Motivated teens: A cross cultural digital exchange

Give teens an opportunity to talk (preferably about themselves), use digital technology and make choices and motivation is suddenly not so elusive...

Teenagers, motivation, hmm… 

I’ve been teaching teenagers now for over twenty years and something that has always interested (and challenged) me is how to ignite and maintain alight intrinsic motivation. 

Intrinsic Motivation: A person with intrinsic motivation wants to do a task for the pleasure involved in doing the task itself.

Extrinsic motivation has never been quite as elusive. 

Extrinsic Motivation: A person with extrinsic motivation wants to do a task in order to receive a reward or avoid a punishment.

It is much easier and instantaneous to motivate students offering awards, rewards or praise. Motivation in this case, however, is driven purely by the rewards on offer, which can cancel out any intrinsic motivation that might have existed.  This doesn’t mean I believe in never offering praise, awards or rewards to my students, I do think there are some benefits if what we are offering is meaningful and in moderation (but that’s a topic for a different post!)

What interests me more is the pursuit of intrinsic motivation, which I believe leads to better, more sustainable learning. Following the words of Alfie Kohn (author and lecturer) I try to provide my students with an “engaging curriculum” and “a caring environment” and adhere to his 3 C’s of motivation; The first C is Content: “Has the child been given something to do worth learning?” “What’s the task?” The second C is Community: Do kids feel part of a safe community?  Do they feel free to ask for help? And the third C is Choice.

You show me a school that really has those three Cs in place—where students are working with one another in a caring environment to engage with interesting tasks that they have some say in choosing—and I’ll show you a place where you don’t need to use punishments or rewards. (Punished by Rewards? A Conversation with Alfie Kohn)

An activity that I believe addresses these three C’s, is an activity my students engaged in a couple of years ago and that I have reintroduced into the curriculum this year; a  cross cultural digital exchange.  Rather than an activity, the exchange is more of an ongoing project which evolves over the course of the academic year.  Apart from pursuing that elusive intrinsic motivation, the objectives of the project are:

  • To get to know another culture (and compare and contrast with their own) using their skills in the target language (English) to develop communication skills.  
  • To value the target language as a means to communicate and interact with peers from other countries 
  • To think critically about other cultures and to demonstrate respect and tolerance for them. 

First, students consider the definition of culture and reflect on what this means to them. They then share interesting and relevant information about their culture with their partner class through different activities proposed by the students themselves throughout the academic year. Finally they reflect on what they learned about the other country and the differences and similarities between the two cultures. 

The first exchange we did was conducted using Edmodo to connect and collaborate with the partner class (which I found through a friend.) We used Skype for the live meetups. This year, however, we are using eTwinning, a community of schools across Europe.  As a teacher, once you have created an account on the platform, you can find projects to join or create your own. Within the platform you can upload all your materials for the project, interact with the other project members and arrange a live meetup.  I am relatively new to it but it seems like a great all-in-one choice.   

So, how does this project contribute to igniting intrinsic motivation?

Firstly, the students have a real audience and there is a real reason to do tasks.  Their work is not handed in to be corrected, never to surface again.  There is a clear purpose, to inform real people about real things.

Secondly it adheres to Alfie Kohn’s three C’s. 


The content of the project is engaging as it is personal and relevant.  Students are talking about themselves and their world. Have you ever met a teenager who is not interested in talking about themselves?  Or talking full stop? 


Working on activities in the project, students often engage in cooperative learning, which encourages a sense of community. 

Cooperation is working together to accomplish shared goals.  Within cooperative situations, individuals seek outcomes that are beneficial to themselves and beneficial to all other group members. Cooperative learning is the instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other’s learning. (An Overview Of Cooperative Learning David W Johnson and Roger T Johnson)

Students are all responsible for creating the materials to be shared with the partner class. Using cooperative learning roles and strategies allows students to demonstrate their individual talents e.g If we are creating an ebook, a student who is good at art may be responsible for the cover and a student who is good with technology, responsible for formatting the information etc.

Students are encouraged to resolve doubts and solve problems within their teams, support being provided by the teachers only when deemed necessary.  

Using cooperative learning techniques promotes a more supportive, less individualistic, caring environment.


The project actively gives students a voice and promotes self directed learning.  Over the course of the year, the project develops organically.  Students suggest topics they consider interesting and relevant, plan activities and have the freedom to choose how to deliver the content.

Some of the mini projects students have done or are planning to do within the exchange are: 

  • Introducing themselves using, Flipgrid or Padlet 
  • Making videos to present their school/city etc with iMovie, wevideo
  • Creating quizzes using Google Forms, Kahoot or Quizizz
  • Creating ebooks using Google Slides and Issuu etc.
  • Sending video messages, for example, Merry Christmas messages using iMovie.
  • Sending digital Christmas cards using Canva
  • Creating presentations using Google Slides, PowerPoint, Haikudeck, Genially

Apart from the planned activities students can also chat freely; sharing information, opinions and asking questions within the platform in the live chats and forums and organised live meetups (this is what they really love!). 

Topics they have chosen to integrate into the project and discuss include: their city/town, customs and traditions, young people and free time, their school and the education system, national sports, the environment and their country's position on climate change and even politics!

A project which is student-directed means learning is more personalised, relevant and meaningful. When learning is meaningful, students are more likely to take ownership and engage. 

The result is more responsible, autonomous, intrinsically motivated learners.

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