Inside Outside Upside Down: Everything You Need to Know about Internal and External Motivation

Inside Outside Upside Down
Everything You Need to Know about Internal and External Motivation

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 14,697 views

What motivates you?

Is it the spark of comprehension on your students’ faces when they finally “get” something? Is it a sense of accomplishment you feel within yourself when you know you did a darned good job? Is it something more tangible like being able to travel the world or getting a nice paycheck? Whatever your motivation to get out of bed and tackle the day is, with or without a morning cup of Joe, I’ll bet the things you are most motivated to do are the things you love.

4 Things You Need to Know about Internal and External Motivation

  1. 1

    Two Types of Motivation

    That’s common sense, you say. Of course you’re motivated to do the things you love. But there’s more to it than that. Motivation falls into two categories – internal and external. Internal motivation comes from the inside, from what you love or enjoy doing or feel satisfaction with. External motivation comes from outside of you. It could be a good grade, a trophy, or a pat on the back. Whether they are young or old, your students have both types of motivation as well, but you need to know which is the right one to use at the right time to ensure their success at language learning.

    Internal motivation is great when it comes to learning. It is what every teacher strives for, but it’s not necessarily what your students are drawing on. It does have a general appearance, though. When students want to learn, when they feel proud of their efforts and their achievements, when they give it their all because their success in English means something to them, they are exhibiting internal motivation. Having internal motivation comes from doing (or learning) something you love. When they learn English, they feel proud or accomplished. You can see the look on their faces that they know they did a good job.

    External motivation has its place in the classroom too. When students don’t have that internal drive, that craving for success, they may need some external motivation to give them a nudge in the right direction. Where internal motivation manifests within a student, external motivation is something you can supply by offering rewards for student success. When students lack internal motivation, external motivation can give them some momentum which they can then ride to further success and achievement. You supply the initial push, and they pick up from there and continue to move forward.

  2. 2

    Tap into Internal Motivation

    If you want to motivate your students using their already present internal motivation, you’ll want to learn what matters to them, what they care about. Everybody cares about something whether it’s animal rights or emoji stickers or something in between. In the best of circumstances, simply learning English and becoming more fluent will give your students a sense of success. That will be their drive. But even if it’s not, you can still tap into their internal motivation. If you can figure out what your students like, you can use that motivation to further then in their English studies. Ask them what interests them. Is it pop music? Is it stamp collecting? Once you find out what a particular class is interested in, use those topics in your lesson plan. Whether your students read the newspaper or comic books, what matters is that they are reading, and when you choose their favorite items for that reading lesson, they will be all in for whatever activities you have planned related to it.

  3. 3

    Strategically Employ External Motivation

    And while internal motivation is best and most effective, external motivation has its place, too. When someone lacks internal motivation, supplying external motivators can make a big difference. You might not want to read a news article written in English, but you will because you know it will grant you extra credit. If you aren't really driven to write about what you did last summer, the idea of an A in the grade book might be enough to get you going. And once you get started down the road of language learning, the momentum drives you and you find a satisfaction from what you have accomplished, especially if it was a rough road to the finish. External motivation has paved the way for internal motivation.

  4. 4

    Be Careful About Mixing the Two

    Research on motivation has revealed a lot about how the human mind and will work together, but one particularly interesting fact is this. If you add external motivation where internal motivation is already present, students tend to draw back. They’re actually less interested. They can even completely lose the internal motivation they started with. So you as a teacher have to be careful to not spoil the Shangri La of internal motivation by heaping external motivations on top of it. That means reading your students and seeing when they are interested and engaged and leaving them be, not falling into the trap of piling on stickers, pizza parties, and other motivators that might work perfectly well under other circumstances. As always, you will need to be tuned in to your students and what they enjoy to know when to pull back on external motivators. Some telltale signs are smiles, laughter, and excitement at the mention of what you will do. When your students exemplify these qualities, ease up and let their feelings lead them.

You can't read your students' minds, but you can get a good feel for what they enjoy and what motivates them.

And once you do, hold on to that information. When you can connect the things your students love with the English they need to learn, you will find not only success on their part but pure joy in the process of learning.

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