Ten ways to get your students to want to read

Reading is a passion of mine and I believe it is not only a wonderful hoby, but also a fundamental way of finding out about everything around us. How can we instil the same enthusiasm in students? Reading in English isn’t easy in the early stages and maybe students think that, like 99% of things a teacher thrusts into their lives, it is boring. Here are ten ideas which may help you get your students reading.

1. Whet their appetite. Show them the covers of ten books and just looking at the cover, they have to discuss what they think happens in the story. They can also try to predict what words may be the most common (as decided by wordle (see number 5).).

2. Let them choose. Still looking at the covers, they should choose one book that they might want to read, and one that the definitely wouldn’t want to read. (Make sure you have a good range of love stories, crime stories, sci-fi, comedy etc)

3. Don’t expect them all to read the same thing. Bring a wide variety of reading material into the classroom: Magazines, books, leaflets picked up on holiday, anything that you think might interest them.

4. Wean them off their desire to reach for a dictionary EVERY time they are confronted with a new word. I give students a short text and ask them to underline words they have not seen before. Then divide the new words into:

a) this is similar to a word in my language

b) I can understand the word from the context

c) I can’t understand the word from context but I can still understand the overall text

d) Not knowing this word prevents me from understanding the whole text.

Good students tend to have some category b words, and a few c words, but surprisingly few, if any, d words.

5. Wordle. Wordle is a wonderful piece of software http://www.wordle.net which displays word clouds in a variety of fantastic shapes and colours and the frequency of a word. Looking at a word cloud from the first part of a book or article, exposes students to the words in an engaging way. You can ask them to look for, for example, names of countries, adjectives, something you like, something you don’t like, a word they would like to know the meaning of, etc. When the students see the words in the book/article, they will be revisiting ‘old friends’.

Chaos with Jason wordle

Here is a wordle I made for a chapter of Chaos with Jason. Click on the image to make it larger then look at the words. What do you think the chapter is about? Does it make you want to read the book to find out? Perhaps this could be the inspiration for a writing exercise. 



6. Challenge them to write like a native speaker. Write a sentence on the board such as ‘Barry loves chocolate’. Then ask the students to add one word to that sentence so that it sounds natural. Barry loves French chocolate. Barry loves eating chocolate. Barry always loves eating chocolate. Friendless Barry loves chocolate etc. Then ask them to add two words, written together, into the sentence. For example My friend Barry loves chocolate. Barry, when depressed, loves chocolate. Barry loves chocolate in bed etc. Finally get them to add three words to the sentence. Barry, who is Irish, loves chocolate. Barry loves eating lots of chocolate. etc. Once they have done this, challenge them to find a sentence in one of the books/magazines. They then add either one, two or three words to the sentence and write it out, NOT indicating which words they have added. You are then the sentence detective and try to spot which word/s they have added. They should tell you how many words they added. If you detect them, you get that number of points. If you don’t detect them, they get the points. Playing teacher against the class it is a lot of fun. But not only is it fun, look at how much reading they are doing, looking for a suitable sentence – lots – and they don’t even notice.

7. Listen and read. Get (or make) a recording of the book/article. Play the recording to the students who listen and follow the text. Stop the recording. Who can tell you what the next word is? Personally I don’t encourage students to read out loud. Reading is one skill, speaking is another skill. Why make students do both at the same time? You wouldn’t ask them to ride a unicycle and juggle five eggs.

8. Matching sentences. Look through a book/article and find a frequent conjunction like ‘because’ ‘so’ ‘until’ etc. Then print out some sentences which have the word in it, but cut them in half, just after the key conjunction. For example I bought you some flowers because [cut] I love you. I was taken to hospital because [cut] my leg was broken in three places. Already you can see some potential funny sentences. A nice way to do this to print out two sets of the sentences, one on yellow card, one on blue card. Then use the blue cards to be the first half of the sentence and the yellow to be the second half (or vice versa). Encourage the students to read the sentences to each other rather than showing them to other students or reading over someone’s shoulder. Can they match up all the pairs successfully? They’ll have to read the book to find out.

9. What’s the missing word? Look through the book/article and find a word that appears quite frequently. Then print out five or ten cards with sentences on them but one word (the same word from all five sentences) is missing. Can your students work out which one? I usually don’t make an appointment with the dentist ______ I have toothache. I find it very hard to wait _______ xmas before opening my presents. I’ll love you ______ the day I die. Got the missing word?

10. Comprehension exercises. Most graded readers have comprehension exercises but how many students, having got to the end of a graded reader say, “Wow, I can’t wait to do some comprehension exercises based on this book.”? Not many. I think it is nice if the students can tell their friends if they enjoyed (or hated) the book but I would hope the only question that comes after reading is from the student: “Can I have another one please?”

If you have any more ideas, I would love to hear from you – leave a comment below

11. Circle Reading An idea from Karen De La Vergne, a French teacher in the US: I use a 1-minute read way to interest them in books. I bring in enough books so that there is one for each student. (20 books – 20 students) We sit in a circle. Each student takes a book. They all read from their book for 1 minute only. When I call time, they pass the book to the right. We do this five or six times, so that each student has a taste of five or six books.

Then we discuss in French what we have read and which books began in an interesting way. They’re determined to prove to others that their choices are best. It’s fun and non-threatening.


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