How to Get Students Engaged in Reading: 5 Tips for Teachers

This post is part of a series of blogs by READ 180 classroom teachers about their experience both with the program and with students.

It’s established at the very beginning of the famous book that Sam-I-Am does not like green eggs and ham. In fact, he is adamant that he does not like them, neither here nor there. Not anywhere. Some students feel the same way about reading—not all of them, just some of them. I was recently asked in a training for READ 180 administrators about the best way to hook students on books and reading. I had to give the most honest answer I know—any way you can. There’s no one single approach. Helping students develop a taste for and a liking of reading is not a one-size-fits-all solution. 

Ways to Encourage Students to Read

In Green Eggs and Ham, the narrator tries many solutions before Sam-I-Am mysteriously unlocks his own love of green eggs and ham. However, there are some techniques and strategies you can try to help lessen the time it takes to unlock a passion for literacy and encourage students to read.

1. Get to Know Your Students’ Likes and Dislikes

While this first suggestion seems like a no-brainer, we as humans are quick to stereotype and shoebox people in general. How I look, my gender, or where I grew up may have little to do with the kinds of things that entertain me. Sometimes, I will make a first attempt at book recommendations, and kids look at me like I have three heads. You know, those never-in-a-million-years-would-I-be-interested-in-that-book and I-am-slightly-offended-that-you-even-tried looks.

When I get that reaction, I try to dial in to the chatter in the classroom and find out which kids like the coolest hip-hop musician, who passionately likes food, what they are doing this weekend, what video games they play, what YouTube celebrities they follow, and what kinds of TV they watch. Filing away these tidbits of information can help me make better book recommendations in the future. 

"Book tastings" or "book speed dating" are fun and quick ways to start to get a feel for what kinds of reading may interest students. Attractively display a bunch of great reads from your classroom library or the school library. Make sure you have a wide array of topics, genres, and formats. Then, have students spend one minute checking out the cover and the blurb and making that first blush judgment of “I may or may not be enthused about this book.”

2. Read Aloud Tantalizing Tidbits

Find a handful of great titles, read them, and identify the juiciest tidbits. Mark them so you can find the good parts. Practice reading the best parts aloud so you get the most dramatic rendition, and read them aloud to your students. Reading just a few pages or a chapter or two will often pique students’ interest.

Try to choose books from series or those written by authors who have published a lot of books. You want your efforts to be generative. In other words, if the book I read from today is already checked out, are there two even better books by this author in the library? I can also recommend the author’s other series.

3. Work Your Whiteboard Tray

If you want kids to like books, market like a store at the mall. Seriously—walk the mall and see what the trendy stores do to lure customers into their space. They can’t sell clothes or shoes or makeup to people who aren’t in their store. You can’t get kids to read books if they don’t touch the books.

Chances are the whiteboard tray in your room is not being used to its maximum potential. Load that ledge up with books that have enticing covers, that are of different genres, that you know other readers loved, that you love, that are new, and that you love to hate. Then, try layering on a marketing technique from the mall that you discovered or post memes that relate to the books above them. You can also write six-word summaries above them. Later in the year, you can put students in charge of creating these displays.

4. Enlist the Power of the Peer

A teacher’s actual best tool to get students to grow their reading habit is the power of the peer. The minute you get one student who proclaims he or she has just read the best book, you will get a second student aboard the reading train. Especially in middle school and high school, peer proclamations are highly effective. Provide plenty of venues and opportunities for students to share what they are reading.

You can offer a variety of ways for peers to share. Students who are truly excited will do a great job of spreading the word themselves. Students also enjoy utilizing tech tools. No matter what platform you have students audio or video record themselves on, linking that recording to Padlet or a QR code or a TinyURL makes accessing those video book showcases a snap. 

As the year goes on, you will know if you have the power of the peer working in your favor because you will have grown a reading community. Students will walk in and volunteer, ask you to read their favorites, value time to talk about books, beg you to buy the latest and greatest, and jockey to be the first to get that new book.

5. Harness the Power of Visuals

Stickers, signatures, and other displays that nudge students can also be effective. The end goal is always intrinsic motivation, but there are some competitive souls who thrive on extrinsic motivators as well. Students of all levels seem to enjoy a sticker chart. Graffiti walls are another way to show progress. Have students sign their names every time they meet the goal. A twist is to have them post their favorite line from the book on a chart and list the book title underneath.

Another nudge you can try is putting up paper of different colors with varying milestones listed on each. This is a de facto way to share what is possible for the year and to help students set some goals at the beginning of the year. Some students find it satisfying to move their name or icon to the next sheet of paper.

Acknowledging student success on social media can also be effective. Make sure you know your school district’s policy on sharing student success and then move forward. Ensure that your message truly celebrates success and doesn’t inadvertently share any information that might be demeaning.

None of these methods for encouraging reading in the classroom are surefire, but using some or all of them will help your students grow and alter their reading identities. A key goal in getting students to read is to help them discover the things they don’t know about themselves as readers and as human beings. Just like the narrator in Green Eggs and Ham uses everything he can think of to persuade Sam-I-Am to like green eggs and ham, Sam-I-Am still needs time to process and adjust and form his own opinions. With enough creativity and tenacity, hopefully we can help all students get hooked on reading.

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Learn more about how READ 180 Universal, the leading blended learning solution, helps students who are two or more years behind become active, accomplished readers. 

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Educators for our blended intervention programs—READ 180MATH 180, and System 44—are invited to nominate students and colleagues to win a 180 Award for outstanding dedication and achievements inside and outside the classroom. Learn more about the 180 Awards and prizes, with nominations open through February 21, 2020.