How to Cultivate a Love of Reading in Your Students
The rewards of reading are enormous. Aside from the pleasure it offers us, reading enhances communication skills, sharpens the brain, promotes self-awareness, makes us more empathetic, and reduces stress. Still, there will always be some of us who just don’t enjoy it. And you can’t teach someone to like something they don’t.
Or can you?
Let’s start with pleasure. The only reward mentioned above that motivates us from youth to old age is pleasure. People who love to read do it because they want to, not because they should. But what more of us need to realize is that this pleasure isn’t always private. In fact, more often than not, we read for social pleasure–for the pleasure it brings us to share what we’ve read (or simply that we’ve read) with others.
Reading should not be seen as an activity for introverts. It is a highly extroverted activity, motivated by social acceptance and self-perception. This theory is made evident by our current obsession with “sharing” what we’ve read on social media and keeping our reading lists visible on platforms like Goodreads.
Here are just a handful of reasons why reading is pleasurable, both personally and socially:
1. It gives you information to share with others. Assuming you can remember what you’ve read, it’s a great feeling to be able to chip in on a discussion with facts and figures you’ve come across in your reading. Appearing knowledgeable and well-read to others is a powerful motivator.
2. It gives you a sense of accomplishment. I love snapping shut the pages of a book I’ve meant to read for years–especially if it’s a classic. Not only can I talk about it with others, but I can feel more cultured and accomplished as an individual.
3. It’s a social interaction without the presence of another person. Everything you read was written or said by another person, but, conveniently, that other person isn’t around. In fact, no one’s around but you. Still, by definition, it’s a social interaction. The difference is that it’s judgment-free. However you choose to interpret what’s written, it remains as private as any other thought in your head.
4. It enhances your relationship with yourself: Nothing takes you out of yourself the way a good book does, but at the same time nothing makes you more aware of yourself as an individual, with your own particular tastes, memories, associations, and beliefs. It also makes you aware that you are doing something that’s good for your spirit and mind. A surprising amount of self-respect can come from realizing you’ve chosen to engage in a healthy activity.
5. It’s a cheap opinion. For some reason, possibly because of inclinations left over from early childhood, people love to tell other people what they like and don’t like. Case in point, the popularity of the “like” button on Facebook. Even when we don’t have a reason to back ourselves up, we love telling others what strikes our fancy and what misses the mark. And we are just as proud of our opinions when it comes to reading. I guarantee your students will always enjoy expressing their taste or distaste for an assigned reading, especially when others are around to hear it.
Talking about reading as a social activity is just one piece in a huge puzzle educators need to solve. In order to make future generations job-ready, we of course need to equip them with reading skills. But skills develop so much more easily for those who are passionate in the first place.
Here are 20 tips to help you cultivate a love of reading in your students:
1. Let students read the whole book before you discuss it in class.
Discussing a book can sometimes take the magic out of reading it, especially when you dissect it into unexciting terms like “plot,” “setting,” and “rising action.” Students can post about chapters as they read them, but you shouldn’t interrupt the flow of their experience with a bunch of literary jargon. Instead, discuss a topic that complements their reading, such as historical context or particular literary devices that show up in the book (but don’t reveal that they do until the reading’s finished). Don’t worry that they won’t remember details–on the contrary, they’ll remember more of what they’ve read if they’re fully engaged.
2. Use a learning platform to allow your students to “like” or dislike certain passages, chapters, and events in a book you have assigned.
3. Explain the social value of reading to your students.
4. Compare the social value of different media, including newspapers, novels, academic articles, and blog posts.
5. Don’t just teach literary criticism; highlight its practical use.
Few students will argue over literature after your class, but they might argue over controversial ideas of some kind. Heck, they might even get paid for it. Literary criticism, at its best, is more about criticism than it is about literature.
6. Encourage students to imagine that they will have to relay the information they read to someone else.
7. Offer students memorization tricks to help them retain information.
8. Present books as sources of instant gratification and accomplishment.
9. Let students read whatever they want, whether it’s Twilight or A Tale of Two Cities.
10. Start discussions online to prevent shyness. Then move the discussion into class.
11. Forget privately graded book reports and quizzes. They accomplish nothing. If you want to test understanding, use social pressure: make sure students know that other students will be reading their write-ups.
12. Give students books to take home (and I’m not talking textbooks). Just having books present in the home has been proven to enhance one’s appreciation for reading.
13. Help students see the wider, historical and political context of the importance of reading to enhance their appreciation.
14. If you have to test reading comprehension, don’t just administer grades. Look for patterns of error and hold mini-conferences with students.
15. Invite students to listen to audio books and show them how to add them to their iPods and other devices.
16. Introduce your students to Spreeder and other speed reading apps and discuss how the reading experience differs from what they’re used to.
17. Work at each student’s ability level and incrementally build it up from there.
18. Invite authors to speak.
19. Have your students create e-books.
20. Teach your students to love words.
This could be an entirely separate article, but it’s worth noting here. If your students hate vocabulary, or care nothing for the shape of each letter and the unique way it engages the eye, or know little about the fascinating origins of the terms used today, why should they bother with the whole book? There really is more to reading than even we ourselves acknowledge.