How to Motivate Yourself in the Classroom

6 Tips on How to Motivate Yourself in the Classroom

While rewards and praise are commonly used as motivation in the classroom, it’s far more powerful to teach children how to motivate yourself.

Self-motivation is also known as intrinsic motivation. It’s driven by internal rewards, instead of external pressures or prizes. Internal rewards may include enjoyment, interest, and a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment.

Intrinsic motivation is important because it means children will want to learn and achieve for themselves, not just because an adult is standing over their shoulder. Children who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to be lifelong learners who are curious, driven, and persistent. The following tips will help you teach your students how to motivate yourself in the classroom!

1. Teach Growth Mindset

One way to encourage intrinsic motivation is to explicitly teach a concept known as “growth mindset.” People with a growth mindset believe that their abilities and knowledge can improve with practice and effort. On the other hand, people with a fixed mindset believe that qualities like intelligence and talent are fixed and cannot change.

Naturally, people with growth mindset beliefs are more motivated to tackle challenges and obstacles. They view mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve. Children who believe they are capable of improving and growing are more willing to listen, try, and learn.

Teach children that their brains are constantly growing. And the best way to grow our brains is to try hard things, make mistakes, and learn from these experiences! It’s also helpful to model growth mindset, share your own experiences, and incorporate visual reminders. Reframe mistakes by saying something like, “Wow! This seems like a great opportunity to grow our brains! What can we learn from this?”

For specific tips on teaching growth mindset, check out these blogs and activities:

2. Encourage Exploration

Encourage curiosity and exploration in children. As much as possible, give them the freedom to discover their interests and passions. For example, don’t discourage questions, even when they’re slightly off-topic. Questions give you valuable insight into what gets your students thinking, wondering, and engaged.

When children find a subject they’re genuinely passionate about, their intrinsic motivation gets a big boost. You can also use kids’ passions as a “hook” to get them interested in various topics. For instance, try explaining math using dinosaurs in your example, or discuss how using the scientific method is a lot like baking.

The more children experience the joy of learning and discovery, the more intrinsically motivated they become.

3. Provide Choice

Similarly, providing choice is a powerful motivator for children. When children feel that they’ve determined their own path, they’re more motivated to stay on it.

Strategies to incorporate choice in the classroom include:

  • Give children a say in class rules and what/how the class learns new material.
  • Allow students to choose their own book for an assignment.
  • Allow students to choose what to write about for an assignment.
  • Let kids choose to present their learning in different ways: a poster, a song, a written paragraph, etc.
  • As a class, brainstorm a list of topics students are interested in learning about.
  • Create the opportunity for children to set personal goals.

Older children can handle more choices. In some cases, they can completely self-direct their learning, choosing what they want to learn about, how they’ll learn it, and how they will demonstrate what they’ve learned. With younger children, it’s best to provide 2-3 choices to avoid overwhelming them.

4. Set Goals

No post on “how to motivate yourself” would be complete without a section on goal-setting. Helping students set their own personal goals ensures they’re working toward something that truly matters to them. Goals should be specific, measurable, and achievable. Children can set academic goals, growth mindset goals, or intentions.

Once students have a goal in mind, help them write it down and illustrate it. Talk about why the goal is important to them. Then, spend time at least once a week tracking their progress. If they did great, celebrate! If they didn’t, create a plan for how they’ll do better next week, then celebrate! Children will learn to be motivated by improving on their personal best, not competing with others or reaching a finish line.

5. Allow Collaboration

For some children, the opportunity to learn collaboratively is a great motivator. Not only does it make learning more fun, but it also means their peers are counting on them to complete the task or activity. Be sure to build opportunities for partner and group work into your classroom.

Another way to use collaboration as motivation is to ask children to help each other or teach one another new skills. Do you have students who often struggle, but excel in a particular area? Put them to work helping others in this area, and watch their confidence and motivation soar.

6. Use Reflection, Not Rewards

Research consistently shows that using rewards to condition behavior can actually decrease intrinsic motivation. While the promise of stickers or candy may work in the moment, it backfires when children begin to expect rewards for good behavior or academic achievement. We want to teach kids that the benefits of hard work are far more meaningful than adding a pretty sticker to the sticker chart.

Instead, we can use reflection to help kids think about how working toward or accomplishing their goals has helped them grow as students and people. Frequently ask students what they’ve learned, how they’ve grown, and how they’ll apply these lessons in the future.

Connecting the dots between hard work and personal growth helps children become intrinsically motivated learners.

Final Thoughts: How to Motivate Yourself in the Classroom

Teach children self-motivation with simple strategies like:

  • Teaching growth mindset
  • Encouraging exploration
  • Providing choice
  • Setting goals
  • Allowing collaboration
  • Replacing rewards with reflection

Along the way, make sure your students know you’re in their corner. Support them and celebrate their progress and effort, not just their achievements. Gradually, they’ll grow to find joy and personal satisfaction in learning and achievement, setting them up for lifelong success.


I am Kirsten Tulsian, an elementary educator with 18 years of experience as a teacher and counselor. My passion lies in empowering students to discover their inherent brilliance through the use of engaging, rigorous, and meaningful activities. I look forward to connecting with you!

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