How can I motivate teens to read more? This question pops up on our computer screens and in conversations every week, and teachers, psychologists, librarians and researchers of a broad field of literacy and language studies offer ideas and solutions. William Grabe gives us a detailed overview of motivational theories and concepts both in language learning and reading in Chapter 9 of his book Reading in a Second Language (CUP) . The importance of text-based language education and extensive reading have been widely discussed on this Blog and in many academic journals so the real question is how teachers and parents can motivate teenagers to read more and how can they help them become critical readers.
Let’s have a look at some basic theoretical ideas about reading motivation and discuss some fun activities and creative ideas you can try with your own students.
Factors that motivate teens to read
Grabe lists eight factors that support reading motivation:
- Opportunities for learning success and gains in conceptual knowledge
- Real-world interactions (demonstrations, data collection, observations, etc.)
- Autonomy support, student self-direction
- Interesting texts for instruction
- Opportunities for extended reading
- Strategy instruction
- Social collaboration and relationship building for academic tasks
- Evaluation and feedback that support learning
(Table 9.2 Factors that support reading motivation. Grabe, p. 191)
How can these theoretical ideas help us come up with practical activities?
1 Use graded readers which are built around a topic of the student’s interest. This way they can stay within their comfortable reading zone but through activities in the readers they gain the sensation of getting closer to their learning goals.
2 Provide a wide range of reading materials. Materials can range from original classics through adapted classics to magazines and websites. Reading for a purpose can motivate your students, especially if they know that the gained knowledge can be useful in their everyday life or generally provide them with an enjoyable experience.
3 As the principles of extensive reading programmes suggest, let your students choose their reading materials. Freedom of choice is an extremely important factor in reading motivation. Let them browse the shelves of libraries and bookhops without directing them towards books you think they should be reading. The children’s, teen and young adult shelves in bookshops have carefully been selected and filtered so you don’t have to worry that your students or kids will choose inappropriate books.
What about compulsory reading lists then? Introduce the idea of shared reading. This concept change can have a positive effect on your students’ attitude towards ‘compulsory reading’. A shared reading list can create the idea of belonging to a group and being an autonomous member of it rather someone who was assigned a reading task.
4 Have interesting texts. Are your students interested in animals? Sports? Adventures? Let them read fiction about these topics, and recommend magazines and websites they can read.
Tip: Create an ‘If you liked this …’ board where students can add titles they would recommend to other students. For example, if they like the Twilight series, recommend Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. These classics might not feature vampires, but they are complicated love stories and dark enough for your students’ taste.
5 Dedicate time to extensive reading. We have discussed the idea of D.E.A.R. programmes and the motivating force of Reading Timers. Make reading part of your weekly routine when your students can go to the school library or have some time in the class library. Give them time to browse, read, and chat about books. They might not have access to a fascinating libarary at home, and they might not have time to read during the afternoons. Provide space and time for reading for pleasure, and make it clear that it is a reward or fun activity.
6 Read books as if they were TV series. Remember, in the 19th century, classic masters like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens wrote for magazines, and their stories were published as a series of chapters. Some teachers give only a chapter to read for a week so that students can have a sense of achievement every week and they have something to look forward to.
7 Make reading a social activity. Book Clubs are fun groups where students can hang out, talk about stories and maybe watch film adaptations. They can have book parties, arts and crafts sessions, and practise the language with their peers. Read about Book Clubs on our Blog and browse our Book Club Resources.
8 Think about alternative ways of evaluation and feedback. When we think about reading for pleasure, the last thing on our mind is a comprehension test after each chapter. Still, when we read at school and read to learn a language, we would like to make sure that our language skills are improving. How can we do it? The activities and discussion questions in our readers are interactive and entertaining. You can set reading goals, for example a certain number of books or a certain level of readers by the end of the year.
What are your best practices? How do you motivate teenagers to read in English?
- Grabe, William. Reading in a Second Language. Cambridge Universtiy Press, 2009.