Teaching Opinion

Response: Using the “Fun Factor” To Encourage Student Reading at Home

By Larry Ferlazzo — October 24, 2013 7 min read
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(This is the last post in a three-part series on this topic. You can see Part One here and Part Two here)

Elizabeth W. Rivero asked:

If teachers assign reading as homework and the students are not completing the reading at home, what do you do to get them to do it, other than assign questions?

This question has generated a lot of interest! Part One included responses from educators Donalyn Miller and Myron Dueck, and I threw in my “two cents worth,” too. Dina Strasser and Ariel Sacks shared their thoughts in Part Two.

I’m highlighting a guest response from educator/author Nancy Steineke , as well as comments from many readers.

Response From Nancy Steinke

Nancy Steineke teaches English at Victor J. Andrew High School, located in Tinley Park, Illinois. She is also the author/co-author of several books, including Assessment Live: 10 Real-Time Ways for Kids to Show What They Know, Texts and Lessons for Content-Area Reading, and Texts and Lessons for Literature:

When it comes to homework reading, let’s keep the “fun factor” in mind. No, I don’t think that texts should be simple or cater to the whims of pop culture. I do think that we need to consider what makes reading fun for us. Usually the topic connects with an interest or curiosity. The text is accessible; we don’t need to puzzle over every other word. Finally, we WANT to talk about it with other people because the text raises questions, contradictions, and alternative viewpoints. Who wouldn’t want to finish a reading assignment knowing that it’s going to lead to a great discussion tomorrow?

Below are some specific considerations for retaining rigor yet regaining fun when it comes to reading assignments.

Use Accessible Texts: When text is too hard, students give up. Richard Allington defines an accessible text as one that a student can read with 98% accuracy, encountering about six unfamiliar words per page. While the CCSS demand text complexity, this doesn’t mean offering text that cannot be read independently: independent reading is the definition of homework reading!

Use High Interest Texts: Students are more likely to complete reading assignments they find interesting. While textbooks serve well as resource material, interesting reading comes from the real world. Keep an eye out as you read newspapers or magazines for articles that pertain to your units of study. Use those articles for homework reading and use the textbooks in class to research concepts the articles introduced.

Give Choices: Whenever you can, give students a choice in their reading, whether it’s a choice of three different articles on solar flare or a choice of six different literature circle novels. Just making that choice will give students greater ownership in completing the reading.

Create Interest and Understanding: Pitch the text and hook the reader; make it enticing! Read a bit aloud, discuss an opening paragraph, view a provocative illustration. Also, explicitly teach unfamiliar concepts with visuals. Google Images and YouTube make that quick and easy.

Read Actively: Give students an explicit way to interact with the text: creating discussion questions, drawing a summary picture, etc. Then actively use those notes the following day so that students see their value.

Teach Students to Plan: When reading is assigned, stop and ask students to jot down answers to these questions: How long do you think it will take to complete this reading? Where and when are you going to complete this reading so that you have it finished for tomorrow’s class? For longer reading assignments such as a novel, offer a calendar with all of the reading due dates so that students can plan and, if necessary, read ahead.

Make Post-Reading Collaborative: Make the completion of reading assignments social. When students know they will be engaged in small group discussions, discussions that will suffer if the reading is not completed, they are far more likely to do their homework. Also, if you structure opportunities for student groups to get to know each other and practice necessary collaboration skills, group commitment to the task of reading will increase tremendously.

Responses From Readers


Self selected reading is the best way create interest in reluctant readers. Let them read whatever they want - as long as they’re reading! I tell kids this all the time and they are so happy when you tell them to select things they like.


I believe that it is extremely important for students to be reading self-selected books in an area of interest. Along with that, there needs to be some guidance from an adult that the books are at a “just right” level for that student. I find many students do always chose a book that they can read comfortably.


Have a vibrant SSR program in class that has them start books they can’t wait until next time to read. Have great books available and a teacher who is an active reader who can match kids and books. It’s the best thing I have found.

John Royce:

I suggest (backed by research) four elements to becoming good readers, better readers, readers who desire to read:

* hearing stories and other literary pieces read aloud, from infancy through, to, and beyond school

* sustained, silent, self-selected reading, opportunity to read (how little time we spend on reading in the classroom!)

* role-models, people who clearly believe that books and reading are important, parents as well as teachers, peers even better

* interest and enjoyment - free choice of reading, free choice of reading matter.

Denise Fawcett Facey:

I had two ways of getting students to do assigned reading (i.e. textbook reading): tests and classroom activities. Tests worked because the students knew that I alwaysincluded a few questions that they could only answer by doing the reading. But if I wanted the reading done sooner, I tied it to a classroom activity. For example, I liked to do role-playing activities, small group work and other interactive things. So I might tell my Honors World History students that we would were going to reenact a battle in class the next day and that they should be prepared to role-play a battle strategy that was different from the one used in the actual battle so as to produce a different outcome. In order to participate and to devise a new strategy, they have to read about the battle.

I’d get them to do additional reading for projects and other presentations by allowing them to choose from a long list of selections and/or letting them select whatever book they want on a broad topic that I provide.

Ann Leon

I did my action research on this very topic at CSUS Sacramento (Ann Hsiung Leon, 2007) focusing on elementary students. I found that there are ways to motivate students to read more by: 1) CHOICE in reading material. This can be in groups based on interest or resources based on subject matter. 2) Accountability by DISCUSSION rather than assignment. For my thesis, I used the book club format and students were eager to contribute to their book club and read more as a result. They became more responsible because they cared about the group. We need to consider the purpose of “assigned” reading. If it’s to build a habit of becoming lifelong readers, what motivates us as readers? Of course habits of this nature require lots of coaching and practice to build a community of learners who care about one another.

Many readers used Twitter to respond, and I’ve used Storify to collect their tweets:

Thanks to Nancy and to many readers for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment sharing your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post. As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be including many readers’ comments in the next post.

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