Students travel at different speeds on the road to reading success. Earlier in my (Donna’s) career as a teacher and school psychologist, I noticed that even on the first day of kindergarten the gap between the highest and lowest performers on measures of reading readiness and ability could be as much as six years. So differentiating instruction so that all students have the opportunity to use multiple brain pathways in the reading classroom throughout their school years is key to motivating them to read and improve.
Effective teachers incorporate a variety of methods in their lessons to accommodate students with different preferences, processing styles, and strengths. Here are a few strategies you can use to try to motivate students to read.
Enacting a Favorite Character
Guide students to select a character from a book they’re reading. Once they’ve made their choice, have them create a simple costume or find props that depict the character, and then prepare and deliver a one- to two-minute monologue introducing the character to the class.
A favorite selection a young child might choose is Fern Arable, the little girl in Charlotte’s Web. Wearing a simple dress with hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, true to her character, young Fern carries on a brief conversation with Charlotte A. Cavatica—with the spider skillfully created from pipe cleaners. After reading Salt in His Shoes, a young boy might morph into a tall, lanky Michael Jordan and talk to the class about the pursuit of his childhood dream to play basketball.
We found inspiration for teachers looking to put together book character costumes that students could try as well.
After reading the poem “My Mother Pieced Quilts,” a middle school girl might lead the class in celebrating the life of a family of migrant workers and the mother who makes their story a work of art by piecing together remnants from their past into quilts. For middle or secondary school students, acting out a character from a favorite Harry Potter selection can be an enjoyable learning experience. A simple costume for Harry himself might be a tie, and a stick for a wand. Someone portraying Hermione might sport a family member’s loose black shirt, dress, or robe. Her earnest introduction might reveal Hermione’s serious concern about expulsion from school.
For secondary students reading To Kill a Mockingbird, a serious Atticus Finch might be characterized giving advice to young Scout, encouraging her to see things from another’s perspective.
Becoming a Talk Show Host
Pair up students and ask them to choose one partner to pretend to be a character from a book and be interviewed by the other student in the role of a talk show host. This strategy encourages students to understand the point of view of the characters they meet in print. By expressing interest in a favorite character, students learn to engage with print in meaningful ways.
Some students might want to become a well-known talk show host such as Oprah Winfrey, while others may want to play a local host. When possible, set up a place for interviews to be held where the interviewer sits on one side of a desk and the interviewee on the other. These interviews are usually best when short—no longer than five minutes for high school students. Interviews conducted by younger students should be less than two minutes each.
Using Movement in the Reading Classroom
Effective teachers know that sitting quietly at their desks for long periods of time is hard for students. Additionally, forced inaction makes it difficult for them to learn.
Reading offers a number of opportunities for planned movement in the classroom. For example, in addition to the two activities above, which offer a chance for movement, you might consider the following:
- Ask students to act out key elements of a book chapter. This activity gives students practice in identifying the most important parts of the text and an opportunity to communicate in a format that may be engaging for students with writing challenges.
- Select words that are crucial to learning academic content and ask students to act out the definitions of these words in different parts of the room. Then review.
We recently wrote an article on the importance of movement for learning, with sample strategies.
Using Read-Alouds to Motivate
A key strategy for motivating students of all ages to engage in reading is to model excitement and interest by reading aloud a book you love and think your children will enjoy. Teachers communicate their interest in a book’s content by reading aloud in an enthusiastic voice that conveys excitement about reading and a fascination with the topic. Well-done read-alouds also offer prompts so that students learn how to think about what is being read. This helps increase student comprehension.
Teachers College Reading and Writing Project has a list of suggested read-aloud books for grades K–8 and tips for planning great read-alouds. And the online video “Strategies for Reading Aloud to Young Children” features a teacher modeling a successful read-aloud for children.