Encourage students to read

September 24, 2019 | Susan Hall / WKU Writing Consortium, Claudia Stanny (Ed)

Encourage students to read

"From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it." – Groucho Marx

Most of us have experienced this downward spiral: We assign reading. Students find it challenging and don’t complete it before a scheduled class discussion. When we begin facilitating the discussion, we encounter blank faces, so we replace the discussion with an ad hoc lecture on the reading. We assign more reading. Students learn that they don’t really need to read and skip the next reading assignment. We again encounter blank faces and again replace a planned discussion with a summary of the contents of the reading. As the spiral continues, we become more frustrated and students lose opportunities to engage in the richness of the course content and to develop the reading skills they need.

Three suggestions to motivate students to read and prepare for discussion.

  • Stop the downward spiral of non-reading early. The first time students are unprepared for discussion, Mary Ann Weimer (2010) suggests that instructors should calmly say something like the following: “This article is really important. Too bad you aren’t ready to work with it as I had planned.” Then begin an alternative activity designed for just that moment. Avoid scolding – but do not summarize the reading, either. Gooblar (2014) suggests putting students in small groups. Ask them to respond to a set of reading discussion questions. Prepare a handout with questions that might work with any of the readings: What was the main focus of the assigned reading? What were the main points the author(s) made? What was difficult to understand?
  • Be proactive and provide background knowledge that will help students understand the text. Instructors often begin discussion of an assigned reading with a short lecture on background knowledge that helps students understand the text. John Bean (2011) suggests shifting this overview to the end of the previous class, when we make the assignment. Identify the central focus of the reading. Alert students to a tricky passage or an important term they will encounter. Record these short introductions (with a text of your presentation) and post them in eLearning.
  • Create a reading assignment to guide the reading and structure the discussion in class. Norman Eng (2017) proposes an activity he calls “question, quotation, comment” (QQC). As students read, they note a question, select an interesting quotation, or make a comment; the instructor then devotes 10 or 15 minutes to QQCs. Eng suggests three ways to make QQCs work. Use them regularly. Call on students randomly rather than waiting for the typical volunteers. Use this “cold calling” to engage many students but avoid deliberately embarrassing students who are momentarily distracted.


Bean, J. C. (2011). Engaging ideas. 2nd. ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Eng, N. (2017). Teaching College. New York: Norman Eng.

Gooblar, D. (2014, September 14). They haven’t done the reading. Again. Pedagogy Unbound: Chronicle Vitae. https://chroniclevitae.com/news/719-they-haven-t-done-the-reading-again  

Gonzalez, J. (2017). 5 Ways College Teachers Can Improve Their Instruction. Cult of Pedagogy. https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/teaching-college/

Weimer, M. (2010). 11 Strategies for Getting Students to Read What’s Assigned.  http://www.facultyfocus.com/free-reports/11-strategies-for-getting-students-to-read-whats-assigned/

This tip is based on “Encouraging Students to Read” submitted by Susan Hall, Director, Center for Teaching and Learning, University of the Incarnate Word, to the Western Kentucky University Teaching Issues Writing Consortium used under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/), which permits non-commercial reuse, adaptation, and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly attributed to the author.

“Encourage student to read,” modified by Claudia J. Stanny is Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by Claudia J. Stanny.

Creative Commons language from UWK Teaching Issues Writing Consortium (November 28, 2016).

09/24/2019 ajc