Challenging and Motivating Kids to Read

Reading is so vital to our lives, not only because we need it to understand the world around us, but also because it’s something we can love. Readers love the idea of finding the perfect book and immersing ourselves in the story or information—but the love of reading doesn’t always happen immediately for everyone.

I recall when I was in school, (I am not going to say how long ago that was because it will give away my age) reading was just not my thing—or at least I didn’t know it was my thing. It wasn’t until years later, when I was introduced to Anne Rice and Dean Koontz in college, that I found the love for reading. I am talking about the love of reading because, in the end, this is what we would want for our kids, but to get there, we have to look at ways of motivating and challenging them to do it.

Why Do Some Kids Fear Reading?

Some kids are just naturals at reading; my oldest daughter was one of these kids. She could tell you from a young age what kind of books she liked, and we never had to “make her” read. So what if your student doesn’t even want to read? How do you motivate and challenge them? 

Before I go into ways I have found to motivate kids to read; I think it’s essential to briefly discuss why some kids are apprehensive about reading. When I look back at my own experience, I had a difficult time with understanding some of the concepts of reading and felt I was just not good at it, so text turned me off. There can be a number of reasons why a child does not like to read, from fear of being labeled the “slow reader” to worry about losing their focus and forgetting what they just read. Asking why will help you better understand your students and find a powerful motivator to reach them. 

Finding a Motivator

Motivation is different for everyone. Some kids read for the love of reading, other kids read because they know that if they study hard, they’ll get a good grade. For those kids who might struggle with reading, helping them to find this motivation is key. Motivation can have a lot to do with a student's confidence. One way to build their confidence is getting kids to read on their level. Another way is providing them with reading options in areas where they are interested. myON is perfect for this because the “recommended” tab offers books based on students’ reading, grade level, and interests.

Another way of motivating kids is looking at all kinds of text available. As I mentioned earlier, my oldest daughter loved to read; my youngest daughter, on the other hand, liked the idea of reading but just couldn’t finding that “just right” book until she stumbled onto a high school graphic novel. Being engaged by the graphic novel opened her to another genre, and she was shocked but excited. 

Text can come in many forms, just like it comes in many different styles and subjects. It’s essential to allowing students access to everything from news articles to graphic novels. Challenging students to try out these various forms of writing can help inspire their interest and unleash their motivation for reading. One of the reasons I love myON is that the library consists of many forms of text: novels, chapter books, series, graphic novels, and now myON News articles

Thinking Outside the Box

At home or in school, we can drive reading by getting everyone involved. Set up a time and space for everyone to read; some of the time might be spent reading to themselves and some of the time reading out loud. Kids can also read to each other or with you one-on-one. Challenge older kids by having them volunteer to read to younger kids, either at home or in school. Start a book club, where everyone picks a book and then shares what they liked. A reading challenge that tracks the number of books read or time spent reading, can often be the perfect motivation for your competitive students. Providing recognition for a reading achievement, either intrinsically or extrinsically, can be a valuable motivator. 

Be creative with the extrinsic reward; offering lunch with the teacher or administrator, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device to Read on myON), dressing up as your favorite book character, or a movie Friday. Remember that extrinsic rewards can sometimes work against the kids who don’t get them, so it’s essential to help students find their intrinsic motivation. 

Data for Students, Teachers, and Parents

myON data provides a personalized way for kids to be motivated by their reading accomplishments. Seeing how many books they’ve read, how much time they’ve spent reading, and even their Lexile growth is an excellent tool for self-motivation.

Teachers can use the dashboard to review students’ data quickly, then take a moment to personally talk to students about what you see. If you notice a student read two more books this week than last, give them a pat on the back. If the data shows that a student spent time reading a book during the weekend, give them kudos. 

Parents can log in with their student and have them share their favorite book they read this week or any other data they want to share. myON now offers a great new tool to recognize what they are doing with an Individual Report that teachers and students can view and print. The report is an excellent snapshot of the student’s reading data, what books they have read, what their reading interests are, and even if they received a myON award for that particular day. 

I was working with an afterschool program for elementary students, getting them logged in for the first time on myON. I had a 3rd-grader who was a struggling reader, who almost refused to come in and was telling other kids not to go in the room because we were making everyone read. It was kind of comical.

After some convincing and encouragement to go through the initial Lexile exam to get his reading level, he started reading. myON was perfect for him because it put books he would be interested in on his “recommended” tab. In the beginning, I sat with him, talking about his interests and then helping him select books. We explained to the kids that the program offered an extrinsic reward for the top readers. He decided then that he was going to win. Long story short: he was motivated by the competition and ended up winning the top prize—but in the end, he won more than the reward. He took ownership of his own data, showing his parents and even me how much he read. I heard comments from his teachers and parents about how much he had improved in class, not just his studies but behavior. He had even been caught reading a book while walking down the halls, and asked for a series of books for Christmas.

This young man is a perfect example of what motivation can do. He found books that he was interested in and that were on his reading level. myON provided him a safe space with built-in support to help him be a more confident reader. The boost in the beginning was the reward, which led him to value and use his data to further motivate himself. After recognizing his ability, he was able to find his own driving force. Getting students to this point is what we strive to do as teachers and parents. Challenging and motivating our kids can inspire them to fall in love with reading, but most of all it can lead them to be dedicated.

Randi Narcomey-Watson

Randi Narcomey-Watson is a project manager for myON, and has collaborated with communities, school districts, families, and students to help promote literacy using myON. For the last 12 years, she has worked in all areas of education, from a community nonprofit to the Education Department of one of the largest Native American Tribes.