Student Engagement

5 Reasons to Read for Reluctant Readers

Here are five reasons to motivate students to read more. One reason: Reading makes you smarter and a better writer. 
April 28, 2016
photo of a student reading a book
iStock.com/Aldo Murillo

Teachers may offer up a killer classroom library and carve out class time for silent reading, but these two things do not guarantee prolific reading, or even moderate reading from your students. One of my goals when I was teaching high school was this: to have students fall in love with reading while they were in my classroom (or at least like it a little more).

So how do you motivate secondary students in a deeper, lifelong reader way? It's not just about helping a student find that right book, as teachers often see as the ultimate mission, but it's about giving reasons for reading -- and really good ones. Because let's face it, there's plenty of stuff we all have to read that we may not be crazy about, but we know it's good for us. The following motivators are inspired by educator Kelly Gallagher's book, Reading Reasons: Motivational Mini-Lessons for Middle and High School.

1. Reading Results in You Being a Better Writer

I could always identify my readers. They were the strongest writers in class. Routinely provide students with reasons for improving their writing through reading and how this will benefit them in life, college, and the work world. Then try using from Gallagher's book something called "Cooking Up Good Writing." In this activity, the teacher shares ways to become a good chef (read a lot of recipes, experiment with different kinds of food) and ways to become a good musician (read a lot of music, experiment with different kinds of music). The lists echo each other, including both ending with practice, practice, practice. Using the two lists as models, students then pair up and create a list for how to become a good writer.

2. Reading Is Fulfilling and Rewarding

We read to know we are not alone. -- anonymous

Reading prepares us for what is to come in life. Novels, short stories, and poetry take from the universal plots and themes of the human condition -- to name a few: love gone wrong, coming of age, rites of passage, misunderstandings with loved ones, and death. Kelly Gallagher suggests an activity called "Favorite First Lines" where the teacher reads aloud to her students interesting first lines from her favorite books. You can invite students to do the same as the year progresses. You can also encourage your students to abandon a book if he discovers several pages or chapters in that it's not a good relationship. (Please tell your students, "Go ahead and break up with that book, and choose another!")

Gallagher also suggest reading aloud a passage you find humorous, troubling, angering, beautiful, or exhibiting exemplary writing. Find passages in books, but also in magazines, newspapers, speeches, blogs, and poetry.

3. Reading Makes You Smarter

The more you read, the more you know. Once children move from learning to read to reading to learn, they have access to information on just about anything and everything. Gallagher does an activity with his high school students called "15 Things I Learned from Reading the Newspaper Today." He reads aloud what he learned that day by reading the paper, and then provides newspapers to his students who read and do the same. It concludes with them sharing their lists and then journal responding to the question, "How will reading a newspaper regularly influence my life?" A class discussion follows.

4. Reading Equips You Against Oppression

Critical educators explain that their job is to prepare students so they can read the word and also read the world. We need to explain to students the importance of viewing text through a critical lens and how this will arm them against exploitation and being taken advantage of (Who wrote this? Why? Who will benefit? Who might be harmed?). Teachers can tell students they will sign many contracts in their life times, as one example, and that it is paramount they be able to comprehend and question something before they sign it.

5. Reading Prepares You for College and Work

You know what my former high school students again and again would tell me was the most challenging aspect of college? The amount of required reading. Explain to your students that building reading stamina now will put them ahead of the game later. Additionally, writing an impressive college essay or job cover letter requires a notable command of the written word, as well as a rich vocabulary -- both are developed in large part through reading (see number one).

Many fields require strong reading skills -- firefighters, dental hygienists, auto mechanics, and hotel managers -- not just for doctors, social workers, architects, and engineers. Gallagher shares an activity called "Reading is Job One" where students analyze a chart that outlines how the reading demands for an office assistant have greatly increased in 30 years.

What are the strategies and activities you use to motivate your students to invest in reading? Please share in the comments section below.