Intrinsic motivation: can we motivate students to learn?

When lesson planning, teachers focus on objectives, activities, skills, and outcomes. One often overlooked aspect is planning to motivate your students to learn.

Motivation is one of the most important aspects of learning and yet it’s too often forgotten. Many teachers seem to consider that they cannot do anything to change the lack of motivation of their students. In my experience, it’s something that can be changed, and every student is motivated differently.

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Understanding what motivation is, what the characteristics of each type are, and how we can take advantage of each of them when teaching is the first part of designing lessons with motivation in mind.

From the cognitive perspective, motivation is the process through which goal-directed activity is initiated and sustained. It means that you choose some goals and not others, you start working toward them, and strive to meet them.

Intrinsic motivation is the motivation to do something because it’s personally rewarding. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation is when external factors, such as rewards, candy, or making your parents proud are needed to motivate you toward doing something.

Intrinsic motivation is much more useful when learning; it’s the real motivation, the one that will help you learn. However, extrinsic motivation can be a very useful tool for teachers, especially to encourage students to do something they have absolutely no interest in at all.

Using the students’ intrinsic motivation

We have many ways to work with students’ intrinsic motivations. We need to know and —more importantly— use what they like, what they are interested in.

Firstly, we can use an “I like _______” lesson as an opportunity to encourage the students to talk about their interests and save the information to use later when planning our teaching. Taking the time to adapt our lessons to our students will be worth the effort.

Students are rarely motivated by grammar and studying, but they do want to learn English to travel, watch movies or follow a soccer game, and you can work with this. Using EZ Stickerbook to send some soccer stickers can be a way to integrate their interests to motivate them!  Even grammar can be exciting for your students if you don’t use the typical lesson format and aim it completely toward their interests. Why not read the news with your adult students and then discuss them? Or learn soccer vocabulary before watching a match and writing about it? Or maybe you may watch a video about a place your students want to visit and then create a tourist guide, and then send a sticker from EZ Stickerbook that highlights that place or country. There are literally thousands to choose from so that you can truly personalize the rewards.

All students are different

All our learning activities are filtered through our students’ motivation, which affects their effort to learn. Remember that all learners are different and that everyone is motivated by different things. There’s no magic motivating technique or topic that will work all the time and for everyone. But with EZStickerbook, some reflection and patience, understanding how to use the students’ intrinsic motivations can have huge effects on their learning… and on your motivation to teach as well!

Analia Rossello

Analia Rossello

I’m an English teacher with many, many years enjoying classroom time with first-graders, as well as with high school students. I really love teaching; I love planning and creating the best content and activities for my students, those that will give them enjoyment and learning at the same time. However, what I love the most is watching them while that magic happens and after that, when they’re praised or rewarded for their achievements. That completely fills my heart!