Getting Students to Read

Reading textbook and other required material prepares students to be able to answer questions and contribute to classroom discussions. Reading can also help show students the connections between lecture and what they have read. However, many students do not like to read, especially when it’s required reading! Although there is a direct correlation between reading required material and course grades, many students avoid reading. Some of the reasons students do not read range from their lack of understanding complex or new concepts and vocabulary, not knowing exactly what (or how) to read, and not seeing the connection between required reading and lecture material.

Although there is a direct correlation between reading required material and course grades, many students avoid reading.

Often, instructors offer “incentives” to encourage students to read such as giving pop quizzes, revisiting the course syllabus policy on textbook requirements or sharing words of wisdom (or threats!) about being successful in class. But in the end, many students avoid what they consider to be the tedious and time-consuming task of reading.

Barriers to Reading

Bean, as cited in the University of Wyoming’s Learning Resource Network (n.d.), identifies several reasons why university students may struggle with and avoid reading. The following are some of the common reasons students don’t complete required readings, as noted by Bean and others (Warner, 2016; Hoeft, 2012).

  • The professor lectures on the reading in class, so students do not see the benefit of taking time to complete the assigned reading
  • Students are bored with the reading or cannot concentrate on longer readings
  • Students have trouble managing deadlines for multiple classes and hard deadlines (i.e. graded work) takes priority over soft deadlines (ungraded work like reading)
  • Students today skim for information, similar to how they process information they read online
  • Students often multitask while reading (surf the internet, listen to music, text friends, use social media)
  • Students may not know how to organize their reading based on the structure of textbooks and scholarly articles
  • Students might have difficulty understanding the content, language, and vocabulary in college textbooks and research articles

Strategies to Encourage Reading

In a special issue of Faculty Focus, Weimer (2010) compiled 11 papers that address the problem of students not reading required course material. The following list has been excerpted from this publication and provides strategies that can be implemented immediately to help students become more involved with reading required course material. Authors cited in the 2010 publication include Bandeen, Culver, Morse, and Weimer. Further details can be found in the reference list at the end of this article.

State what you expect your student to do with the textbook and other readings

Verbally announce and place in the course syllabus a statement about required readings and how they will be used in course discussions and assessments (exams and assignments).

Refer students to specific material in the textbook such as graphs, charts, lists, and key words that relate to lecture material and assessments.

State what you expect your student to do with the textbook and other readings.

Provide an overview and introduction to the textbook and other required readings before students are assigned reading

Explain how the textbook is structured, including chapter outlines, word lists, graphics, and supporting material such as an online website or worksheets.

Encourage students to annotate the text

Show students how to underline key ideas and concepts and write them in the margins or on paper. Then, have students connect this information with lecture material by writing a few questions on key ideas and concepts.

Use graphic organizers

Demonstrate how students can summarize readings with graphic organizers, concept maps, charts, or lists. While doing this, students can also scan chapter readings and make a list of headings, images, bolded words, and graphics. They can then write questions that ask about the most important aspects of the chapter or how the chapter is organized.

Students can submit the graphic organizers or concept maps for a few points each toward the final grade and/or use them to facilitate classroom discussions.

Assign reading journals

Assign students to create a reading response journal in which students respond to each reading assignment with a question or comment that they can use in classroom or online discussions.

Suggest that students form a reading study group

Encourage students to form a reading study group in which a few students discuss required readings that focus on key ideas, terms, or concepts. After discussing, students should generate a brief report to submit for a few points and/or to help lead classroom discussions.

Communicate your expectations regarding the textbook and readings throughout the semester

Remind students to bring their textbook to class (if you will be using it for discussions and activities).

Before assigning readings, explain to students what (and why) they have to read.

Assign students to create a reading response journal in which students respond to each reading assignment with a question or comment that they can use in classroom or online discussions.

Stress that textbook reading requires effort and skill

Explain the complexity of college textbooks compared to high school textbooks and other reading material.

Clarify the techniques necessary for reading textbooks and other readings and explain that just skimming or just reading once will not be enough to grasp content

Share your own reading strategies to help students understand the effort necessary to comprehend complex information.

Choose the right textbook

Select textbooks and reading material that support course topics and lecture material. Avoid textbooks just “because you have always required them in the past.”

Consider developing a course pack to supplement and/or replace the textbook. There is a growing trend in eBook creation and some publishers can help you create a personalized book for your class. However, be mindful of cost to students.

Share your own reading strategies to help students understand the effort necessary to comprehend complex information

Model best practice

Be a role model by reading the textbook and course material and applying the information to lectures, assessments, and course activities. However, do not summarize or lecture the reading to students; students will be less motivated to complete the assigned reading if you cover it in detail within a lecture. Why should your student read when you are doing the work for them?

Supplement required readings by examining current events and supportive material from popular media, such as trade journals, manuals, and online magazines or newspapers.

Include an alternative reading list to supplement required textbook and other material and show how readings can expand understanding and knowledge of course content. Alternative materials can include newspapers, trade journals and reports, magazines, or selections from other textbooks.

...do not summarize or lecture the reading to students; students will be less motivated to complete the assigned reading if you cover it in detail within a lecture. Why should your student read when you are doing the work for them?

Create an end-of-course reading list

Provide an annotated reading list at the end of the course that is relevant but not specific to the subject to encourage “reading and learning beyond the classroom” (Dolence, 2004, p.13). This list can extend knowledge beyond the classroom and can help prepare students for subsequent courses in the discipline and employment in the field. The list can include movies, music, poems, and popular media to which students would be particularly attracted.

 

Summary

Use the strategies described above as a starting point as you explore ways to help students read required textbook and course materials. Through example and careful planning, encouraging your students to read will benefit students’ learning experience and success in your course.

References

Dolence, D. M. (2010). The student-accessible reading list. In M. Weimer (Ed.), Faculty focus special report: 11 Strategies for getting students to read what’s assigned (pp. 13-14). Madison, WI: Magna Publications. Available from https://www.facultyfocus.com/free-reports/11-strategies-for-getting-students-to-read-whats-assigned/

Hoeft, M. E. (2012). Why university students don’t read: What professors can do to increase compliance. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6(2), 1-19. https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2012.060212  

University of Wyoming Learning Resource Center. (n.d.) Teaching critical reading [DOC file]. Retrieved from https://www.uwyo.edu/learn/toolkit/criticalreading.html

Warner, J. (2016). When students won’t do the reading. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/just-visiting/when-students-wont-do-reading

Weimer, M. (Ed.). (2010). Faculty focus special report: 11 strategies for getting students to read what’s assigned. Madison, WI: Magna Publications. Available from https://www.facultyfocus.com/free-reports/11-strategies-for-getting-students-to-read-whats-assigned/ (Access this report by registering for a free subscription to Faculty Focus.)

Selected Resources

Bandeen, H. M. (2010). Pre-reading strategies: Connecting expert understanding and novice learning. In M. Weimer (Ed.), Faculty focus special report: 11 Strategies for getting students to read what’s assigned (pp. 11-12). Madison, WI: Magna Publications. Available from https://www.facultyfocus.com/free-reports/11-strategies-for-getting-students-to-read-whats-assigned/

 Culver, T. F., & Morse, L. W. (2010). Helping students use their textbooks more effectively. In M. Weimer (Ed.), Faculty focus special report: 11 Strategies for getting students to read what’s assigned (pp. 7-8). Madison, WI: Magna Publications. Available from https://www.facultyfocus.com/free-reports/11-strategies-for-getting-students-to-read-whats-assigned/

 Hobson, E. H. (2004). Getting students to read: Fourteen tips [PDF file]. IDEA Paper (40). Retrieved from https://www.ideaedu.org/Research/IDEA-Papers-Series/Paper-Details?story=getting-students-to-read-fourteen-tips

 Roberts, J. C., & Roberts, K. A. (2008). Deep reading, cost benefit, and the construction of meaning: Enhancing reading comprehension and deep learning in sociology courses. Teaching Sociology, Vol. 36, pp. 125-140. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/20058637

 Weimer, M. (2010). Still more on developing reading skills. In M. Weimer (Ed.), Faculty focus special report: 11 Strategies for getting students to read what’s assigned (pp. 8-9). Madison, WI: Magna Publications. Available from https://www.facultyfocus.com/free-reports/11-strategies-for-getting-students-to-read-whats-assigned/


Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

 

Suggested citation

Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2020). Getting your students to read. In Instructional guide for university faculty and teaching assistants. Retrieved from https://www.niu.edu/citl/resources/guides/instructional-guide

Contact Us

Center for Innovative
Teaching and Learning

Phone: 815-797-2477
Email: citl@niu.edu

Back to top