Motivating Your Students to Read Literature as a New English Teacher


Reading literature is essential to our lives, but motivating students to read can be challenging, especially as a new English teacher. That's why it's important to make sure, as a new English teacher, that you do everything you can to promote the importance of reading.

Why Students Need to Read

According to Kylene Beers, an award-winning teacher and the author of When Kids Can't Read/What Teachers Can Do, ''Literature offers our students the chance to think not only about the characters they meet in the pages of the books, but also about their own lives… We want students considering situations from another point of view, experiencing things they have never before experienced; we want them developing empathy. We want them reading literature.''

Literature opens doors for students. It exposes them to new ideas and experiences. It gives them unique perspectives. It allows them to learn and to escape. It entertains and informs. It makes them ask questions. And, ultimately, literature enriches their lives.

So if all of this is true - and it is! - how can we get students excited about reading literature?

Every student is different and what motivates one student to read could be completely different from what motivates another student. However, there are certain strategies that you can use in your classroom to encourage reading and get your students to love literature.

student reading

Model Reading for Your Students

Your students aren't going to read if they believe you aren't reading. For this reason, you need to model reading for your students and show them how much you love to read. How can you do this in the classroom?

For starters, talk about books and reading as much as possible. Share your reading habits with your students and tell them about what you're currently reading. Enthusiasm is contagious and if your students see that you're excited about reading and books, they will also get excited.

You should also show students your reading process. Read a passage aloud to your students and pause to ask questions or make observations about the text. By sharing these insights and your reading process with students, you're giving them to tools to be readers on their own.

Make Reading Material Relevant

Students aren't going to be interested in reading books that they can't relate to. That's why it's your job as their teacher to help them make the connections between the literature they are reading and their actual lives. So how can you help students relate to literature?

students in English class

First, find out what they're interested in and then find books that match those interests. This is a good way to ease students into reading. But students aren't always going to be able to read books that interest them right off the bat. A student who loves horses can't only read books about horses.

Another motivating factor might be to set the scene of a book. If your students are going to read about a character at the turn of the century, show them a video about life during that time. Ask questions that activate their prior knowledge on a subject. Find out what they would do if put into a similar situation. Doing this not only makes the reading relevant, but it also gets them excited to find out what's going to happen in a book.

Make Reading Collaborative

After you've read a good book, do you want to keep your experience to yourself or do you want to share it with someone else? Although we tend to read books individually, we can't help but want to share our reading experience with another person or a whole group of people.

As an English teacher, you should foster the idea of making reading a social and collaborative experience. You should encourage your students to share their thoughts about literature with their peers. This allows students to form and voice their own ideas while also hearing ideas they may not have considered. You can make reading collaborative in a variety of ways that include:

  • Working in pairs or small groups on an assignment or project
  • Having students write about books and sharing that writing with classmates
  • Establishing literature circles for in-depth discussions
  • Creating a book club or reading group

students reading together outside

Build Reading Confidence

Many students dislike reading because they think it's too hard or confusing. Teachers can help students change that way of thinking by building their reading confidence, which opens them up to being successful readers.

One way to help reluctant readers is to provide them with reading strategies that will help them break down and understand the text. By giving students the tools to be better readers, they'll be more confident in their reading skills and will want to continue their reading journey.

Another way to build confidence is to give specific and positive feedback. Many times, a teacher might say 'great job' to a student. And while they may have done a great job, that feedback is too general and, over time, becomes meaningless. If your feedback is more specific, however, a student will know how they're progressing in their reading and will be more confident to challenge themselves. You might say, 'I really like how you connected your own life to the character's life. It tells me that you're invested in what happens to them in the story.'

These are just a few of the many strategies that you can use in the classroom to motivate your students to read literature. If you want more ideas, check out our lesson on Strategies for Motivating Students to Read and start implementing them in your classroom today!

By Melissa Kreindel
January 2019
teachers engaging students

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