Competitions as a motivational tool in the classroom

Жамашова Лелинур Муслимовна

Учитель английского языка

КГУ «Школа-гимназия № 118», г. Алматы

This article is dedicated to the question of using competitions for students’ motivation.

Motivation is the driving force that motivates a person to take action. Motivation not only forces us to perform actions, but also helps us to enjoy them. It has been acknowledged that motivation is one of the most important factors that help students in successful learning. This has been proven by many studies [1].

Rosenfeld identified several motives of studying:

1. Studying for the sake of studying, without the pleasure of activity or without interest to the subject.

2. Studying without personal interests or benefits.

3. Studying for social identification.

4. Studying for the sake of success or for fear of failure.

5. Studying under duress.

6. Studying based on concepts and moral obligations or on generally accepted norms.

7. Studying to achieve goals in everyday life.

8. Studying based on social goals, requirements and values.

Schoolchildren most highly appreciated such motives as «I want to have knowledge to be useful to society», «I want to be cultured and developed», «I like to learn new things», «I want to continue my education», «I want to prepare for my chosen profession», «I want to overcome difficulties joyfully». Prestigious motives («I’m used to being among the best», «I don’t want to be the worst», «it’s nice to get approval», «I’m used to doing everything well») received lower ratings, but the lowest ratings were given to the motive «I try to avoid trouble». At the same time, the first group of motives was more likely to be «known» than actually encouraging the students to learn. In reality, there were prestigious motives that moved the students [2].

Thus, the motives of competition are of great importance for schoolchildren. Although this is considered an extrinsic motivation that depends on an external assessment or circumstances, these aspirations can be used in lessons when organizing the educational process in order to interest students. This type of activity can be competitive games.

According to Hadfield’s classification, there are cooperative and competitive games. In cooperative games, students pursue one goal and work in a team, and in competitive games, they compete against each other or in pairs or groups [3].

The topic of competitions have been widely researched by scientists. Some studies have found that competitions contribute to student motivation and better academic performance [4]. Competition helps to encourage participants to succeed in the game, progress and achieve the goal. In addition, the participants of the competition are involved in the process itself. This contributes to improving students’ academic performance, their results, and also develops their creativity.

However, not all studies agree with these. Some of them did not show the relationship between competitions and motivation and academic performance of students [5]. Moreover, some studies have found a negative impact of competitions on participants. For example, anxiety, frustration and uncertainty due to losing. For confident and active students, competitions contribute to their motivation and academic performance, and for insecure students they have the opposite effect. Additionally, competition can distract students from the subject itself and contribute to a decrease in pleasure and motivation. Among such is the research of Triplett, which showed overexcitement during competitions among some children, which led to poorer results and frustration [6].

Nevertheless, in the study of competition between groups, the interaction of participants within groups helped them to increase their motivation, interest and effectiveness. This was explained by the increased collaboration of participants in the group competition compared to individual competition [7].

The two main groups of motivations distinguished in psychology are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes from the person themselves. These are their interests, aspirations that do not imply any external reward. Extrinsic motivation are interests in the activity that promises a reward for it. For example, money, grades, approval or recognition. Intrinsically motivated person is attracted by the activity itself, regardless of the reward.

In competitive games, participants can be motivated both intrinsically as well as extrinsically. This may be an interest in the activity itself or a desire to receive recognition or an award.

Which motivation is activated more during competitions – intrinsic or extrinsic?

According to Ryan and Deci and their Theory of Self-Determination, under appropriate conditions that promote the support of a person’s autonomy, the development of their competence and relatedness, a person’s demotivation is transformed into extrinsic motivation and then integrated into intrinsic motivation [8]. If a teacher can create such conditions in the classroom when organizing competitive games, they will contribute to the development of internal motivation of students.

How can this be fulfilled in the classroom?

  1. To ensure students’ autonomy, competitions might be organized in an informal environment, allowing the students to communicate with each other freely; giving them freedom to make decisions about certain things in a game, search information. Less control to a certain degree from the teacher will contribute to the students’ autonomy development.
  2. Competence is the ability not only to know about the subject, but also to obtain necessary skills and experience in the activity. To ensure the students’ competence development, competitive activities should contain quality information, leading to knowledge development and provide a lot of practice for the students’ skills and competence development.
  3. As we observed in the studies mentioned above, competitive activities where students compete in pairs or groups have more positive effect because of their interaction and collaboration within the group. Thus, the students’ relatedness to each other grows, increasing the students’ intrinsic motivations. Moreover, group competitions may be organized by a teacher in a way that students participate in different groups each time, developing relationships with different classmates.

To sum up, competitive games, providing they are organized wisely, may be used as a motivational tool at lessons. Although they are aimed at providing for the recognition and reward, competitive games can ensure students autonomy, competence and relatedness and, this way, develop the students’ intrinsic motivation, which is considered stronger than the extrinsic one, since it does not depend on outer circumstances. Thus, competitions may be motivating rather than destructing and frustrating experience in learning and lead to pleasure in learning and improvement in academic performance.


  1. Proulx, J.N., Romero, M., Arnab, S. (2017). Learning mechanics and game mechanics under the perspective of self-determination theory to foster motivation in digital game-based learning. Simulation and Gaming, 48, pp. 81–97.
  2. Ilyin, Y. P. (2002). Мотивация и мотивы. [Motivation and motives]. Питер. pp. 253-264.
  3. Hadfield, J. (1999). Beginners’ communication games. Longman.
  4. Liu, Y.J., Zhou, Y.G., Li, Q.L., Ye, X.D. (2022). Impact study of the learning effects and motivation of competitive modes in gamified learning. Sustainability, 14, p. 6626.
  5. Chen, C.H., Law, V., Huang, K. (2019). The roles of engagement and competition on learner’s performance and motivation in game-based science learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 67, pp. 1003–1024.
  6. Triplett N. (1898). The dynamogenic factors in pacemaking and competition. The American Journal of Psychology, 9(4), pp. 507–533.
  7. Hernández-Sellés, N., Muñoz-Carril, P.C., González-Sanmamed, M. (2019). Computer-supported collaborative learning: An analysis of the relationship between interaction, emotional support and online collaborative tools. Computer Education, 138, pp. 1–12.
  8. Ryan, R. M., Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), pp. 68-78. doi: 10.1037110003-066X.55.1.68