Motivating Students to Read

January 29, 2007 at 12:08 am (children, Education, kids, Parents, reading, school)


No matter what subject or grade level you teach, your students have opportunities to read every day. You probably have some students who enjoy reading and look forward to it, and others who avoid it at all costs. It’s important to understand why students avoid reading, and how you can turn days where students have to read into days where students get to read.

How can you appeal to all students, creating experiences and opportunities that encourage them to read? Read on for tips for motivating students to read.

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
– Mortimer Adler

Research shows that when a text refers to things or concepts with which the reader has no familiarity, he or she will not comprehend the material. Films and television can help enlarge experience and supply vocabulary (Greenwood, 1989; Aiex, 1988).
Research shows that teachers should select books for young people that reflect the actual interests of the students (Fuchs, 1987).

Research shows that we need to make available appropriate reading material at the appropriate time, supplement students’ reading processes with varied print and nonprint experiences, and/or individualize instruction in whatever way is realistic. The goal is to foster an interest in reading that will contribute to the student’s ability to lead a full, productive life (Collins, 1997).


What’s In It For Me?

Students who lack the motivation or incentive to read won’t put forth the effort to comprehend the material, if they read it at all. Students need a reason that they value – a compelling why – before they will invest themselves in reading.

Create situations where students have a compelling why to read. Rather than just assigning pages to read from the textbook on ancient Greece and expecting all students to read them because you’ve asked them to, let them discover something about ancient Greece that appeals to them.

One idea is to provide stacks of picture books on ancient Greece and let students pick from the pile. The fashion-conscious students will appreciate color pictures and captions explaining the clothing worn. Budding chefs might enjoy books that have pictures and descriptions of the cooking utensils used and what types of food were made. Animal lovers will delight in books that talk about the animals that lived an ancient Greece and how they were used. By letting students explore what interests them first, you’ve got a hook to expand their knowledge with readings in the textbooks.

Once you’ve appealed to your students’ interests, they will be inclined to read and learn more.

I Can’t Relate to That!

World War II. Bones in the human body. The rules of basketball. Do your students care to read about these topics?

Sometimes offering extra books isn’t enough to create interest. Sometimes students lack the experience to relate to what you’re teaching them, or what they’re reading about. Media can be a big help here. Bring in a documentary that shows the Amazon. Watch the schedule for coming TV shows, especially on PBS or the Discovery or History channels, for example, that relate to a topic. Have students surf the Internet to find out about World War II. Bring in a video of a basketball game and let students list what they think the rules must be. Instructional strategies like these offer alternative avenues that can help students relate to the material in ways that are more familiar to and fun for them.

Another successful strategy is to let students brainstorm what they already think or know about a topic. Gather as long a list as your students can generate. Most students will start with what interests them about a topic. Once they have opened this door, they may be inclined to read more about it.

Let Me Choose What I Want to Read

The curriculum tells you to teach your students about the solar system. Your first instinct is to assign the pages in the science textbook for your students to read. Your students balk and sigh.

Can they pick out their own books? A trip to the library might be in order. If resources permit, a trip to the planetarium would be engaging. There will be informational signs and possibly brochures to read there. And, of course, the Internet could supply myriads of information that involves reading. Once they have explored on their own and have gained some knowledge on a topic, the textbook readings won’t be as mundane or difficult to understand if your students start with a background in the material that they have gleaned on their own.

Another idea is to let students pick the topic of a research project based on what they are studying. The general assignment could be, for example, the solar system and then within it students pick their own assignment topic (constellations, Milky Way, Jupiter, etc.). They would create a project relating to the assignment. It could be a paper to turn in, a PowerPoint presentation, a poster board with pictures and a presentation to go with it, a display of painted Styrofoam balls to represent the planets, etc. Without being directed to do so, your students will have to read to find the information for their project.


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