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How to Engage Students in Reading: Try These 5 Strategies

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Girl reading

Reading can feed the imagination. When I read, my mind travels through time, around the world, and connects me with the extraordinary. I find a comfortable spot that is well lit and often secluded. I chat with people who also enjoy reading, and they suggest what I should read next, and we often swap books. For me, reading is part of daily life—nothing extraordinary. I love reading and it provides with me an escape along with emotional and intellectual growth, and it brings me pleasure.

As a teacher, I shared my love of reading with my students and tried to inspire and encourage them to read more. This was not always as easy as it sounds. I set aside time for in-class reading; wrote grants for accessible and relevant titles to build my classroom library; and provided opportunities for my students to preview, share, and talk about books. Yet I still struggled with motivating some of my students to read. I am also painfully aware of how difficult the task can be for students who struggle with attention deficit, distractibility, reading disabilities, and a host of other challenges.

Consistent Routines to Encourage Sustained Reading

How to make reading more engaging? Over the years, I have contemplated ways to spark engagement in reading. Make reading feel like a reward instead of a punishment. Create an atmosphere that's conducive to reading and is comfortable. Introduce choice. Set a timer for five to seven minutes—for yourself, not for the student. This timer will break up the reading session and give them the opportunity to quickly reflect and reset their reading muscles.

When the timer stops, recap with the student what they just read. Some teachers use a 21-word gist, quick-write, summary questions, or even the opportunity to tweet about their reading. The goal is to build their reading muscles to withstand 20 to 25 minutes of sustained independent reading. For students with reading disabilities, visual supports may be necessary.

Reading Engagement Strategies that Build Enjoyment

Once you’ve set the stage with an environment conducive to reading, here are some reading engagement strategies you can share with students:

  1. Set goals and expectations for yourself: Talk to students about reading and setting individual, attainable goals.
  2. Pick a book from a curated selection of novels and other literary works: Have a collection of high-interest titles available that include a range of instructional reading levels.
  3. Answer questions related to your reading: Let students choose from a set of universal summary questions that help them reflect on their reading in different ways. (You can start with these Notice & Note Signposts).
  4. Recap what you read in a short summary: At the end of reading time, have them summarize the entire experience.
  5. Keep trying! Help them understand the power of ongoing effort and practice in building reading muscles and achieving their goals.

Sparking an interest in reading is just the beginning. We want our students talking about the books they have read, making recommendations, writing reviews, and sharing their newfound joys and interests with their classmates and peers.

Successful readers internalize good reading habits, self-select reading materials, dedicate time to reading for pleasure, show preferences, and share what they have read. It's our goal as educators to create a thirst for reading and lifelong learning.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


Add sociocultural diversity to your classroom, foster literacy growth, and integrate different content areas into your curriculum with HMH Classroom Libraries.

This blog, originally published in 2017, has been updated for 2021.

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