5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Help Students Build Intrinsic Motivation to Read

I love to run. In fact, I run almost every day. Not surprisingly, when I finish my nightly run there isn’t anyone waiting with a medal, a pizza, or a cash prize. Yet everyday, I look forward to lacing up my running shoes and hitting the road. Why? Because I enjoy it. I like the way I feel while I’m running. I enjoy the sensation of stress leaving my body as I get into a rhythm. I set my own goals and adjust them when necessary. I have favorite routes and sights along the way I’ve come to use as markers for my progress. I have developed an intrinsic motivation for running. Not dissimilar to the intrinsic motivation we wish our students had for reading…


In many schools I visit, teachers continue to offer students extrinsic rewards for reading. They do this with the best of intentions. They want their students to read. Yet, when we rely on using prizes, food, parties, the principal on the roof, etc. to encourage students to read, we’re not fostering what we really want for our students, self-engaged reading. Using prizes or other external rewards may work at first, but it isn’t sustainable. Eventually, students are no longer motivated by the prizes and we are left trying to figure out the next new and bigger thing to use to entice them back into reading. So if we know what we really want is for students to have an intrinsic love for reading, how do we create this for them? Here are five things you can do to help students develop their own reader’s identity and an intrinsic love for reading.

  1. Give Book Talks Book talks are a short commercial for a book. Remember the children’s television show, “Reading Rainbow”?  That’s a book talk. Read books that you think your students will love and then book talk them. Show the actual book to your students and then tell them a little bit about the plot without giving it away. Read an excerpt aloud that you think will make students want to read the book. Then tell them what kind of reader will love that book. In the beginning, do two to three book talks a day. Be a salesman! Your enthusiasm will be contagious. (I recently book talked A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness in a middle school classroom and was practically swarmed by students wanting to read the book when I was done!) Then, when students are ready, get them giving book talks. Have a special place in the classroom to display books that have been book talked. 14556140_10101197292758008_1842230372_n.jpg
  2. Create a Classroom Library Surround your students with great books!  Wrap the room with books that can’t help but entice even the most reluctant reader to want to read. In order to do this, you have to find out what genres, authors, themes, and topics are appealing to your students. You have to be abreast of what’s popular and new in literature for the age group you teach. You have to read voraciously. Then, display your books in a way that will make them appealing. If possible, shelve books face out for easier access. Organize the library by genres, authors, topics, and other more creative categories. Try tubs like “Banned Books” or “Books Where Someone Dies”. Ask students what categories they would like to see. There’s an abundance of research that supports the benefit of having a classroom library. Students with books in their classrooms read more frequently. It’s that simple. Library Photo for Blog .jpg
  3. Give Students Choice While there is value in experiencing a shared class text, there is greater value in giving students choice. Until we let kids read what they want to read, they won’t read. That being said, we also may have to help many students find and develop their reading identity. Many students have little, to no experience choosing a book for themselves. Teach mini-lessons on how readers choose books as well as how to preview and become invested in a book. Then, get to know your students so you can make book recommendations. Expect it to take longer for some students. Don’t give up. This matters more than anything else you can do for a student. You’re helping him/her “catch the reading bug” as Donalyn Miller says in The Book WhispererOnce students have found success with a book, be ready to recommend another book. Sort of like what Amazon does, “If you liked this book, you may like…” I’ve found Teri Lesesne’s book Making the Match: The Right Book for the Right Reader at the Right Time  to be a useful tool for this purpose.
  4. Use Reader’s Notebooks Writing about your reading and keeping an authentic record of your reading life also helps build intrinsic motivation. Standard composition notebooks are an inexpensive and durable notebook for this purpose. I recommend decorating the notebook as a way to increase ownership and pride as well as build community and that culture that supports intrinsic motivation. Model strategies for writing about reading. Then, give students choice in how and what they write. Give them feedback and provide opportunities for them to share their notebooks with each other. (Check back here later for a future blog about notebooks.) 14593734_10101197292987548_403354940_n.jpg
  5. Confer With Readers Meet every chance you get and talk with students about their reading. Notice I said “talk” as in conversation  not interrogation! Ask the student how he or she chose or found the book. Ask what he or she thinks of the book so far. What they think the character wants and what’s getting in the way. Ask what they think the character is willing to do to get it. Most of all, listen. Let the student have your undivided attention for seven to ten minutes and tell you about their book and what they think. Be fully present. Write down some notes. Write the title of the book in your own reader’s notebook if it’s a book you haven’t read and want to read. Students will love that you care enough to read their book.  Give the student a compliment about something he/she is doing well as a reader and just leave it at that to start with. There will be plenty of time later to teach something. For now, use these conferences to help students build enthusiasm and INTRINSIC MOTIVATION FOR READING. CONFERING .jpg