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Motivating Students to Read Actively

How can you motivate students to get the most out of their course readings? First, consider your course goals as they relate to the course texts and assignments. If a primary goal is to expose students to a variety of perspectives in your discipline, you have likely assigned a group of texts that convey that variety. If a primary goal is for your students to learn to evaluate an argument in your discipline, you may assign a manageable number of pages to read, and challenge your students to do more thinking and writing about those texts.

Once you have determined your course goals, inspire your students to get what you want them to get from course readings. In Engaging Ideas , John C. Bean writes: “Students' reading comprehension increases when they are already engaged with the problem or issue that a reading addresses or are otherwise interested in the subject matter.” Here are some strategies for arousing students' interest and increasing their motivation to read course texts actively.

  • Make it relevant. Explain why you have selected a particular reading. How is it related to the overall course goals, to the other texts on the syllabus, and to the students' development?

  • Make it personal. Guide students to ask questions before reading that will help them connect what they read to prior knowledge. What do they already know about the topic? Pre-reading questions can also make students aware of their personal motivation to do the work. What is interesting about this topic? How is this topic relevant to their lives?

  • Make it interesting. Engage students with the reading before they even start. You might pose questions that the reading addresses or issues or problems that the reading provides insight into. One good strategy is to hand out a series of questions on an upcoming topic and make students aware of what they do not yet know. You can also have students write or talk about a topic in class, with the promise that the reading will give them even further insight.
  • Make it required. One of the best ways to help students keep up with the reading and learn from it is to ask them to do something in addition to reading. For example, you could require students to keep reading logs in which they write weekly. You might ask students to: summarize key concepts, pose provocative questions, evaluate arguments, or synthesize the main points of two texts. The reading and writing task should be tailored to your primary course goals.
  • Make it public. You might ask students to take turns introducing the days' readings to the class. They can use their 5 minute introductions to provide context or to engage the text itself through summary, application, analysis, synthesis or evaluation.

    For suggestions on how to evaluate any of the assignments described above, contact us at: mcgraw@princeton.edu or 609-258-2575