Encouraging Students to Read

“From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it.” –Groucho Marx

Most of us have seen this downward spiral:  We assign reading. Students—inexperienced at academic reading—find it challenging and don’t complete it. During the next session, we encounter blank faces, so we give an ad hoc lecture on the reading instead of leading a planned discussion. We assign more reading.  Students—having concluded that they don’t really need to read—skip the assignment. In class, we again encounter blank faces and again begin summarizing the contents of the reading.

As the spiral continues, we become more frustrated and students lose opportunities to engage in the richness of the course content and to develop the reading skills they need. What to do? Here are three suggestions:

  • Mary Ann Weimer (“Eleven Strategies for Getting Students to Read What’s Assigned,” 2010)  suggests stopping the downward spiral early.  The first time students show up unprepared, she suggests calmly saying something like this:  “This article is really quite important. Too bad you aren’t ready to work with it as I had planned,” and moving to an alternative activity designed for just that moment. Weimer says no scolding–but no summarizing the reading, either. Going forward, assigning reading responses and requiring that students submit them helps to move students toward reading regularly.
  • John Bean (Engaging Ideas, 2011) notes that background knowledge helps students understand a text.  Often we provide that just before a discussion. Bean suggests shifting the overview to the end of the previous class, when we make the assignment. We might point out the central focus of the reading, or alert students to a tricky passage or important term. We can also record these short introductions and post them on the class web site.
  • Norman Eng (Teaching College: The Ultimate Guide to Lecturing, Presenting, and Engaging Students, 2017) proposes an activity he calls QQC for “Question, Quotation, Comment.” As students read, they note a question, select an interesting quotation, or make a comment; the instructor then devotes 10 or 15 minutes to QQCs.  Eng suggests three ways to make QQCs work:
    • Use them regularly and consistently.
    • Call on students randomly rather than waiting for the typical volunteers. Involve many students but avoid deliberating embarrassing the momentarily distracted.
    • Give points for QQC work. This can be done by collecting the students’ questions, quotations, and comments, or by having them post them in an online discussion or assignment, or by having them log their QQCs throughout the term in a journal or doc which can be turned on once.

Incorporating one or more of these suggestions can help your students become regular readers, and allow you to use your class time productively.

Want to read more?

Bean, J. C. (2011). Engaging ideas. 2nd. ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.   

Gonzalez, J. (2017). 5 Ways College Teachers Can Improve Their Instruction.  Cult of Pedagogy. https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/teaching-college/

Weimer, M. (2010). 11 Strategies for Getting Students to Read What’s Assigned. http://www.facultyfocus.com/free-reports/11-strategies-for-getting-students-to-read-whats-assigned/

Submitted to the 2018-2019 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium Teaching Tips by:

Susan Hall, Director, Center for Teaching and Learning, University of the Incarnate Word

Edited by:

Judith Littlejohn, October 8, 2018 – expanded examples, edited formatting, added conclusion.

Image: Guy-Man-Reading https://pixabay.com/en/guy-man-reading-book-business-2557251/