Tips to Inspire Students to Actually Complete Assigned Reading
Class discussions about literature can be incredibly powerful and effective in helping students understand and connect with what they read for class, but of course, for any of your lessons or activities to be effective or compelling, students need to read the material first.
Getting students to actually read what we assign them can be challenging. Many students choose to take the shortcut and read only the Spark Notes version or watch a YouTube video about the book. But as teachers and lovers of literature, we know this is not the same as reading the original text. It can be tricky in this era of short attention spans and an abundance of distractors for English teachers to get their kids to actually complete the assigned reading. But it can be easier, and while it may feel like it sometimes, it certainly doesn't have to be impossible.
Here are some of our favorite practices for getting students to actually do their assigned reading:
Get excited! Always show enthusiasm for whatever you're teaching and reading as a class. Even if it's not your favorite, pretend it is. Be a model for learning and new adventures and taking on new challenges. One of your students could end up loving the text and connecting with it in a way you didn't expect. Students look to us to know how to act, how to respond, and if they know we don't like something, they will pick up on it and respond accordingly.
Hold students accountable in some way. Most of my homework is reading: read a chapter, read a story, read a speech. I prefer not to assign reading guides or questions for students to answer as they read because it can break up the cadence and reading fluency they have, and that can be a huge turn-off or demotivator for kids. (Plus, grading daily homework on top of regular essays would probably put me over the edge!). Every day after the reading, I give a quick comprehension quiz that is not based on the Sparknote version, but 2-3 questions that would indicate to me that they actually completed the reading. There is a learning curve at first but after the first grading term (or even before that), most students figure out that actually reading is the easiest way to pass the quizzes.
Talk about the long-term. I teach mostly college prep and honors classes and I find that sometimes high school students need a little perspective. Often, we have candid talks about the reading skills and self-discipline students will need to compete in college. A lot of the time, this will put things into perspective for college-interested students.
Leverage technology. Using resources like Collaborize Classroom, Twitter, Prezi, Google presentations, Google forms, Explain Everything, iPads, and infographics can instantly enhance the interest level. Kids love technology; let's use it to our advantage.
Create a social experience. Teenagers love to talk (surprised?) and are more likely to read when there will be some social component to the unit. I personally love using Socratic Seminars and Literature Circles.
Give students options. Whenever possible, give students a choice. If you can, allow students to pick a book from a thematic list to read. For times when the whole class is reading the same book, give choices on the accompanying assignment. For example, for a chapter of The Great Gatsby, choose a character and create a Facebook profile, with status updates revealing the character's motivations. This allows students to connect more meaningfully with the text and the skill you are teaching.
Use the power of the audiobook. My students told me about the Librivox app and I love it! I have students who may need to read the chapter with the audiobook and others who like to read first and then listen as a review on their way to school. It's important to note that while I advocate for audiobooks, I also stress the importance of following along to audiobooks with the actual book. It helps improve comprehension and reading skills that way. YouTube also has tons of audio versions of books available for free.
Teach active or close reading. Teach students how to actively engage with a text by annotating in the margins. I encourage my students to highlight and write brief notes in the margins. If they become more successful at reading assessments through close reading strategies, they are more likely to feel motivated to actually read and not give up before they start. Most of Simply Novel's literature resources include an active-reading component, so if you are teaching a whole-class novel, be sure to check out those as well.
I hope you have found these helpful for your own teaching practice! Did I miss anything? Feel free to comment below with what works for you!