Ways to Help Students Read

Reading textbook and other required material prepares students to be able to answer questions and contribute to classroom discussions. Reading can also help show students the connections between lecture and what they have read. However, many students do not like to read, especially when it’s required reading! Although there is a direct correlation between reading required material and course grades, many students avoid reading. Some of the reasons students do not read range from their lack of understanding complex or new concepts and vocabulary, not knowing exactly what (or how) to read, and not seeing the connection between lecture material and required reading.

Often, faculty offer “incentives” to encourage students to read such as giving pop quizzes, revisiting the course syllabus policy on textbook requirements or sharing words of wisdom (or threats!) about succeeding in class. But in the end, many students avoid what they consider to be the tedious and time-consuming task of reading.

Bean, as cited in Learning Resource Network (n.d.), identifies a number of reasons why university students struggle with reading. These and other reasons why students avoid reading can be addressed by implementing some of the strategies presented in this article.

  • Students today skim for information, similar to how they process information they read online
  • Students often multitask while reading (watch television, scan the internet, listen to music, text friends)
  • Students may not know how to organize their reading based on the structure of textbooks and articles
  • Students can have difficulty understanding the content, language and vocabulary in college textbooks and research articles

In a recent special issue of Faculty Focus, (PWeimer, 2010) 11 articles were compiled that address the problem of students not reading required course material. The following list has been excerpted from this publication and provides strategies that can immediately be implemented to help students become more involved with reading required course material. Authors cited from the 2010 publication include Bandeen, Culver and Morse, and Weimer. Further details can be found in the reference list at the end of this article.

  1. State what you expect your student to do with the textbook and other readings
    • Verbally announce and place in the course syllabus a statement about required readings and how they will be used in course discussions and assessments (exams and assignments)
    • Refer students to specific material in the textbook such as graphs, charts, lists and key words as they relate to lecture material and assessments
  2. Provide an overview and introduction to the textbook and other required readings
    • Explain how the textbook is structured including chapter outlines, word lists, graphics and support material such as an online website and worksheets

  3. Connect the textbook and other readings
    • Show students how to underline key ideas and concepts and write them in the book margins or on paper. Then have students connect this information with lecture material by writing a few questions on identified key ideas and concepts.

  4. Use graphic organizers
    • Demonstrate how students can summarize readings with graphic organizers, concept maps, charts or lists. While doing this, students can also scan chapter readings and make a list of headings, images, bolded words and graphics. They can then write questions that ask about the most important aspects of the chapter or how the chapter is organized. The graphic organizers or concept maps can be submitted for a few points each and or be used to lead classroom discussions.

  5. Reading journals
    • Assign students to create a reading response journal or activity in which each reading assignment is responded to with a question or comment that can be used in classroom discussions or in an online discussion.

  6. Reading study groups
    • Encourage students to join a reading study group in which a few students discuss required readings that focus on key ideas, terms or concepts after which a brief report is generated and submitted for a few points and/or to help lead classroom discussions.

  7. Communicate your expectations regarding the textbook and readings throughout the semester
    • Remind student to bring their textbooks to class (if you will be using it for discussions and activities)
    • Explain to students what (and why) they have to read before class begins

  8. Make it clear that textbook reading requires effort and skill
    • Explain the complexity of college textbooks compared to high school textbooks and other reading material
    • Clarify the techniques necessary for textbooks and other readings and that just skimming or just reading once will be enough to grasp content
    • Share your own reading strategies to help students understand the effort necessary to fully understand complex information
    • Show student how to use a textbook for studying such as rereading, asking questions in class and asking for assistance

  9. Choose the right textbook
    • Select textbooks and reading material that support course topics and lecture material
    • Consider developing a course pack to supplement and/or replace the textbook (or writing your own textbook)

  10. Be a good role model
    • Model best practice by reading the textbook and course material and incorporate it in lectures, assessments and course activities
    • Include an alternative reading list to supplement required textbook and other material and show how these readings can expand understanding and knowledge of course content

  11. Create an end-of-course reading list
    • Provide an annotated reading list at the end of the course that is relevant but not specific to the subject to encourage “reading and learning beyond the classroom” (Dolence, 2004, p.13). This list can extend knowledge beyond the classroom and can help prepare students for subsequent courses in the discipline and employment in the field. The list can include movies, music, poems and popular media to which students would be particularly attracted.

Use these strategies as a starting point as you explore ways to help students read required textbook and course materials. For further information on this and other teaching-related topics, contact Janet Giesen at Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.

References and Selected Resources

Bandeen, H. M. (2010). Pre-reading strategies: Connecting expert understanding and novice learning. . In M. Weimer (Ed.), 11 Strategies for getting students to read what’s assigned. Retrieved September 23, 2010 from http://www.FacultyFocus.com

Culver, T. F., & Morse, L. W. (2010). Helping students use their textbooks more effectively. In M. Weimer (Ed.), 11 Strategies for getting students to read what’s assigned. Retrieved September 23, 2010 from http://www.FacultyFocus.com

Dolence, D. M. (2010). The student-accessible reading list. In M. Weimer (Ed.), 11 Strategies for getting students to read what’s assigned. Retrieved September 23, 2010 from http://www.FacultyFocus.com

Hobson, E. H. (2004). Getting students to read: Fourteen tips. Retrieved September 23, 2010 from http://www.theideacenter.org/sites/default/files/Idea_Paper_40.pdf

Learning Resource Networks, University of Wyoming (n.d.). LeaRNing Notes #1: Teaching critical reading at the college level. Retrieved September 23, 2010, from http://uwacadweb.uwyo.edu/lrn/learningnotes/LeaRNing%20Notes%201.pdf

Roberts, J. C., & Roberts, K. A. (2008). Deep reading, cost benefit, and the construction of meaning: Enhancing reading comprehension and deep learning in sociology courses. Teaching Sociology, Vol. 36, pp. 125-140.

Weimer, M. (Ed.), (July 2010). Faculty Focus Special Report: 11 Strategies for getting students to read what’s assigned. Retrieved September 23, 2010, from http://www.FacultyFocus.com Access this article, which contains the works of several authors in this list, through a free subscription at http://www.FacultyFocus.com

Weimer, M. (2010). Still more on developing reading skills. In M. Weimer (Ed.), 11 Strategies for getting students to read what’s assigned. Retrieved September 23, 2010 from http://www.FacultyFocus.com

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