By: Andrew Jaglall

Motivation offers a key insight into the way we live our lives. Motivation is defined as “communicating to an internal force that actuates a behavioural pattern, thought process, action or reaction” (Steele, 2009). We use motivation in our daily lives to help us complete tasks that we may not finish otherwise. There are two different types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic.

Extrinsic Motivation is the possibility of a reward or avoidance of punishment drives behaviour (Lang & Evans, 2006). For example, bribing a child with money to complete their chores is an example of extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation is behaviour that arises from an interest or curiosity in something. A child playing the piano because they enjoy it is an example of intrinsic motivation (Lang & Evans, 2006).

The Hierarchy of Needs is one model of motivation that has been widely popular since being introduced by Abraham Maslow. Maslow’s theory suggests that we are all motivated to satisfy different types of needs. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs starts with Physiological needs and then continues to Safety, Belonging, Esteem, and Self-actualization (see diagram below) (Stuart-Kotze, 2009). We first try to satisfy our physiological needs, and from there continue to work up to Safety, Belonging, Esteem, and possibly Self-Actualization.

Image obtained from the University at Albany (

Another popular theory of motivation is the Dual-Factor theory introduced by Frederick Herzberg. Herzberg’s Dual-Factor theory suggests that there are two types of motivators, one that results in job satisfaction (motivators), and those that prevent dissatisfaction (hygienes). Factors that are motivators include achievement, recognition, responsibility, and advancement. Factors that are hygienes include  working conditions, supervision, money, security, and interpersonal relations. Both motivators and hygienes can be used to increase motivation (Stuart-Kotze, 2009).

Why is Motivation Important in the Classroom?

Motivation is important because it is the most important factor in determining if a child will succeed in the classroom. Teachers should try to build on intrinsic motivation, since obtaining their interest will ultimately encourage them to excel and continue learning. Extrinsic motivation can be used in some circumstances but should be avoided because it becomes a crutch, where students expect to be given a reward to learn (Lang & Evans, 2006). As being a student myself, I used to find it extremely hard to find the motivation to do assignments or activities in which I had little interest in. Through intrinsic motivational building activities that my high school teachers used , I find myself being more motivated to complete tasks and becoming a lifelong learner. We as teachers need to constantly incorporate activities to build intrinsic motivation in our students to help them succeed both in the classroom and the real world.

Teachers need to ensure that when children come into their classroom, they feel comfortable and welcomed. “If learners of any age are worried about their chances of success or how they will be viewed by others, they often experience fear and anxiety, which then override their positive emotions of curiosity and interest. When fear and/or anxiety take over, information processing and other cognitive functions are impaired, and performance suffers” (McCombs & Whisler, 1997). As a teacher, we need to work on making sure each student feels comfortable to learn while they are in the classroom. Activities that will constantly single them out will increase anxiety and lead to lower motivation.

Teachers can use a variety of methods to help increase motivation in the classroom. Encouraging students to create realistic goals for themselves will help build their motivation. Goals which are reachable and obtainable will help build intrinsic motivation. Playing games that are educational and fun will help build self-esteem, team work skills, and increase motivation in the classroom (Priceless Teaching Strategies, 2008).

Motivation is absolutely essential in any classroom where students are going to be successful. Below is a video explaining how teachers can motivate students in the classroom and why motivation is necessary.


Lang, H. R., & Evans, D. N. (2006). Models, Strategies, and Methods for Effective Teaching. Boston: Person Education.

McCombs, B. L., & Whisler, J. (1997). The learner-centered classroom and school: strategies for increasing student motivation and achievement. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Priceless Teaching Strategies. (2008). Student Motivation is a Necessity. Here's How to Achieve It!! Retrieved March 2009, from Priceless Teaching Strategies:

Steele, J. (2009, February 19). Motivation: What is it? Retrieved March 2009, from SpeechMastery:

Stuart-Kotze, R. (2009). Motivation Theory. Retrieved March 2009, from Goal Setting Guide: