3 Ways to Motivate Young Readers


Question: How do we do a better job of cultivating young readers? 

The panacea to motivate young readers – an observant and informed teacher! Informed educators use variety of tools and resources to cultivate readers; from  reading inventories, and noticing and noting reading behaviors during conferring and small group instruction, teachers can place high-interest books in the hands of their students, as well as identify possible barriers that make accessing a text difficult and limit the enjoyment of reading for many children. Fostering an environment that supports literacy, encourages relationships, and promotes reading as a social activity where ideas and connections are shared with partners or in literature circles can also help to cultivate young readers.

A common currency shared by all students supplying intrinsic means to develop lifelong readers is difficult to pinpoint. Unfortunately, many educators turn to extrinsic rewards as a way to entice students to read. And although research supports an increase in page numbers read through the use of points, rewards, or reading logs; research also concludes that there is where the gains end. Students do not become lifelong readers, and in fact, research shows that overall, extrinsically motivated readers will not increase achievement in the long term (Wigfield & Guthrie, 1997).

With this information and the realization that there is no silver bullet or one program to transform all students into readers, there are factors educators can focus in on to increase student motivation and drive in reading.

Building off of the work of John T. Guthrie who shares 3 reading motivations to target for cultivating young readers: Interest, Dedication, and Confidence.  An interested student enjoys reading, a dedicated student finds value in reading, and a confident student reads because he or she can do it (Gambrell & Morrow, 2015).

3 Ways to Motivate Young Readers

  1. Motivation: Interests


Young readers are motivated by choice. When students have no choice in what they read, they are limited to read what the teacher chooses, squelching passions and interests, similarly to the situation in the previous videos. Students as young as Kindergarten should have choice in their independent books from the classroom library. To optimize choice within the classroom library, educators should estimate needing around 20 books per student. Texts should cover multiple topics, themes, and genres. Don’t forget digital texts and epubs as options in the classroom.  Providing accessible texts for kids is important in a classroom library.  Include books ranging in levels that would be appropriate for your beginning readers, as well as texts that are 2 levels above your advanced readers. (Students should not be limited by levels according to their score when choosing books). Poignant topics and relevant information help to strengthen young readers who are Interest motivated.  Goodreads, a digital space to share the love of reading, also provides lists of books related to themes, genres, and grade-level; a great resource for teachers. Wonderopolis is another resource for students and teachers. Wonderopolis ignites creative thinking, sparks inquiry, and supports young readers by providing resources to dig deeper and question more!

2. Motivation: Dedication 

Although one of my favorite commercials about reading is actually an advertisement for Scotch, it depicts readers who are motivated by dedication. Just as in the commercial illustrated, many of our students are motivated to read because of behavior-related factors. Dedicated readers realize their outcomes are directly related to the effort they put forth. Students are motivated by the value they believe reading has in their lives and will play in their future. Tapping into this belief system, an educator can provide specific examples of how reading can change a person’s life. For instance, the NYTimes Learning Network provided a collection of resources related to Malala, along with other social justice issues for students connect with and explore in the classroom. Similarly, Web of Stories is a website providing a collection of famous scientists, authors, movie makers, and artists telling their stories to inspire others. Located under the “Theme” tab on the site is a collection of more than 300 videos tied to education!

3. Motivation: Confidence    

The third type of motivation that drives young readers is belief-driven, Confidence. To increase confidence in young readers, focus on accessibility, feedback, and expression of learning. A misdiagnosis of a student’s lack of comprehension of a text, often times is actually attributed to vocabulary and accessibility and not comprehension. Informed and observant educators realize these barriers and work to provide access to complex texts through scaffolding, and a rich supply of books and articles at a student’s independent reading level. Technology and digital resources provide an ever-growing supply of leveled texts, especially in the areas of non-fiction. A few of my favorite digital resources to support young readers: NewsELA, JellyBean Scoop, and  TweenTribune . Consistent feedback can also boost confidence in young readers, just as the video demonstrated the growth in language acquisition in the students who were paired with the retired grandparents. Feedback options to consider besides face to face in class: voice comments, virtual book clubs or mentors, or even through video. Recap is a new app that allows students to express understanding by creating a short video response. Classroom threads can be saved and shared, increasing the feedback a student may receive to others beyond the school walls.   

When students leave our classrooms we hope they take with them a love of reading, not because we want them to keep up with coursework demands in the next grade, but because we want students to be lifelong readers! There is not one program or motivating factor that will cultivate every student into a reader. In fact, many students are motivated by a blend of the factors previously mentioned. But, a well-informed and observant teacher can focus their instruction and differentiate content to meet the needs of all students, motivating and cultivating lifelong readers.

Special thanks to George Courous – videos were spot on!


  • Gambrell and Morrow. Best Practices in Literacy Instruction. 2015.
  • Guthrie, John T.”Motivating Students to Read.” Best Practices in Literacy Instruction. 2015.
  • Wigfield, A., and Guthrie, J.T. “Relations of children’s motivation for reading…” Journal of        Education Psychology. 1997.

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