As a teacher, you should always be trying to find out what it is that motivates your students. You want to focus on this and make it an integral part of your students’ classroom experience. Motivation can be thought of as two different types: extrinsic, and intrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from within a person. It’s when a student is truly excited to learn or do an activity for the sake of learning and for the enjoyment or fulfillment they get out of it. This post will mainly focus on intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation should always be strived for. In fact, kids start out intrinsically motivated to learn. Babies and toddlers are naturally curious, and as young children, kids often like to ask “why” questions. Young children are very inquisitive about the world around them. Teachers can play a big role in intrinsically motivating students by making lessons engaging, interesting, and fun. Another way to intrinsically motivate students is to find out what their interests are. If one of your students loves cars, let him learn to read by choosing books about cars. If one of your students loves animals, let her learn math problems by using examples with cool animal facts inserted in. Making a lesson into a game…basically making students feel like they’re playing, can also increase intrinsic motivation for the topic being learned, because kids usually don’t need external motivation to play.

Extrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from somewhere other than within an individual. In an educational setting, extrinsic motivation is often seen in the form of the desire for a reward such as a sticker or fear of negative consequences such as a bad grade. Studies have suggested that too much extrinsic motivators in a person who is naturally intrinsically motivated can reduce the amount of intrinsic motivation that person feels. Imagine a student who is naturally very curious about the planets and space. She starts off loving science class just because she gets to learn more about these interests of hers. However, the teacher rewards the students for every fact they get right. Soon she’s cramming facts into her head just because she wants to earn another sticker, not because she truly wonders how far the earth is from the sun or what the difference between a meteor and meteorite is.

Praise has been shown to help increase internal motivation. Praising your students when they do well on a test or homework can be a huge motivation. Avoid giving too much praise for work that didn’t require a lot of effort or for something where the student didn’t really perform to their potential, however, as this can have the opposite effect.

In a coming blog post, external motivation will be discussed, along with some methods and a discussion about which form is best to use and in which situations.