Motivating Learners to Read


A common challenge in teaching is motivating learners to complete the assigned reading. Research suggests many learners aren’t always sure how to read to decipher what areas are most important and how to apply the new information, especially with little frame of reference or prior knowledge (Strauss, 2016). Therefore, developing classroom activities to make reading "an explicit learning device" may contribute to deeper learning and persistence (University of New Mexico, 2009; Jenks, 2016). Here are a few ideas: 

  • Ask Me a Question. Give handouts to prepare learners for in-class discussion by asking, “What  one question would you like me to answer in class about the reading?” (Gooblar, 2014; Hoeft, 2012; Jenks, 2016). 
  • Share Reading Challenges. Learners complete assigned reading and answer the questions like, “Did you find anything difficult or confusing in the reading? Which parts? If you didn’t find anything difficult or confusing, describe what did you find most interesting in the reading. Do you have any questions?” (Schell, 2012).  
  • General Questionnaire. Share a general questionnaire to gauge problems learners are having with the reading (Gooblar, 2014; Hoeft, 2012; Jenks, 2016). Here is a sample critical analysis worksheet to tie into assigned readings (as cited by Jenks, 2016). 
  • Write Up. Short, timed response papers based on the assigned readings (Hoeft, 2012). 
  • Less is more. Assign the most essential, relevant content. 
  • Pop Quiz learners over readings (Hoeft, 2012; Jenks, 2016; Hatteberg & Steffy, 2013). 
  • Graphic Organizers. Use visual-based guides to connect learners with assigned readings; graphic organizers encourage comprehension, knowledge retention, summarizing, and deconstruction skills (Weimer, 2010; Vanderbilt Peabody College, 2017). Click the hyperlinks to review various free templates:  
  • Textbook “Walkthrough." Spend time reviewing the course text by sharing why you've chosen the book and noting the text's learner-specific resources (e.g., key terms, “to the learner” section) (Coffman, 2009). 
  • Make the reading a part of the dialogue. Consistently explain the relevance of reading assignments throughout the term and how they align with learning objectives (Hobson, 2004; CTE, 2017; Jenks, 2016). 
  • In-class reading. Use in-class time (e.g., 15 minutes) for learners to read the most pertinent information before the lecture. 
Motivating learners to read is an ongoing burden for educators, but infusing lesson plans with manageable techniques can foster a holistic learning experience. 


Coffman, S.J. (2009). How to get your students to read what’s assigned. Faculty Focus: Special Report. Retrieved from

Hobson, E.H. (2004). Getting students to read: Fourteen tips. IDEA. Retrieved from 

Jenks, A. (2016, Aug). Why don't students read? Teaching Tools, Cultural Anthropology. Retrieved from 

Vanderbilt Peabody College. (2017). Graphic organizers. Retrieved from 


  • To see what events we may be offering related to assessing learner work, check out our CETL Events Page
  • Schedule a time with CETL staff to discuss motivating students to read in your course. 


Coffman, S.J. (2009). How to get your students to read what’s assigned. Faculty Focus: Special Report. Retrieved from 

Gooblar, D. (2014, September). They haven’t done the reading. Again. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from: 

Hatteberg, S.J., and Steffy, K. (2013). Increasing reading compliance of undergraduates: An evaluation of compliance methods.” Teaching Sociology 41(4). 346–52. 

Hobson, E.H. (2004). Getting students to read: Fourteen tips. IDEA. Retrieved from

Hoeft, M.E. (2012) Why university students don't read: What professors can do to increase compliance. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 6(2). 

Jenks, A. (2016, Aug). Why don't students read? Teaching Tools, Cultural Anthropology. Retrieved from 

Schell, J. (2012). How one professor motivated students to read before a flipped class, and measured their effort. Turn to Your Neighbor [blog]. Retrieved from 

Strauss, V. (2016, Sept.). A telling experiment reveals a big problem among college students: They don’t know how to study. The Washington Post. Retrieved from 

University of New Mexico. (2009). How do I get my students to complete reading assignments?  Retrieved from 

Vanderbilt Peabody College. (2017). Graphic organizers. Retrieved from  

Weimer, M. (2010). Still more on developing reading skills. In M. Weimer (Ed.), 11 Strategies for getting students to read what’s assigned. Retrieved from