2f. Six C’s of Motivation

Shiang-Kwei Wang and Seungyeon Han
The University of Georgia

Greek translation provided by Dimitris Galatas

Review of Six C’s of Motivation

Ames (1992), Lepper and Hodell (1989) suggest some strategies to increase students’ classroom motivation. Turner and Paris (1995) term these the Six C’s of Motivation: choice, challenge, control, collaboration, constructing meaning, and consequences. As we apply the Six C’s of Motivation to instructional design it is important to remember that these strategies are extremely flexible and can be modified and adapted as needed.


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It is useful to examine these strategies in an educational context. In a tenth grade geography classroom, Ms. Betty assigned a group project to her students. The goal of this assignment was for students to learn the geographic location and some key information about east Asian countries. After Ms. Betty described the group assignment, students formed five teams of three students each. Each team chose one of the Asian nations and wrote a five-minute news release about it. The students were to act as anchors of a news show to introduce their country to the audience. The goal of the news report was to help students learn general information about the featured country.

In the initial phase of this assignment, Ms. Betty gave the students the opportunity to choose their team partners, create their project timeline, design their content outline, and assign duties to each team member. She told the students to take responsibility for their own products and she would assist as facilitator and coach. However, Ms. Betty still spent time reviewing the groups’ plans for potential problems. She also provided some television news clips for students and provided guidelines for writing a good news report.

Ms. Betty also discussed the project with each group before they started. She asked questions to determine their goals, such as:

  • What do you expect to learn from this assignment?
  • Why did you choose this country?
  • Why did you select these perspectives to do the introduction?
  • What personal skills do you want to contribute to the project?

Once Ms. Betty understood her students’ goals and expectations of the project, she made sure that their progress matched their original plan as she met with them weekly throughout the process. During their weekly appointments students reported on their progress. Ms Betty provided feedback as needed and helped the students find ways of applying their skills and talents to the project.

Finally, Ms. Betty asked each student to write a short paper to report his/her reflections about the project. She wanted the students to focus on any gaps between their original expectations and the final results as well as to find out what the students learned from the project. She used these notes to revise her instructional strategies for the next semester.

The following section provides some elaboration on each of the six strategies used in this example.


Malone and Lepper (1983) suggest that providing explicit choices among alternatives can enhance intrinsic motivation. Schiefele (1991) identified two components of interest: feeling-related and value-related valences. Feeling-related valences are feelings attached to a topic. Value-related valences relate to the importance of the topic to an individual. Value-related valences are associated with “constructing meaning” and are discussed later in this chapter. Feeling-related valences are the degree of enjoyment that an individual has toward a topic or object. If students are allowed to select a tasks that they personally enjoy doing, their motivation to learn increases.

When students are given choices to select assignments that are close to their personal interests, their motivation to do the work should increase. Ms. Betty allowed students to select the country that their group project would focus on. She gave them this choice hoping that the students would take responsibility for the assignment because it corresponded with their interests. For instance, Group A chose to introduce Japan because they liked to watch Japanese cartoons. Group B selected Taiwan because they had recently viewed a movie produced in Taiwan and were curious about the background of the movie. These feeling-related valences can be factors that enhance the motivation of learning.


Providing or operating tasks just beyond the skill level of the students is a good approach to challenge learners. In the motivation chapter, the Flow Theory is presented (Csikszentmihalyi, 1985). Students may experience flow if the challenge of assignments matches their skills. Work that is too difficult raises anxiety, whereas tasks that are too easy contribute to boredom; both situations decrease motivation toward learning. In order to ensure that goals remain challenging, teachers should continue giving students the opportunity to provide feedback. Helping students search for more information to improve and revise their tasks plays an integral part in the learning process.

This is supposed to be a flash animation. You’ll need the flash plugin and a browser that supports it to view it.

Caption: In this animation the challenge of a learning activity is represented as a ladder. The animation consists of a bar, which moves up the ladder from boredom, to flow, to anxiety as a button that increases challenge is pushed. The bar moves back down the ladder as the button to decrease the challenge is pushed. At the bottom of the ladder is boredom, which occurs when a student is not sufficiently challenged. In the middle of the ladder is flow – the ideal learning situation. Flow is the point at which a student’s ability to learn matches the learning challenge. At the top of the ladder is anxiety, which occurs when the challenge is too great. Flash animation by Paul A. Schlag.

In the geography classroom, students edited the news release and produced the final product. When Ms. Betty saw Group A’s first draft about Japan, she suggested they include more information about natural resources and less about travel attractions. Ms. Betty suggested that the group consider their audience and imagine what information they would expect to get from the news clip if they were the audience. The second draft was an improvement, but Ms. Betty still suggested including more information on natural resources to insure a balanced report. Continuously providing proximal goals can enhance students’ self-efficacy and sustain motivation toward learning.


If students are involved in the process of classroom control, they will be more responsible, independent, and self-regulated learners. To share the classroom control with students means involving them in the process of decision-making , organization of content , and choosing team members. However, too many choices may lead to increased anxiety, so providing assistance at appropriate times is essential when the teacher shares the classroom control with students.

In the geography class, Group C had a problem assigning roles to each student and asked for help from Ms. Betty. She then explained the roles of editor, information retriever, and anchor to the students until each had selected an appropriate role through negotiation. Ms. Betty placed no restrictions on content, allowing students to choose to introduce their countries from their own perspectives. Ms. Betty simply provided objective suggestions when she found problems.


Vygotsky (1978) theorized that communication and collaborative group work can enhance individuals’ thinking and learning. Students can share learning strategies and perspectives with each other through social interaction. Collaboration seems to work best when students depend on each other to reach a desired goal, when there are rewards for group performance, and when students know how to work together effectively (Driscoll, 1994).

Ms. Betty assigned group work at the initial phase because her previous experience showed that students show deeper engagement and persistence when they work collaboratively. Teachers must be aware of the performance of each student in group activities. Some passive students may remain silent while more demonstrative students lead the group discussion and play the role of coach.

In the collaborative learning process, students often inspire each other. For instance, in Group A, Mary reminded group members that they could refer to some useful online information. John had fluent writing skills, and he enjoyed the role of editor. Joan also had excellent writing skills, but she decided to be the anchor after negotiation with John. After they chose their different roles, everyone insisted they finish their own responsibilities, and they improved their performance by heeding peer comments.

Constructing Meaning

Value-related valences are associated with the construction of meaning. If students perceive the value of knowledge, their motivation to learn increases. Setting a meaningful goal for students is an important factor to promote motivation. Students should be given the opportunity to construct meaning in text as well as to build a rationale for the meaningfulness of literacy activities (Turner & Paris, 1995).

In the geography class, Group C spent five minutes introducing the natural resources of their country, leaving only five minutes to present the rest of the information. Ms. Betty suggested they reduce the amount of time spent on natural resources even though they liked this topic. She helped the students understand the importance of a balanced report. Ms. Betty knew that if she did not help students discover the value and importance of doing the assignment, they would doubt its usefulness, and their motivation would decrease.


People enjoy having their work and learning achievement appreciated and recognized by others (Malone & Lepper, 1983). When students are provided channels to display their work, motivation increases. There are various strategies for displaying students’ work, such as hanging their posters on the wall, presenting their work at a science fair, publishing their work on web sites, and providing links to other students. There is no “correct” way to complete a project, and students can compare their creativity, integrating articles and presentation ability with other teams. This strategy creates a positive feeling about effort, ownership, achievement, and responsibility (Turner & Paris, 1995).

To implement this strategy, Ms. Betty borrowed a camera from the media center. She taught students how to film and asked each group to film their television news release. When each group finished filming, Ms. Betty displayed the news clips in the classroom so that everyone could compare the performance and results with other teams. She duplicated these tapes for each student as a souvenir. It was a very popular gift during the semester.


The Six C’s of Motivation strategies have the potential to enhance students’ motivation when applied to open-ended tasks (Turner & Paris, 1995). There is no single correct answer in the open-ended tasks, allowing students to make their own choices and goals. In the open-ended task context, teachers should guide students in selecting the most appropriate choices, setting up short- and long-term goals, planning and evaluating their projects, working collaboratively, constructing personal meaning through the task, and displaying their final projects.

When integrating the six C’s of Motivation into curriculum design, it is important to be aware of the progress of each group and provide feedback based on that progress. When students engage in meaningful open-ended tasks, their motivation increases and the effect of learning is more powerful.

This is supposed to be a flash animation. You’ll need the flash plugin and a browser that supports it to view it.

Caption: This movie shows how Ms. Williams, an ESL teacher adopts the Six C’s of Motivation in her classroom. Her students are going to work in groups publishing a newspaper in English. As the story progresses, we see how the theory is put into practice. First, Ms. Williams lets the group choose the topic for their stories. Then the students are faced with the challenge of using new English expressions they do not know. We see students taking control, when the student tells her he is taking on the role of the newspaper editor. Students also collaborate together to choose which pictures to include. The teacher helps the students construct meaning by relating the project to the real world. Finally, the students have some consequences to help motivate them because the newspaper is going to be shown at the school book fair. By Jeremiah Grabowski, Chia-Ying Lin, and Hyo Seon An (2006).


Ames, C. (1992). Classrooms: Goals, structures, and student motivation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84, 261-271.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1985). Emergent motivation and the evolution of the self. In D. A. Kleiber & M. Maehr (Eds.), Advances in motivation and achievement, (Vol. 4, pp.93-119). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Driscoll, M. P. (1994). Psychology of learning for instruction. MA: Division of Paramount Publishing.

Lepper, M. R., & Hodell, M. (1989). Intrinsic motivation in the classroom. In C. Ames & R. Ames (Eds.), Research on motivation in education (Vol. 3, p.73-105). San Diego: Academic Press.

Malone, M. R. & Lepper, M. R. (1983). Making learning fun. In R. E. Snow & J. F. Marshall (Eds.), Aptitude, learning, and instruction: Cognitive and affective process analyses (Vol. 3, pp. 223-253). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Schiefele, U. (1991). Interest, learning, and motivation. Educational Psychologist, 26(3/4), 299-323.

Turner, J., & Paris, S. G. (1995). How literacy tasks influence children’s motivation for literacy. The Reading Teacher, 48(8), 662-673.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.


APA Citation: Wang, S. & Han, S. (2001). Six C’s of Motivation. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved <insert date>, from  http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/