Teaching Strategies: Motivating Students to Read is Crucial
“Reading is fundamental.” This was a slogan heard during a television advertisement meant to help improve child literacy in the 1970s and early ’80s. This slogan helped to infuse a progressive element of literacy in American culture. However, a 2003 federal study reports that one in seven adults lack basic reading skills. Why is motivating students to read so important, and how can teachers help students to become lifelong readers?
How Poor Reading Skills Hurt Everyone
The 2007 report To Read or Not to Read from the NEA provides troubling statistics on reading rates for young people:
- Less than one-third of 13-year-olds read every day
- Fifteen- to 24-year-olds spend only seven to 10 minutes a day reading voluntarily
- Half of 18- to 24-year-olds do not read for pleasure at all
Students who don’t read often do not develop good reading skills. How does this affect the big picture? To Read or Not to Read and the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy illustrate how people who do not read well struggle in their adult lives:
- 63 percent of employers rate reading comprehension skills “very important,” but 38 percent find high school graduates deficient in this skill
- One in five U.S. workers reads at a lower skill level than their job requires
- 44 percent of low-skilled readers lack a full-time or part-time job, which is twice the percentage of
- 43 percent of adults with very low literacy skills live in poverty, compared with only 4 percent with a high level of literacy
- Only 3 percent of adults in U.S. prisons read at a proficient level
Teachers are the first line of defense against poor reading skills. Fortunately, they can choose from many resources to help motivate students to read.
Creating a Literature-Rich Classroom
The idea of frequent independent reading can be like learning a new language. Exposure to this language can take the form of room posters, a classroom library, frequent trips to the school library, and more. Elevating the importance of literature in the classroom compels students to take their own literacy more seriously.
In Raising Students Who Want to Read, Phyllis C. Hunter identifies several effective steps teachers should take to motivate reading:
- Build a library of “just-right” books that are appropriate to students’ ages and reading levels that include a wide variety of topics relevant to students’ lives
- Let students choose their own texts; this lets them take ownership of the reading experience
- Talk, talk, and talk about books. Teachers should talk to students about the plots, characters and setting in books they love (and want students to read) and encourage them to voice thoughts on their reading materials.
- Encourage students to monitor their progress. Keeping a journal of books read all year gives a student something they can look at with a sense of accomplishment.
Activities and Lesson Plans for Reading and Literature
Reading is Fundamental is the largest non-profit children’s literacy organization in the United States. Founded in 1966 by a former teacher, RIF started as a book distribution program; the model was adopted by Congress in 1975 and is now gives books to low-income students from preschool through high school. Although RIF does not work within schools, teachers can find programs in their areas that promote literacy through book giveaways as well as workshops that focus on family support for reading skills. In the classroom, teachers can use one of many fun Reading is Fundamental activities:
- Reading Raffle. Every time a student finishes reading a book, he or she gets their name entered in a drawing. The more books students read, the more entries they’ll get. Do a drawing on a quarterly or monthly basis for a prize of tickets to an amusement park, athletic event, or another sought-after reward.
- Sound Effects. To make read-aloud time more exciting, teachers ask students to provide appropriate sound effects for the story. RIF suggests starting with the book Crash! Boom! Bang!.
- Reading Quilt. Students draw pictures inspired by the books they read on eight or ten-inch fabric squares. At the end of the year, these are stitched together to make a reading quilt.
PBS has been the long-time home of programs that advocate reading. For more than twenty years, Reading Rainbow helped expose children to many forms of literature, and many teachers still show episodes in the classroom. “Take a look, it’s in a book,” is an unforgettable verse to a song that children could sing to themselves and perhaps take to heart. Teachers who want to add video elements to their reading programs can also choose from many on-air or Web series that can help teach or encourage reading. PBS also has an extensive Teachers section where educators can find lesson plans and reading activities by grade level. Here are a few examples:
Ugly? Says Who? This lesson plan asks students to choose an “ugly” animal, predict how its features work to its advantage, research it, and write a poem about the critter that includes factual information.
Storytelling Through Sculpture. This lesson plan lets students create sketches and sculptures based on characters from books and use them to put on a show.
Living a Dream: Writing for the Movies. This lesson plan explores how personal stories are used to create a screenplay and includes units on creating a character, visual storytelling, and screenplay structure.
Address the Literacy Gap: Encourage Reading at Home
Parental involvement in reading is crucial to a child’s academic development. According to the as National Education Association, preschool-aged children who were read to by a family member three to four times a week were much more likely to be able to count to 20, recognize the letters of the alphabet, and write their names than children who were not. Older children who read for pleasure at home At parent-teacher conferences, teachers should emphasize the importance of reading at home and give parents reading resources for help choosing books, reading aloud, and making reading fun for their child.
Teachers who use their passion for reading to inspire and empower students and parents really can make a difference.