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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Reading incentives

Reading incentives

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Hello! I am new to this group and am also the newly hired Project Director for The Engineers' Leadership Foundation's(ELF) program, "Engineering Better Readers." We've just initiated a new reading incentive program for elementary schools which are low-performing (Stage 3 or 4)and also have rates of F & RL rates of 85% or higher. Basically, children will read books for points which they can use to purchase in the school store for both big (Wi's, bikes, Ipods) and small toys. ELF will donate $5000 at the beginning of the year to purchase the toys and will replenish in Janauary. Children can save points or spend at will. Is this something that you feel would work in your school? Is it something that you would WANT in your school? What are your feelings about incentives? I would really appreciate your feedback as the program is in its infancy! Thank you so much! Patty

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Brenda's picture

I teach second grade. I do use various incentives in my classroom. Some are treats - candy, stickers etc and others are free book from the book order, extra computer time etc. I like being able to do it in my room. it is not a school wide thing. I think my kids know that I will reward them for reading in various ways. I think the school wide program takes the teacher/student relationship out of it so it is not as personal and kids do it to get stuff not recognition and praise from the teacher who is cheering them on every day.

Pasquale DeVitto's picture

I can't believe it took me almost two decades to figure it out.

A teacher cannot create a reader. He/she must proactively facilitate each reader.


Do the following:

1- Read aloud- every single day. Make sure the students understand that this is the most important part of the day. The read aloud must NEVER be skipped. The more fervently a teacher champions the read aloud, the more fervently the students will revere it, as well!

2- Offer books! Books! And more books! Most importantly, let go of your own personal "sacred" collection. You will soon see that these books are most valuable when shared!

3- Get to know your readers. I'm glad I did! Who knew that Captain Underpants was so entertaining?

4- Share your love of books!

5- Read aloud to your students every single day... Did I say that alresdy???

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

It's as easy as that, Pasquale!!! Can you believe it? I'm glad you figured it out! I can't believe all of the million dollar programs that are being sold out there; all of the money that is being spent by school districts on these programs. Imagine a world where schools spent money on books? Thanks for the post.


cheryl Best's picture
cheryl Best
Fifth Grade Teacher from Bunker Hill,IL

Pasquale, Great comment! I couldn't have said it better!:)

Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Director of Programming and Innovation

Hi All -- Here's another cool idea to inspire students to keep reading!


What a great concept; read a chapter a week and then discuss it via Twitter. That made me think; why not do that with a read aloud book and connect classrooms across the world?

So here is what I propose: Choose a book, we can set up a poll and take suggestions, and read a chapter aloud a week. Students will then have to blog about the chapter or a wiki could be set up for them to share the experiences as they read the book. How phenomenal would it be to know that your class is reading a book that another class across the world is also reading?

JediLibrarian's picture
Elementary School Librarian & Star Wars Fan

I'd be more a fan of the idea of external rewards for reading if I knew that first; the school had a real live active school (ie teaching background) librarian who knows both kids' lit and the kids, inside and out. Not a paraprofessional or parent volunteer, no matter how well meaning. Second; that the school library was properly funded so that the kids had access to LOTS of new books in LOTS of different genres and media types. $5000 would purchase a fair amount of books: beginning readers, beginning non-fiction, early readers, early chapter books, non-fiction, chapter books, graphic novels, comic books, audiobooks, magazines, e-books, etc.
Then I'd think about external rewards. They definitely can work for kids and motivate them. But it won't have the same impact without those first two priorities FIRMLY in place.

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

A smart librarian, you are. This is a trick post. With the first two in place, external rewards would definitely not be needed. Nice. Thanks for the post.


Linda Watts's picture

Two years ago I moved into 5th grade at a small charter school. The fluency and comprehension rates for most of the class were abismal. I started a challenge where I tracked my reading on a chart and encouraged the students to join me. I challenged them to read more than I did, which none managed. To make sure the reading was done they had to write a one page summary and turn it in. If I wasn't familiar with the book, I could always look it up on the web, somewhere there were notes about the different books. The top 5 readers received iPod Shuffles and Nanos. I broke it into semesters and the next semester I had double the students participating. Rewarding behavior that you want to foster is not a negative, even though people might tell you it is.

Lee Morin's picture

We have A/R at our school. For several years, we rewarded kids with points that they could spend at a store. It was costly and the kids only ended up with junk. After several years, the kids really didn't seem to care.

Last year we bought the on-line program that has all the tests available and changed our reward program. Goals were set for the kids by their individual teacher. If the student met their goal for the 9 weeks with 85% reading accuracy, they got a reward. We did things like ice cream outside and an extra recess, movie and popcorn, beach towels with snow cones and books and reading time outdoors, etc. The kids really seemed to enjoy the new rewards. They didn't cost like the prior ones did. The kids got time out of the classroom doing something special. Teachers looked at each individual kid when setting goals, so goals were not just "blanket" goals and the same for every kid.

I give rewards in my room for meeting weekly goals like letting them read in special chairs or under their desks if the weekly goals are met. These things don't cost, but seem to be things the kids enjoy.

I read aloud daily to the kids. I have often thought I would like to read when the kids are and I like the comments about this earlier. This is something I plan to do this year!

Another thing the kids enjoy is getting multiple copies of the same book (two or three kids) and reading the book aloud (softly) in the corner together. This helps some of my reluctant readers begin to read when they can read with their friends.

I have also taken a paperback book (I find the Wayside stories work well for this since each chapter is generally about a different student) and torn the book apart chapter by chapter. Each student gets a chapter. They read their chapter, then tell the class what happened in their chapter . . . what was funny, what was exciting, etc. I tell them to read their chapter well and explain it well because they are the only one who got to read that particular chapter. You should see the shocked looks on the faces of the kids when I rip the book apart, but they LOVE it!

I agree with prior comments. The whole key is to get the kids involved in actually reading. I don't feel the prizes work especially well, but simple activity rewards do seem to help.

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