5. Developing pupils’ intrinsic motivation

This session will take approximately 40 minutes to complete.

Session overview

Pupils tend to enjoy learning and do better when they are more intrinsically rather than extrinsically motivated to achieve. Therefore, you should help pupils journey from needing extrinsic motivation to being motivated to work intrinsically.

To support you to do this, this session will explore:

  • What determines intrinsic motivation?
  • How can you boost motivation?
    • Providing opportunities for pupils to experience meaningful success
    • Creating a positive learning environment where it’s safe to make mistakes
    • Generating buy-in by linking success in school to pupils’ long-term goals

What determines intrinsic motivation?

Pupils’ intrinsic motivation is complex as it is influenced by a multitude of factors such as:

  • Their prior experiences, for example, within a given subject, or with a given teacher
  • Their perception of success and failure – whether they view failure as a part of learning and whether they believe their capabilities are fixed or under their control

As a result, a pupil’s level of motivation can change depending on the circumstance and context of the situation they are in. For example, a pupil may be very motivated to work hard in their maths lesson but not in their PE lesson. Or maybe a pupil used to be motivated in their maths lessons in year 2, but in year 3 they are not.

As motivation is so malleable, you can influence it.

How can you boost motivation?

Motivation is determined by pupils’ experiences of certain situations or environments. Therefore, to boost pupils’ motivation, it is more effective to change their experiences and environment rather than to try and reason with them. You can do this by:

  • Providing opportunities for pupils to experience meaningful success
  • Creating a positive learning environment where it’s safe to make mistakes
  • Generating buy-in by linking success in school to pupils’ long-term goals

Providing opportunities for meaningful success

As a teacher, you can influence your pupils’ resilience and beliefs about their ability to succeed, by ensuring all pupils can experience meaningful success.

Success drives motivation. You are much more likely to want to engage in activity if you have previously experienced success with it as opposed to failure. Therefore, you can motivate pupils by helping them to experience success when learning. However, there is a careful balance to strike when doing this. If a problem or activity is too tricky or too easy, pupils are unlikely to get the same sense of achievement (Willingham, 2009). Therefore, it is important that you strive to set your pupils challenging but achievable tasks. However, making tasks achievable can be tricky. The curriculum consists of a great deal of challenging content that pupils might find difficult to master, but it isn’t always possible or beneficial to pupils to overly simplify this content. Instead, to support pupils to achieve meaningful success, Willingham (2009) suggests you can help to make the thinking easier.

There are multiple ways you can do this and many of these will be explored throughout this programme. In this session, you will explore how to help pupils achieve meaningful success by ensuring they have enough thinking time to respond to questions or discussions and are provided with the opportunity to gather and collate their thoughts before sharing them with the class. One way you can do this is through a technique called ‘Everybody Writes’ or by using talk partners.

‘Everybody Writes’ or talk partners

‘Everybody Writes’ or talk partners is a great way to support pupils to be successful in their answers. This is because it provides pupils with time to think about their answer before sharing it with the whole class.

When asking pupils a challenging question or asking them to engage in a classroom discussion, tell them to write down their answer or thoughts before asking them to share this with the class. For younger pupils, asking them to spend some time thinking about their answer and then using talk partners works in the same way and has the same benefits for a class discussion.

This has three main benefits:

  1. This will ensure that every pupil has a prepared answer to your question providing all pupils the opportunity to achieve success.
  2. It increases the time that pupils have to process and think about the question and therefore will increase the depth of the answer.
  3. You can circulate the classroom as pupils are writing their answers or discussing it with their partner and select a pupil that has a good answer to share and/or pick up on any misconceptions as part of the discussion.

To increase pupils’ success, you may want to display or model using a writing or speaking frame as this will help to increase the focus and rigour of pupils’ written ideas or dialogue.

Watch a video of a teacher using ‘Everybody Writes’ or talk partners and consider the following questions:

  • How did the teacher support all pupils to be successful?
  • What impact did ‘Everybody Writes’ or talk partners have on the quality of the answers?
Talk partners – Early Years – Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Talk partners – Early Years [AD]
Talk partners – Primary – Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Talk partners – Primary [AD]
Talk partners – Secondary – Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Talk partners – Secondary [AD]


Think about your teaching practice. Consider the following questions and record your reflection in your notepad:

  • How do you support pupils to feel successful in the classroom?
  • Do you give all pupils the opportunity to experience meaningful success and how could you improve this?

Create a positive learning environment where it’s safe to make mistakes

Just as feelings of success can lead to motivation, feelings of failure can lead to demotivation. This could be problematic because when learning new concepts, there are likely to be times when pupils misunderstand something and make errors, in fact this is often a critical part of learning. If pupils don’t recognise this as an important part of learning, and instead see this as failure, then it is likely to demotivate them from further engagement.

Creating a positive learning environment where pupils feel safe to make mistakes and recognise this as an important part of learning is likely to increase their motivation to learn.

How can you create a positive environment where pupils feel safe to make mistakes?

There are a number of ways you can do this:

  • Tell pupils that mistakes and misconceptions are a part of learning
  • Praise pupils for their effort and progress rather than whether they are correct or not
  • Where pupils have made public mistakes or errors, thank them for their answer and for allowing you use their answer as a learning point for the class

Creating a positive learning environment where it’s safe to make mistakes will take time, particularly where pupils’ academic confidence is low. Where this is the case, it is important to regularly reflect on the language you are using with pupils and that you ensure you are planning regular opportunities for them to be meaningfully successful.

Creating a positive learning environment in action

Watch the video most suitable for your phase. Consider the following questions and record your response in your notepad:

  • How did the teachers respond to the pupils who made an error?
  • What impact did this have on the pupils and the rest of the class?
  • How did the teachers’ responses ensure the pupils remained motivated to learn?
Creating a positive learning environment where it’s safe to make mistakes – Primary
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Creating a positive learning environment where it’s safe to make mistakes – Primary [AD]
Creating a positive learning environment where it’s safe to make mistakes – Secondary
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Creating a positive learning environment where it’s safe to make mistakes – Secondary [AD]


Think about your classroom practice and consider the following questions. Record your reflection in your notepad:

  • How comfortable do you think your pupils are at making mistakes?
  • How can you make them feel more comfortable?

Generating buy-in by linking success in school to pupils’ long-term goals

People are intrinsically motivated when they have autonomy over what they do and are given meaningful choices about what they engage with. However, in the classroom setting, it is difficult to present pupils with choice over what they learn or how. This is because they are novices, and are therefore perhaps not best placed to make those decisions.

As a result, in order to develop buy-in from your pupils, it’s important that you explain to them why they are engaging in certain tasks and activities and help them see how their success in school is related to achieving their long-term goals.

One way to do this is to show pupils the journey of their learning and how different topics and subjects will build upon each other, throughout the year and their school journey. Some schools use curriculum maps to do this.

Another way is to ask pupils, ‘Why do you want to be successful?’ and ask them to record this on a piece of paper or a post-it note. This can be used on a display and constantly referred to throughout the term or year.

By providing pupils with opportunities to articulate their long-term goals and linking this to their success in school, you help to develop their intrinsic motivation to succeed.

Of course, it is also important that you support pupils to achieve these, for example, by helping them to master challenging content which builds towards their long-term goals.

Primary example

If a pupil’s long-term goal is to improve their handwriting, you might support pupils to achieve this by providing them with activities that improve their fine motor skills, providing them with opportunities to practise individual letter formations and recognising and praising their efforts during writing tasks. Providing practise opportunities and recognising success will help to develop intrinsic motivation.

Secondary example

If a pupil’s long-term goal is to go to university to study being a doctor, they will most likely need to study biology, chemistry and maths or physics at A-level. Therefore, they will need a good foundational understanding of those subjects at GCSE level. If you teach those subjects, you can support pupils to achieve their long-term goal by carefully planning how you teach challenging content to support pupils to master it. There are many factors which make up effective teaching and these will be explored in subsequent modules throughout the programme.


Think about your classroom practice and consider the following questions:

  • How do you generate pupil buy-in and is this effective? Why/why not?
  • What more could you do?

Motivating disengaged pupils in practice

Sometimes you will teach pupils who are much more challenging to motivate than others. This is because all pupils have a vast range of experiences and beliefs about their own capabilities. Trying to motivate disengaged pupils can be very challenging.

Choose one of the case studies below to read and consider the following questions. Record your response in your notepad:

  • What did the teacher do to motivate the pupil?
  • What impact did this have on their learning and engagement?
  • What available school resources did they utilise to help to make their workload manageable?

A Year 5 Literacy Case Study

Pupil A was a child that had earned himself a bit of a reputation for lack of motivation and lack of engagement in lessons. Behaviour and attitude on the playground were often highlighted as an area of concern and learning time was often used to resolve issues after these unstructured times.

In September, I really wanted to engage this pupil and ensure he knew that this year was a fresh start and a new opportunity to shine. Therefore, I really focused on positive choices and praised this pupil at every opportunity and ensured I shared these with his parents. I speak to all parents regularly. I make a point of contacting them or arranging meetings to discuss positive behaviour so that we can mutually support one another and so the parents see school as a positive place to be too. Pupil A’s parents informed me that they really appreciated this, and it boosted their child’s self-esteem.

At the start of each year, I create a Class Charter with the class and discuss what rights and responsibilities we all have. All the children sign this, and the expectations are made clear from the start. I refer to this throughout the year to remind pupils of our shared values when they demonstrate negative learning behaviours. This has been a great way to support Pupil A to adapt his behaviour as it helps him to self-regulate his emotions and, consequently, his actions.

Due to the learning needs of the whole class this year, I have really tried to promote a love of reading. To do this, I talk to the children about authors they like and books they would like to see in our classroom. I also carefully select class novels that I know will engage the children and create great opportunities for cross-curricular learning. For example, Pupil A is very passionate about football, so I selected ‘Tom Palmer’s Defenders” as our first class novel and linked this to our Vikings unit. Pupil A was a very reluctant reader in September; however, as a result of the actions I have taken, I now get regular feedback from his parents to say that he is reading regularly and even goes to bed early to read his books. To develop this further, I also set up a bed time reading box (with a new book, hot chocolate and marshmallows, and a new bookmark) which I send home each week to the children who are trying hard to read at home and in school. Pupil A was keen to get this award and was one of the first to take it home.

His positive engagement with reading has impacted upon his attitudes towards writing too. In the transition meeting with his previous teacher, I was told that Pupil A was a very reluctant writer in year 4, but I’ve certainly not seen this in year 5. I think he is much more motivated to engage with tasks he finds challenging because I provide him with opportunities to experience success and celebrate this with the class.

I have provided lots of opportunities for Pupil A throughout the year to really shine, be more responsible and achieve meaningful success. He’s enjoyed being a Playground Pal on the KS1 playground and this has significantly improved his own playground choices. I recognised that Pupil A had a real interest in our recent science unit, Earth and Space, so I selected him to work with our EYFS children to share his knowledge as they were also learning about Space. During and after his visit, he was praised by the staff and received great feedback about his excellent subject knowledge and kind, caring demeanour.

Pupil A is now exceeding his end of year targets across all areas of the curriculum. This is a result of mutual respect, holding high expectations and creating many opportunities for Pupil A to achieve meaningful success

A Year 9-11 Spanish Case Study

In year 9, Pupil A was chatty, frequently distracted and was often heard saying that she ‘couldn’t do Spanish’. During that year, she also had an extended period of absence. On her return she was withdrawn, worried and very unconfident with Spanish. Now in year 11, she enjoys Spanish and is working at a strong grade 3 with elements of a 4.

I believe that she is very much capable of achieving a 4 in the summer exams. I have implemented many strategies to increase her motivation in the subject and this has brought about a change in her attitude. One of the key strategies was utilising parent’s evening. Towards the end of year 9 I had an in-depth chat with her parents and herself during parent’s evening. We discussed what she was finding difficult in Spanish and what she felt she needed to improve. Whilst this is nothing out of the ordinary for a standard parent’s evening, I really felt this was the first turning point for her. Her mum was very supportive, which was a real boost for her. We talked for a long time and I felt that she really enjoyed having her own voice and understanding that her thoughts and feelings were being considered.

At parent’s evening, Pupil A expressed a concern that she was behind with vocabulary. I was able to give her a department booklet which aims to catch up new students to GCSE with the key vocabulary. Whilst this booklet wasn’t specifically designed for her, I decided to make use of the available resources in the school. She responded really well to receiving this resource and completed the booklet at home. I think she liked the security and feelings of success associated with knowing a lot of the words whilst still having a chance to check she was secure with them.

As luck would have it the department also had a few spare revision guides. I took the decision to lend the revision guides to her at the start of year 10, again, to make use of available resources within the school, as I knew that she was a girl that needed pushing to the 4. Again, I really feel that these very small but significant gestures of help intrinsically motivated her. I think they showed that we were all on her side and believed in her ability to make great progress and succeed.

During year 10, we did a few pieces of work where pupils had to create their own ‘versions’ of resources. For example, pupils created their own personalised verb sheets. She enjoyed the creative side of this activity. She has since taken it upon herself to create her own ‘version’ of other resources such as a writing revision sheet and a speaking strategies PowerPoint. I think it is fantastic that she chooses to work so independently and have always praised her for this great level of engagement. This praise further motivates her to engage and succeed.

To help ensure success, I provide her with small chunks of information to learn at a time. For example, she has been learning speaking questions in small sections rather than all at once. She has responded very well to learning in small bursts.

Throughout all of this, I really feel that building a personal relationship with Pupil A has been vital. At the beginning of year 9, it sometimes felt that all I ever did was tell her off. This was detrimental to our relationship and wasn’t motivating her to change so I quickly realised I needed to switch the focus of conversation to be about how I could help her to succeed. Once we were on a more positive footing towards the end of year 9, I could see that she was actually sometimes stressed in Spanish. The interventions I have put in place above as well as interventions in lessons, such as giving her targeted support or praise, have all helped to ease this stress, provide her with feelings of success and motivate her to engage in the subject both in school and at home.

As noted in the previous session, it’s important that you don’t feel alone in dealing with challenging behaviour – you have a right to be supported by your school to deal with it. If you do encounter incidents that you are unsure how to deal with or don’t feel confident to address, you should seek support from your mentor, a member of your senior leadership team and possibly your SENDCo. Managing behaviour is a whole school responsibility so you shouldn’t feel as though you have to act alone.

Application to practice

In your next mentor session, you will be observed using strategies that help to build pupils’ motivation such as:

  • Providing opportunities for pupils to experience meaningful success
  • Creating a positive learning environment where it’s safe to make mistakes
  • Generating buy-in by linking success in school to pupils’ long-term goals

You will also have the opportunity to discuss how to build the intrinsic motivation of any disengaged learners you may teach.

Related ECF strands

High expectations

1.1 Teachers have the ability to affect and improve the wellbeing, motivation and behaviour of their pupils.

1.2 Teachers are key role models, who can influence the attitudes, values and behaviours of their pupils.

1.3 Teacher expectations can affect pupil outcomes; setting goals that challenge and stretch pupils is essential.

1a. Using intentional and consistent language that promotes challenge and aspiration.

1b. Setting tasks that stretch pupils, but which are achievable, within a challenging curriculum.

1c. Creating a positive environment where making mistakes and learning from them and the need for effort and perseverance are part of the daily routine.

1d. Seeking opportunities to engage parents and carers in the education of their children (e.g. proactively highlighting successes).

Classroom Practice

4p. Providing scaffolds for pupil talk to increase the focus and rigour of dialogue.

Managing behaviour

7.7 Pupils’ investment in learning is also driven by their prior experiences and perceptions of success and failure.

7b. Working alongside colleagues as part of a wider system of behaviour management (e.g. recognising responsibilities and understanding the right to assistance and training from senior colleagues).

7k. Liaising with parents, carers and colleagues to better understand pupils’ individual circumstances and how they can be supported to meet high academic and behavioural expectations.

7m. Supporting pupils to master challenging content, which builds towards long-term goals.

7n. Providing opportunities for pupils to articulate their long-term goals and helping them to see how these are related to their success in school.

7o. Helping pupils to journey from needing extrinsic motivation to being motivated to work intrinsically.

Professional Behaviours

8h. Communicating with parents and carers proactively and making effective use of parents’ evenings to engage parents and carers in their children’s schooling.

8n. Understanding the right to support (e.g. to deal with misbehaviour).

8o. Collaborating with colleagues to share the load of planning and preparation and making use of shared resources (e.g. textbooks).