5 Tips to Motivate High School Students to Read for Fun

Oct 30, 2023
Reading w dog

We know that developing good reading and comprehension skills is essential for younger learners, but continuing to sharpen those skills, along with nurturing good reading habits outside of assigned texts, is just as important in higher grades. Strong reading skills can have many benefits academically, professionally, personally, and even socially, but in order to reap these benefits, students must first have the motivation to read.

A new study published in Reading and Writing found that students who disliked reading frequently attributed their negative outlook to classroom experiences, specifically having to analyze texts for classes. It seems that some students’ motivation to read for pleasure fades once they begin to feel like reading is work, rather than an activity they can do for fun.

Still, breaking down and taking a deeper look at writing and language through reading is critical to learning how to love and appreciate the written word, as well as to develop comprehension skills. So, how can educators help their high school students preserve a love of reading for pleasure with positive classroom experiences? Here are a few ideas to get started:

Squeeze in some D.E.A.R. time

Time is always precious in the classroom, but whenever possible, try to set aside 15–20 minutes of class time to devote to independent reading. Not only are you guaranteed that your students will at the very least have to be reading something outside of class, but you are also working in a moment of “Drop Everything and Read” (D.E.A.R.) time, which can add a calm, quiet, and mindful moment to the busy school day.

Try to encourage students to read something other than what is assigned for class, and if classroom space allows, try to have a few extra books lying around that students can borrow for the duration of independent reading time or a little classroom library where they can trade and exchange books. If your students have access to mobile devices, you can also incorporate e-books in the public domain.

Talk about how much you love reading

One of the best ways to nurture a classroom culture that celebrates reading is to consistently emphasize the joy and discovery of reading by sharing your own love for it. Tell your students about what you’re reading, why you like your favorite authors, what stories mean the most to you, and why you love to read. Teachers are role models, and showing your students how much you love reading will help them see that you aren’t just telling them to read outside of class to give them more work to do. You will demonstrate by example that reading for fun can be an enjoyable, social, and even relaxing pastime.

Educators can consider including the following book titles to their classroom library or suggested reading lists.

Book recommendations:

1. The People We Keep by Allison Larkin

April Sawicki leaves her father, broken motorhome, school, and diner job in Little River, New York, in 1994. She randomly stops in Ithaca and finds a sense of community at a coffeeshop where she makes friends and writes songs about her life. She ponders where she came from, who she may leave behind, and who she can become.

2. Black Birds in the Sky by Brandy Colbert

This powerful nonfiction book examines the history and legacy of one of the most deadly and destructive acts of racial violence in American history: the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

3. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe, there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better? Nora Seed travels to the Midnight Library and faces the possibility of changing her life, searching within herself to decide what is fulfilling, such as careers and relationships, and what makes her who she is.

4. I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai spoke out at age fifteen when the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan and fought for her right to an education. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. Malala’s remarkable recovery has taken her from a family uprooted by global terrorism and the fight for girls’ education to the United Nations. At sixteen, she became a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize. Her autobiography is a stirring story about the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world.

5. Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman

Shawn McDaniel is in a wheelchair, unable to voluntarily move a muscle. For all Shawn's father knows, his son may be suffering and want a release. As long as he is unable to communicate his feelings, Shawn's life is in danger. In this novel, we see what no one else does—a rich breathing life.

6. Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Soon to be adapted as a Netflix series, this young adult thriller is about a Native teen who must root out the corruption in her community. Eighteen-year-old, biracial Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, either in her hometown or on the Ojibwe reservation. When she witnesses a murder, she agrees to go undercover in an FBI investigation of a lethal new drug.

7. The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

In this first book of a twisty, thrilling trilogy, high school student Avery Grambs inherits a fortune from mysterious, eccentric billionaire she doesn’t even know. She must move into his mansion with his extended family he disinherited, which is filled with secret passages, puzzles, riddles, and codes.

Embrace variety

One of the most beautiful things about stories is all the different ways they can be told. Encourage your students to explore different genres, formats, and subject matter, as well as a variety of authors from different backgrounds and cultures. (And don’t forget about translated texts from foreign languages too!) Exposing your students to a variety of texts helps them uncover what suits them best and truly connect with what they are reading. It’s also a great way to introduce students to new ideas, voices, perspectives, and experiences.

Often, students may even have misconceptions about what qualifies as a “real” book—they may have the idea that something like a graphic novel, a short story compilation, a book of poetry, or even an e-book or an audiobook doesn’t qualify as a “real” book because it’s not what they’re used to seeing in class. Helping your students see that there is no right or wrong way to love reading and that they are free to choose whatever format they like gives them ownership over their experience and makes reading outside of class feel like a hobby rather than extra work.

Encourage rereading

To some students, the idea of rereading something they’ve already finished might sound like a waste of time. Some think that, after all, what’s the point if they already know how it ends? But, just like rewatching a movie or a TV show already seen, rereading a good book is another way to enjoy the story all over again, revisit favorite characters, pick up on details that may have been missed the first time around, and develop a deeper understanding of the story’s meaning. And just like turning to shows that have already been seen when nothing new to watch can be found, rereading a book can be comforting and even relaxing.

Returning to a text after some time can also offer a new perspective, both on the story and the reader. If your students are struggling to find something new to read, encourage them to revisit a story they have already read.

Don’t grade reading logs

Reading logs are usually a staple in younger classrooms where students need practice to develop their budding literacy skills, but using a log or a reading tracker with older grades can help ensure that students are reading outside of the classroom regularly.

In order to prevent recording outside reading from feeling like extra work for students, make it an optional opportunity with some kind of small incentive like a free homework pass at the end of the quarter for turning in a completed log or a small prize from a treasure box. Make sure that your students know it’s not about assigning extra work but rather about rewarding a good habit. Using a simple toolcan also help minimize the amount of effort required to keep track of reading so that students can quickly keep track of how often they read and then get back to focusing on what they are reading.

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