How to get kids motivated without rewards – Intrinsic Motivation Systems

This is the age old question. How can you motivate students and prompt and reinforce classroom expectations without physical rewards or token systems? How can I get my students to make choices, manage their noise and always put 100% effort into their learning? I do not claim to have the perfect answer but here are some ideas to prompt your thinking and some resources to get you started.

To begin, how far you can go with an intrinsic motivation system totally depends on the grade you have. You need to think critically about your group of students and what they need. Last year I had an incredibly difficult grade, spurred on by a large class, lots of individual needs and one particularly unmotivated boy so my intrinsic system fell apart. As the year progressed it became clear that for this boy to make consistently good choices he needed his own reward system (involving iPad time) and that the grade needed individual reward points (using Class Dojo) to concentrate on their own learning and work as a grade. So I do not think that it can work in every case, sometimes the mix of students requires outside extrinsic motivations.
But every other year in my experience, an intrinsic system can work and is the most rewarding and effective way to truly motivate students.

Feeling Proud!Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 5.37.46 pm.png

I have found the best way to intrinsically motivate children as learners is by raising their awareness of the moments and achievements that are worth feel
ing PROUD of!

To begin, it is important to start using the language of intrinsic motivation. I found that the use of the word proud’ really made the idea explicit and understandable for kids, especially in the junior years.Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 5.36.57 pm.png

  • Talk about what makes students feel proud
  • Predict what might make students proud during the year
  • Brainstorm all the places students could feel proud – many of which many students won’t have ever thought of, even beyond school

My aim with these initial discuss was to tap into these things, respect them and incorporate them into my classroom.


Celebrating and Keeping Track!

The next goal was then to continually celebrate children’s achievements and meaningful accomplishments and support their ability to identify when they have made progress, through the use of explicit learning goals and visible tracking systems.

I have little boxes of ‘Proud’ notes for students to grab and stick into their books whenever they are super happy with their work. They love using them and will independently grab a slip to highlight something they are proud of. This also alerts you to their effort making it so easy to acknowledge when they have tried hard. This so easy taps into and encourages intrinsic motivation!

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I also use a learning journal which I will blog about soon and can be found for free HERE.

In the journal, students develop goals, track their progress weekly, reflect after individual lessons and then celebrate their success. IMG_3962Developing learning goals takes time and you do need to dedicate time to really drive within your grade for the first little while.
But when students get the hang of it, start genuinely ticking off their goals and developing more, the intrinsic motivation is palpable.


I don’t think it takes too much to encourage an intrinsic motivation system over something extrinsic in your classroom. A couple of little shifts and a whole lot of talk about the positives already happening in student’s lives can turn the corner for any grade. Talk about what makes them feel proud! Stop and encourage them to feel proud! Develop some achievable learning goals and watch them light up when they accomplish them! All this is highly motivating for students and worth it!

FIND my Intrinsic Motivation System HERE and my Learning Journal pack HERE.

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