How do you Motivate Students to Read?

Members of the Institute are currently working with faculty members from Hotel and Restaurant Management on a research project around reading compliance, trying to better understand the factors that contribute to a student’s decision to read course materials. We’re currently administering a survey on the topic, and finalizing an analysis of past focus group data. Based on the data, as well as prior research in the field, some things you might want to consider to motivate and encourage your students to read course materials:

  • Quizzes – short, regularly scheduled reading quizzes provide motivation for students to read. In some instances, these quizzes might be weekly, and worth a very small number of points. In addition to quizzes, some instructors have success with short reading essays, also worth a small number of points. 
  • In-class discussions – integrate active learning elements, like in-class discussion, into your course. Students felt more compelled to read before class when they knew the instructor might call on a random student to answer a reading-related question. Some students even cited the use of i-clickers in class as a motivating factor when deciding to read.
  • Vary reading assignments – students understood the value of text books, but also appreciated various viewpoints, case studies and other sources of reading materials throughout the semester. Students especially appreciated readings that were current, and also readings that illustrated practical application of content being covered in class or the textbook. 
  • Stress long-term benefits – students often read only with short term benefits in mind, such as grades. Instructors should emphasize the long-term importance of course readings, such as being more knowledgeable, having a deeper understanding of a topic, the ability to draw connections between seemingly disparate topics, be better prepared for interviews and the ability to apply a wide range of knowledge to existing challenges.
In addition to things you might want to try to increase reading compliance, the students in our focus groups also identified some instructor behaviors that act as disincentives or demotivators when it comes to course readings. These include:
  • Repeating the book – this was one of the primary reasons students did not read. If an instructor lectures directly from the book, students often decide not to read because they can get the same information in class. 
  • Enthusiasm or interest in the topic – students cited a lack of interest in the content by the instructor as a reason not to read. This might be challenging for some instructors, especially if it’s the 50th time they are teaching the same course. Students will quickly pickup on instructor disinterest in the material, and it might impact their interest as well.
  • Surprise quizzes – this was a tricky point to unpack. Students cited quizzes as a motivating factor, but some flavors of surprise quizzes seemed to demotivate students. For  example, when an instructor ‘threatens’ a pop quiz each week, but never gives one. On the other hand, some students indicated that instructors that give one surprise quiz each week (I know, that doesn’t sound very surprising) acts a motivator to read. To build on this example, it might be that the instructor teaches MWF, and gives a short quiz on one of those days each week based on the readings. 
We hope to learn more about students’ decisions when it comes to course readings through a current survey being administered in various PSU classes. If you happen to teach a course, especially a 100 or 200-level course, and willing to ask your students to participate in the survey, please contact me ( We have the ability to track students that participate if, for instance, you wanted to offer an extra credit point. We plan on analyzing the data and trying to put into practice what we learn at PSU through a variety of Institute workshops and other outreach efforts. 
Feel free to comment below if you have additional strategies you use to motivate your students to read.

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