It’s a tale as old as time; teachers asking, ‘How can I get my students more motivated to read?’ Don’t worry, I’ve been there too! For many students, reading isn’t very enjoyable, yet! It takes some readers longer than others to find their reading groove. That is, what they like and enjoy as a reader. And for many readers, reading has been a chore or a mandate from their teachers or parents for as long as they can remember. Until reading becomes something they want to do, we’ll always find that lack of engagement and push back. So how can we motivate our readers? I’m sharing 10 unique ways for motivating your readers below, so let’s dive right in!
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As teachers, we always have the heart of our readers in focus at all times. We want our students not just to be good readers, but to fall in love with reading. We want to them see the power that reading has in our world and where it can take them. Teachers, every day, are trying to motivate, encourage, and engage readers through their energy, lessons, and discussions. But sometimes, that isn’t enough. What more can teachers do?
Motivating your Readers Idea #1: Find out why the student doesn’t like to read
This is step one for all students who show a lack of engagement or motivation to read. And there could be a lot of reasons or causes why. A student might not feel very confident in their reading abilities. They may feel embarrassed by the types of books he/she has to read compared to what other students are reading. The student may not be interested in the types of books they are being offered in the classroom library. They may need to explore a larger library and try new and different genres. Also, the student might not feel connected to the types of books he/she has been reading and doesn’t feel reading is relevant in their lives.
By finding out why a student isn’t motivated to read, we can begin to try and solve the problem. Having frequent conversations with our students about what they are reading, why they are reading, and what they are enjoying about reading is important. It gives teachers a starting point to create action and purpose for the disengaged reader. This is also important information to ask and share with families as well. By getting to the root of the issue, together the teacher and the student can start to move towards building literacy motivation.
Idea #2: Are you book matching?
This is a lesson I didn’t learn for a few years into teaching. Teachers cannot assume that students are finding the perfect book for themselves and on their own. Students may look like they are picking or finding books just fine, but what might really be happening is they are setting. They are bored looking for a book so they settle on something that looks ‘okay’ to read. For every book that a student settles on, they are one step further away from being an engaged and motivated reader.
So what do teachers need to do? We need to spend more time with our students while they are reading and more importantly, while they are searching for books. We need to know our students inside and out. Who are they as readers? What are their interests and dislikes? Do you know what drives them externally? What motivates them outside of reading? We need to know our readers!
If we don’t know our readers, then we won’t be able to successfully help them find books that can help push them onto the path of being an engaged reader. Once we know them, it’s our job to help them find the best books for them to read. Don’t assume they are able to do it themselves. A disengaged reader won’t be motivated to find the best book, but by book matching with them, you can easily change that!
(Grab this fun activity in the blog link above)
Motivating your Readers Idea #3: Check their schema
Brain research shows us that schema is one of the most important things a student brings to a book when reading. One of the first occurrences that happen when you read is your brain decides whether or not the information you are reading is important or relevant to your life. If it is, then your brain turns on and your memory and cognitive abilities are heightened which helps improve engagement, motivation to read, and comprehension. If the information you read isn’t important or relevant to your life, your brain works slower and your cognitive abilities aren’t as sharp. So how important is our schema? Extremely!
With readers who are disengaged and unmotivated, they may be reading books that they are unable to connect to and that are meaningless to them. For these readers, it’s important to talk with them and get to know them on a personal basis. What is their family situation like? What hobbies are they interested in? Look at what they are reading and ask them how connected are they to that plot or topic? Explain to them how the brain works and encourage them to find books where stronger connections will take place. Again, this is why book matching is so important!
Idea #4: Focus on nonfiction
For many readers, the majority of books they hear and read are fiction. It’s the same old plotlines over and over again and after time, readers can become very disengaged with these types of stories. Research shows us that most readers are actually more motivated to read nonfiction than they are fiction. So how can we use this information?
Make reading nonfiction an important part of your daily/weekly routine, even if it’s not what you’re studying right then and there. You can use quick and easy close reading passages, such as my seasonal or animal nonfiction quick reads, to make sure you always have a nonfiction passage to read and explore along with your fictional objectives and standards. I loved using these close reading passages as warm-ups in reading. This got all of my students on task, engaged, brains on, and ready for the time block while also making sure my disengaged readers, who love nonfiction more, had something to fill their bucket that day as well.
As teachers, we also need to make sure our nonfiction section in our classroom library is full and ready for readers to explore. If the majority of our classroom libraries are fiction, this may be what is hindering and holding back some of our unmotivated readers!
Motivating your Readers Idea #5: Host book talks
Book talks are a fantastic way to spread the passion and enjoyment of reading with our students. What is a book talk? A book talk is an informal and persuasive conversation where someone (the reader) is trying to convince others to read a specific book; the focus of the book talk. In the book talk, the speaker hooks the audience by giving a quote from the book or setting the scene of the story, followed by a quick summary of the book. After, the speaker shares his/her opinion of the book with the listeners and finishes by enticing the audience to read the book.
Book talks are a fun way to introduce new literature into your library. When you get new books from Scholastic or rummage sales, don’t just throw them into your library. Take time to read them yourself and conduct a few book talks to showcase the new reading material to your students. Book talks are great for morning meetings, after recess cooldown time, and end of the day wrap up. You can even make sure your librarian is conducting book talks on a regular basis. The more engaged and motivated we are about sharing the books, the more motivated the students will be about reading them!
Idea #6: Read what they read
This may seem silly, but for unengaged and unmotivated readers, this could be the trigger to getting and keeping them engaged. By reading the same books as our readers, we are able to conduct more formal and informal conversations about the book with the readers. Let’s say, for example, Brian is an unmotivated reader in your classroom. He has picked up the book Tornado by Betsy Byars. (One of my favorite chapter books for early readers!) Knowing that Brian is typically an unengaged reader, you pick up the other copy of the book and read it as well. You let Brian know that you saw him reading the book and decided you wanted to read it too. Instantly you and Brian have a connection that you don’t have with any other student.
Over the next few days, as you and Brian separately read the book, you stop and ask Brian questions such as “Have you gotten to the point where they found Tornado yet?” Brian responds with ‘no’ and you give a huge surprised look letting him know that something big and important is about to happen in the book. “I can’t wait till you get there! Let me know when you do because I want to talk with you about it!”
By having this simple text connection with the student, you are validating what they are reading, you are engaging them in meaningful but non-instructional conversation, and you are building relationships based on literacy. All of which will motivate Brian to want to read, read, read!
Motivating your Readers Idea #7: Set goals with your readers
Sometimes, as readers, we need a carrot in front of our noses to help keep us going. This is especially true for early readers who are finding out who they are as a reader. By having frequent conversations between the students and the teacher, discussing the books that they have been reading, finding out where they are doing well and where can they improve, readers become more invested in the time spent reading.
As a student, if I set a personal goal to improve on a specific skill or strategy, I am now invested in meeting that goal. And to meet it, I need to practice it. And to practice, it means I have to read! So by having goal-setting conferences with our readers, we can inadvertently motivate them to read more!
Idea #8: Conduct group/class challenges
I know most teachers have tried reading challenges in their class before. Challenges such as – for every book a student reads, he/she gets to color in a square on their chart or put a link on their chain. But what happens is, unmotivated readers notice just how behind they are compared to the rest of the students. This doesn’t motivate them to try and catch up. Instead, this actually confirms some of the negative thoughts in their minds about who they are as readers. We don’t want that!
Instead, try and conduct group or class challenges. These are challenges where you are working together as a group to meet a goal. This allows everyone to contribute to the goal, whether it’s by 10 or only 1. This allows all students to feel as if they helped the class win the challenge. They are motivated to help move the class along within the challenge and get their 1 or 2 points that they know they can get, or perhaps even more!
Motivating your Readers Idea #9: Talk with other readers
Reading, for young readers and sometimes even for adults, is a social event. In order to fully comprehend a text, we need to discuss and interpret the text with other viewpoints and opinions. By making sure all of our readers have time to talk about and discuss the books that they are reading, we are inevitably giving our students time to decompose the texts that they are reading. We are allowing our students to share their passion for reading with others. And passion is contagious.
Make sure that you have time built in your day or week to simply allow students time to talk about what they are reading. Host share circles once a week where readers share, ask questions, give quotes, and more about the books that they read. Use times such as morning circle or end of the day wrap up where you allow students to turn and talk about the books that they are reading. Make talk time about literacy a priority!
Idea #10: Read aloud daily
It is no secret that in order to build a classroom of motivated, engaged, and passionate readers, that you have to be one yourself. This means sharing your passion daily with your students. If reading aloud to your class is not a top priority in your day, then students won’t make reading a top priority in theirs. You have to be the model. Students need to be immersed in a world of literature. They need to be exposed to different types of books, genres, plots, and structures. Readers need to see the options that they have as readers to know what is available to them. They need to see that readers can have likes and dislikes and that’s okay.
By making reading aloud to your students a daily priority, you are ensuring all of this to occur and not just for your unmotivated readers, but for all of your readers!
I hope you found a new and exciting way for motivating your readers! If you want to save this post for later, make sure to pin the image below!