them. When students can see and track their own growth, rather than taking your word for it, they learn a valuable life skill (and lighten your workload)!

8.Foster a growth mindset.

Giving up is the ultimate doom of motivation. By teaching students to cultivate a growth mindset, you help them increase their resilience and decide that giving up is not an option. What better intrinsic motivation is there than believing you can do anything?

7.Offer a variety of learning modes.

Technology, art, drama, music… Different modes of learning come with different creative thinking skills. Odds are, your class has a mixture of students who are intrinsically drawn to some form of creative expression. Offering a variety of learning modes can motivate students to express their learning in different ways, and keep the excitement of novelty alive in your class.

6.Use student-driven activities wherever possible.

This is one of the most obvious—yet difficult—strategies for fostering intrinsic motivation. In most classes, the teacher is the star of the show, and students are expected to passively consume what we teach them. If you can flip this model so that students are in charge, you’ll notice a drastic change in their motivation to learn and share material.

5.Make the topic relevant to their lives.

Ever heard the complaint, “When am I ever gonna need to know this?” Students often reject learning topics that they feel have little significance to their own lives. Can we blame them? Show students that their brainpower is not going to waste by relating it back to their own real experiences in any way you can.

4.Use their personal interests as a backdrop.

You’ve probably already picked up on some of your students’ personal interests. With a little creativity, you can use this to your advantage! If you know that one of your unmotivated students loves Ferraris, for example, you can write some of the grammar sentences about a Ferrari. Watch how quickly that student becomes excited about grammar!

3.Give choices.

Simply giving students the option to choose which activity they want to do gives them a sense of independence and personal agency. Even though you’ll still set guidelines in each choice, their experience transforms from “doing what the teacher told me” to “doing what I would like to do.”

2.Let curiosity drive the learning process.

Kids are naturally curious beings—they want to learn about the world around them! Somewhere along the line, the educational system squashes this out of them. If you give students the freedom to ask their own questions and explore their natural curiosities, their genuine love for learning new things will live on.

1.Make learning fun!

I don’t need to tell you—you already know! Kids (and adults!) are motivated by fun. Play games, make jokes, get active, be silly… have fun, and watch your students’ love for learning grow!