Illustration of "Brianna's Book Stop" by Jeffrey Duckworth / Book Cover for WHERE DO DIGGERS SLEEP AT NIGHT? (on the bookmobile) by Christian Slade

Monday, July 1, 2013

Motivating Young Readers: Rewarding Reading with... Reading!

Happy Keep Reading Fun Day!  Today I'm going to talk about fun ways to motivate young readers.

As mom to a beginning reader, this is a topic that is frequently on my mind. And it was also a topic that was on my mind a great deal when I was a classroom teacher and when I taught reading in private practice.

Before I begin talking about motivating young readers, I have to talk about how I don't try to motivate young readers. I don't offer pizza parties for reading or points or prizes. I'm sure these motivations can work for some young readers and their parents and teachers, but they don't match with my philosophy of teaching reading.

I want my kids and my students to know that reading is its own reward. But, when readers are at the very beginning stages, reading isn't as rewarding as it will be when they are a bit more advanced. They can't yet just curl up with a good book and get lost in the world of a story.

So I have found a variety of other ways to reward reading with.... reading!

Here are just a few of the ways I've found to motivate young readers:

1. You Read to Me, I'll Read to You

Mary Ann Hoberman and Michael Emberley have an awesome series of books by this name. These books have parts for the parent to read, parts for the child to read and parts for the two to read together. Definitely worth checking out if you have a young reader at the right level!

But my son and I have also done a variation on this theme that can work with any two books. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my oldest is crazy for chapter book read-alouds. And I have found a way to use these read alouds to motivate him to read on his own.

Basically we alternate reading. He reads a few pages and I read a few pages (or a chapter). He reads from a book at his level and I read from one of the the chapter books that he can't yet read on his own but loves to listen to.

I love how incredibly flexible this technique is. It will really work with any two books.

And my son is so eager to hear chapter after chapter of the read-aloud that his own reading flies by! Yay!

2.  More Turn-Taking!

Alternating pages within the same book is another great variation on the above technique. My son and I did this recently with Nate the Great-- a wonderful mystery series for young readers.

I read a page, then he read a page. Doing it this way, we flew through the book. Not only was this technique motivating, it also provided him with a wonderful reading role model. As I read alternate pages, he could hear these pages read with the fluency and expression of a more advanced reader. And he began to read with more fluency and expression himself.

Plus it was so much fun!

3. Give a Young Reader A Real Audience

Audiences can be very motivating for a beginner in any discipline. I loved to have book parties where we celebrated the stories that my second and third graders had published. And my son always gets a boost of motivation when he is preparing for a violin recital.

For reading, we recently found a fun and natural way to give my son an audience. He reads bedtime stories to Daddy. This is so much fun for both father and son! My son will choose a book he has already practiced for school and proudly read it aloud to his dad. 

When I was a classroom teacher, my students got a similar real-world audience for their reading by reading to their younger "reading buddies". Each student would prepare a book and read it aloud to an admiring younger student. It was awesome! Definitely a highlight of each week!

4. Reading Our Way to the Stars

This last idea was from when I was a classroom teacher. I wanted my students to know that reading at home was truly important. So when the students turned in their reading logs each week, we added up the total minutes that the class had spent reading.

For every two hours my students had spent reading we traveled 1 million kilometers closer to the sun. (My whole back window had Earth, Venus, Mercury and the sun spread out with the kilometers marked off along a track. Each week my students' home reading moved them closer and closer to the sun.)

Finally, when they reached the sun, we had a...  whole day reading slumber party!

My students came into school in pajamas and with sleeping bags. And we spent the whole day reading. And listening to wonderful read-alouds.  (One year we were even lucky enough to have a father who read books on tape professionally come into the class and read aloud.)

This was one of my favorite ways to reward reading with reading! And it was always very popular with my students too! Such a fun day!

5. The Power of Motivating Books

I wrote about this before, but I can't leave it out of a post about motivating young readers with motivating books. Helping kids find books that are about topics they care about is incredibly important to creating motivated young readers!

So, what ways have you found to motivate young readers? Please share! I'm always curious for new ideas!


  1. Our local libraries used to motivate summer reading by having kids who reached a set goal with prizes. Mine, not in need of extra motivation, (they were lucky that way) earned their free trips across the bay on a fairy boat this way.

    1. So wonderful that your kids didn't need extra motivation to read, Mirka! And cool to win free tips on a ferry boat!

      I had such fun doing the summer reading program at my local library when I was a kid! Our local library now has some really nice (reading-focused) prizes that I think are pretty cool! After 5 books kids get a window sticker that says, "I'm a Reading Ranger. I have read 5 books and counting!". After 10 books, kids get a free paperback book and a trip to an awesome natural history museum. And kids who turn in their forms by August 5th get put in a drawing to win a chance to participate in a "Breakfast of Champions" at the Space Needle. I really love how the focus is on celebrating readers and reading!

      (We just have to get more organized about recording the books my sons finish! Must become better record keepers in our family. :o) )