Build Students’ Intrinsic Motivation – Bay Area Discovery Museum

Build Students’ Intrinsic Motivation


When students are intrinsically motivated to learn, it’s because the topic is meaningful to them and they have a genuine curiosity for it, rather than because they expect a prize or a reward. Building students’ intrinsic motivation to discover new subjects and new ideas will help them develop into lifelong learners.

How to incorporate this in your classroom

1. Prompt thoughtful discussion

Give students time to develop and discuss their own questions. For example, before reading a book to the class, split them up into small groups or pairs. Show them just the cover, and prompt them to ask each other questions, based on the picture they’ve seen. If it’s helpful you can give them examples to get started (i.e., “What do you think will happen to this character?”), but it’s important that they come up with their own questions too. As the conversations get started, they may end up asking each other questions that aren’t related to the book, and that’s ok! A common starting point should be just that – a starting point that leads students to uncover other interests

2. Allow experimentation before explanation

When starting a new unit in your science or math lessons, give your students time to experiment with the topic, before you start your instruction. For example, before teaching students about force, give them time to interact with pendulums. Ask them to hypothesize what is guiding the pendulum rhythm, and to suggest different tests or experiments that could help them figure it out.

3. Share additional resources 

It’s important for students to know that there is no end to learning, even after they’ve taken a test or passed an evaluation. If you ask them a question they can’t answer—or if they ask you one—brainstorm ways you can figure out the answer together. Create a library of additional resources that you can point your students to for further learning, whether that be books you can’t cover during class time or real-world examples of topics that they’re interested in.

Standards Alignment

When students engage in question-based learning, they apply NGSS science and engineering practices of asking questions, defining problems, and constructing explanations and designing solutions.

Encourage students to use their questions as a starting off point. Rather than simply looking up answers, what experiments can they design to test out theories? How can they work together to plan and carrying out their ideas?

The Research Shows

Open-ended questions boost children’s intrinsic motivation*. When children are intrinsically motivated, they often enter a state of flow and become fully immersed in their learning or doing. They are engaged in learning for the sake of learning, and not because they want to get a certain grade or earn a certain prize.

*For more on the benefits of intrinsically motivated learning, explore BADM's CREATE Framework.

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