Prizes and free passes might motivate students in the moment, but don’t contribute to their long-term success. The good news is that there are some easy ways to increase intrinsic motivation.

We’re all guilty of it – using cheap tricks and external rewards to convince those kids who really couldn’t care less to get involved. Our intentions are good, but experience has shown that those students will only do the bare minimum to receive those benefits, then check out again. These tactics don’t get to the root of the problem, so it keeps coming back.

The real problem is a lack of motivation. Intrinsically motivated students tend to be more engaged and higher performing than their peers, so follow these tips to help all of your students want to learn.

intrinsic motivation1. Offer thoughtful feedback.

Personal feedback on assignments helps students focus on specific areas of improvement. If a student is struggling, it might seem overwhelming to see a poor grade – but a specific action plan for improvement can reduce stress and increase intrinsic motivation to work better and harder. Thoughtful comments also show students that you’re invested in their success and that their work has value.

2. Connect with your students.

Get to know your students and explore their passions. Find out what topic or type of learning makes their eyes light up. If students can’t find a connection between lessons and their own personal interests, goals, and passions, it will be much harder for them to stay motivated. For some students, the GPA battle is enough to keep them engaged and motivated. But even that motivation is short-lived and might not produce a life-long love of learning and deep intrinsic motivation. Connect your classroom with the worlds of your students to keep them engaged and interested.

intrinsic motivation3. Set your students free.

Because all students learn differently, the classroom can be a stifling environment. Some students might thrive on structure, but the freedom to tinker and discover can ignite a passion for many. Allow your students to pick their own topics for projects or assignments and give them space to work independently.

4. Lean in and stay present.

Difficult home situations or personal struggles can affect a student’s intrinsic motivation. Troubled students can be stressful and it might seem easier to ignore or avoid hard conversations. Instead, learn to lean in to the messy, hard moments and stay emotionally present in your classroom. Observe your students and look out for moments of distress, loneliness, or confusion. Often the students who slack off the most simply aren’t receiving the attention and care they need in other aspects of life.

intrinsic motivation5. Encourage well.

Encouragement can do wonders for intrinsic motivation. Even if a student is struggling or making failing grades, look for moments of success and celebrate them. If a student only experiences failure, it will be difficult to keep them engaged. Let students know you’re on their side, cheering them on to success. Be careful to only praise when it is earned, though. Students can spot false praise, and deceiving students into thinking they’re farther along than they really are could cause disappointment and frustration in the future.


For more resources on student success, check out our free lesson plans!

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