6 Steps to Foster Student Motivation in Reading Class

The teaching profession is the best profession known to man. No other profession can offer adults the opportunity to mold, shape, and change the lives of youth day after day.

Although educators have high expectations for students, students still manage to fall through the cracks. Some students drop out while other students do not participate in class.

Educators battle negative stereotypes, mainstream culture, and time constraints. However, the most challenging battle is student motivation.

Without student motivation, the best lesson plans fail, the most dedicated teachers fail, and the student fails.

The nonprofit organization, What Kids Can Do (WKCD), solely explores the topic of student motivation. The organization has also published books, including Fires in the Mind, which addresses what motivates students to work hard.

Nancie Atwell is the founder of the Center for Teaching and Learner and has written books including The Reading Zone, which addresses methods to help students become passionate and skilled readers.


Penny Kittle is a high school teacher, reader, and author who wrote Book Love, which outlines tactics to develop passion in adolescent readers.


Both The Reading Zone and Book Love demonstrate how to create lifelong readers by cultivating student motivation.

To develop student motivation in reading class, educators can use the following steps:


1) Intrinsic motivation

Educators must first acknowledge that “grades, stickers, star charts, and prizes are all unnecessary rewards in the process of creating readers” (Kittle 30). Teachers are only scratching the surface with these extrinsic rewards.

Instead, schools need to focus on “crafting an individual reading life of challenge, whim, curiosity and hunger” (Kittle 52). Only when teachers show students the wonderful emotions that reading fosters, lifelong readers are created.


2) Relationships

“We need to figure out how our students can enjoy relationships with books and, as readers, with their teacher and one another” (Atwell 25). Success in life is measured by relationships, not the quantity of decorated degrees or honors an individual earns, nor by the amount of money a person makes.

“The magic formula is the relationship we form…and then put books in their hands that will ignite their own intrinsic motivation to read” (Kittle 35). Once teachers have established a relationship with a student, the teacher can proceed to recommend books and generate conversations about reading.


3) Choice

In order to get students to read, teachers cannot use a cookie-cutter mold. For example, because one student may enjoy fantasy, while another student likes mystery, classes cannot use one class novel and expect all students to participate.

“Kids choose what they read because children who choose books are more likely to grow up to become adults who read books” (Atwell 27). After high school, students will not have teachers to assign The Fountainhead. Teachers need to teach reading skills that demonstrate how to choose books. To get students to actually read books, let them choose.


4) Classroom Environment

To create an interactive and stimulating environment, Kittle suggests to:

• Assign seats
• Change seating assignments every month
• Build talk into everything that happens in the classroom

Atwell also believes in building a collaborative classroom environment by instituting the “dining room table” in which students “talk easily and often about the books we’re reading” (Atwell 75). Allowing students to speak freely about books inspires them to achieve lifelong reader status.

It is not enough to create a collaborative classroom. The physical classroom environment must also support readers. Atwell writes that students need the following:

• Encouragement from the teacher, and advice
• Time to read in school
• Trillions of great books as backups
• Silence
• Book talks to recommend great titles
• Comfortable cushions and pillows

Teachers also need to reduce frustration for students. Students resist reading because they are not good readers. The reader’s workshop, recommended by Kittle and Atwell, allows a reduced level of frustration because each student sets his/her own goals. The teacher and student work together to do so and must “start by being honest…about what we do as readers” (Atwell 17). When this honest collaboration takes place and realistic goals are set, students are set up to succeed.


5) Practicalities

How can teachers get books into the hands of students? First, teachers must begin by recommending books. In Kittle’s classroom, she posts book lists and televised book trailers created by students. She also allows students to cover a wall with book covers and sign their name under the titles they have read. When students see that other students have bought into reading, more nonreaders are reached.

Another key component, developed by Atwell, is the book talk . The book talk involves reader sales pitching a book for the entire class. These valuable talks replace traditional written book reports because students can visibly see the excitement and passion the book created. From listening to book talks, students add titles that generate interest to their “to-read” lists.

Once students begin to read, it is vital that teachers conduct reader conferences.

Conferences allow the teacher to:

• inquire about the student’s reading life
• locate improvement areas
• offer guidance and advice to the reader

Teachers can also note if the student has been fake-reading and not participating in the coursework. “I must take the time to hear, persistently, the struggles and plans of the individual readers in my classroom in order to know them as people and help them develop reading habits…” (Kittle 78).


6) Parent Involvement

When families are on board with education, students can truly flourish. Both Atwell and Kittle acknowledge the family as an imperative component in a student’s education. Kittle sends a letter to parents via internet explaining the independent reading program. Atwell also sends a similar letter to parents every fall explaining the reader’s workshop.