3 Simple Ways to Spark Motivation with Your Readers

sparking-motivation title image

Motivation…it’s what I’m lacking this morning, but I think motivation is increasing in my classroom, and I thought I’d share a few ways I’ve added spark to make that happen.  I can’t take credit for all the ideas though. Many have come from what I learned by reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. Have you read it? If not, I suggest you grab a copy for this summer.

Over the summer, I read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, and the sequel, Reading in the Wild, which was just released is up next for me as soon as I finish this one.  So what have I taken from this book??


Motivation with Book Choice

Well, in the first few chapters, Donalyn talks about current practices in reading (whole group novels, reading study guides, and the amount of times kids actually spend reading).  We teachers like to talk, and when we spend all the time talking, the kids are getting less and less time to practice.  Whole class novel study…hits about 1/3 of the group.  The other 2/3s are either not interested in the book or read above or below the book’s level.  So what do we do to change this?  The answer is in choice.

Match Reader to Book for increased motivation

One thing students are motivated by is having book options that fit their interests and reading level. We all know “One Size doesn’t Fit All” especially with reading.  Some students need high level picture books (poor attention…picture support…need for vocabulary).  Some students have the perseverance for chapter books, but have decoding struggles.  Books with controlled vocabulary helps with that or getting into a series such as Ready Freddy or Magic Treehouse. Others need to find the right book to fit their interests in order to persevere.  

A little basket with “recommended” books might point children in the right direction.  This child is selecting from my high level picture books basket. (Upper grade teachers…don’t overlook the value in Polacco, DePaola, Cherry, and VanAllsburg.  They have fabulous vocabulary and model plot development and characterization well. Gail Gibbons and Seymour Simon’s nonfiction are challenging too.)

sparking motivation with book recommendations

Making Connections with Your Students improves motivation

Making connections with kids is improves motivation too, and I started after Christmas inviting my kids to come in before school to read.  It’s my planning time, and I carry on with things I am doing in the room much of the time, but this time is building a community of readers and a culture of reading.  It allows me to check in with kids in the morning about the night before, what exciting things are happening outside of school, talk about their favorite sports teams and *about what they’re currently reading*.  

Inviting the kids in motivates them to read and share. Yes, there are times that it’s not convenient to have a crew in my room, and sometimes, I have to cancel with meetings, but I just love it.  I captured this picture yesterday.  It was so quiet in my room that you could have heard a pin drop.  

I have a corner of my room dedicated to my library with cozy beanbags and crate chairs.  The kids just pile in, and I just love it!  Sometimes we’ll head back their for reading group time too.  It’s also not unusual for kids to carry their laptops back, prop them on the crate chair, and type from the floor.  It works for me as some kids don’t “sit well” and need a distraction free area to work.  That motivates them too.

make reading comfortable to increase motivation

Assess Your Readers

Miller categorizes readers as developingdormant, and underground readers.  My kids are mostly developing readers, but a few are dormant.  Developing readers are building fluency and comprehension skills.  They have lags, so book selection for them is really the key to getting them moving along the reading continuum.  

For the dormant reader, motivation is ticket.  They’re fluent and comprehend well, but they just do not like reading and aren’t reading outside of school.  They haven’t found the right books to awaken the inner reader in them.  So what’s the answer?  Well, that’s where we come in.  We need to spark that interest TODAY.  (Well, technically…Monday 😉

Other posts on motivation:

For other ways to spark motivation, you can check out Joanne’s blog, Head Over Heels for Teaching. I would also love if you share your ideas for sparking reading interest in the comments below.  I’d love to hear what others do that works well too.



Carla is a licensed reading specialist with 27 years of experience in the regular classroom (grades 1, 4, and 5), in Title 1 reading, as a tech specialists, and a literacy coach. She has a passion for literacy instruction and meeting the needs of the individual learner.

This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Love this book, Carla…I just started Reading in the Wild last week, too. Some things I've done (with middle school kids) are write blogs and get them doing recommendations to one another. I also do interest surveys and buy them what they want – all the time. And homework – homework is always to read 20 pages of their chapter books. At first they hate it, but then it's just how we do business, and so they get used to it…and then, they love it. They have to read, and they have to be held accountable, and then it's awesome.
    Thanks for sharing about this book! It's a great one!

  2. Oh yes! Blogging with kids is so much fun. I just introduced mine to Edmodo a few weeks ago, and they LOVED it! I love the page minimum. I have done time, but I'm not sure they adhere to it. Pages shows accountability. My kids get bogged down with the amount of other homework they have from science, social studies, and math, so if I can motivate by making reading fun, then I think they'll make time for it. Thanks so much for commenting Michelle! I am so glad I'm not talking to myself. 😉

  3. Great post…like so many you write/

  4. Enjoyed reading your post! Thanks for sharing the good reads–will have to pick them up…

    Sarah @ Hoots N' Hollers

  5. You've motivated me Carla to read this book (my friend let me borrow hers a few months ago and I'm ashamed to say I haven't even opened it!). The fact you posted about the class read aloud only touching 1/3 of the class stresses me out! I love my class read aloud time! I'll definitely have to read more on that chapter to see how I can make sure I'm being effective as possible. Thanks for sharing and linking up a great post! Keep letting those kids in early to read! They love it!
    Head Over Heels For Teaching

  6. I just saw this book on the shelf in our Teacher Library at school. I need to check it out. I too open up my classroom each morning for the kids to come in. Everyone does! I have been doing it for about five years and it just makes our day run so much smoother than having them all pack in at one time. I also use Edmodo daily. I LOVE Edmodo. I assign three to four assignments a week on there. Sometimes it might be a short video, a link to an article on a website of a quick response to something we have been discussing in class. I truly like that you can add stuff to the library and the kids can access those items at any time. My last group of kids still get on the Edmodo group I set up for them and post stuff. 🙂
    Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin'

  7. Great post Carla. This is idea of learning through choice is something that many teachers have trouble with, because although the "one size fit all model" is good–it doesn't ft the needs of all. I just thin of the boys that I work with that are not engaged with anything so we have to go to some bathroom-type humor books because that's what makes them tick (I'll admit it, I'm a fan of bathroom humor). It is tough to give choices to kids, but time and again we see it is what they need. Alright, seriously I could talk about this a lot–but I'll stop


  8. Anonymous

    I read A LOT of children's literature and am able to offer specific recommendations to kids. The students are more likely to read a book if somebody has said, "You will like this specific book" rather than, "Go pick any book and read." Student to student recs are good too (mentioned above) for motivating. Thanks for the post!

  9. Definitely do, Sarah. I'm about 2/3 finished with The Book Whisperer, and I am finding so many points that echo my thoughts exactly. She's at our reading conference next week, and I just can't wait!

  10. Joanne-I think I misled you. What she talks about is the practice of everyone reading the same book, not read aloud time. She actually recommends the use of mentor texts and guided reading. From my adolescent lit class, the key is choice, interest, variety, and lots of talk.

  11. So true. We need to be knowledgeable about authors, styles, topics, and what the kids are interested in. We need to look at their learning styles and reading habits too. I LOVE this book!!!

  12. I loved reading The Book Whisperer! I have not read her new book yet, but I am sure it will be well worth the read. I like that you encourage your students to just come in and read before school begins. I have thought about doing that too, but haven't done it yet. That is something that I would like for my students to do.
    Conversations in Literacy

  13. Oh I am so glad you dropped by. I LOVE your blog. The picture I snapped of my kids is what I want spread all over my room. I just need $$ for more beanbag chairs and pillows! I can not wait to hear her speak this week at our conference, and I even impulsively emailed to see if she'd consider posting on our collaborative blog, Adventures in Literacy Land. I would truly enjoy more dialogue with her.

  14. Ahh…thanks so much Kristen! I really appreciate that. I just heard about that one recently. I haven't received many awards, but I'm not sure how those happen anyway. I truly just love talking about reading, and I truly would LOVE to go back for a doctorate if my senior were not heading to college this fall. Oh well…I'm probably too old anyway.

  15. I have a few eager beavers that are now waiting for me to give the green light, and a few that come in with a little coaxing. I honestly think they love the peace and quiet to begin the day. We have our kids wait in the hallway from 8:15-8:45, and they're supposed to read, but they spend most of that time just talking. Kids roll in a various times, and so I just started having them come on in after they put their things away. It gives them about 30 minutes before morning announcements which is 30 minutes they wouldn't have gotten. I think it helps get into the routine too.

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