How To Get More Students To Read Assigned Readings

How many students read assigned reading(s)?

  • According to Kerr and Frese (2017), only 20–30% of undergraduate students complete required readings.

Why don’t students read assigned reading(s)?

  • Doyle (2014) provided one possible explanation: “Students don’t do their reading and other assigned prep work because, based on their experience, they believe that teachers will discuss any important information included in the readings during class” (p. 67).

Other explanations include:

  • Unpreparedness
  • Some students are not good at reading
  • Lack of motivation
  • Time constraints
  • Underestimation of reading importance
  • Belief that instructors will discuss important information in readings during class
  • Readings are not valued in grading system

What are some strategies I can use to get students to read their assigned reading(s)?

  • Structure your class so that students are accountable for their pre-class activities and cannot do well without reading
  • Quiz (retrieval practice and interleaving)
  • One-minute paper at beginning of class
  • Reading responses and guides
  • Learning journals/logs
  • 3-5 minute reading reflection at the beginning of class
  • Tell students about research on retrieval practice
  • Mini-lesson on reading strategies
  • Mini-lesson prior to assigned reading
  • Purposeful reading assignments/reflections
  • Readiness assessment test
  • Ask for reading notes or summary map
  • Just-in-time-teaching (JITT), to use information gathered from quiz performance to help students prepare for exams

How can I get students to see the importance of their course textbook(s)?

  • Review assigned textbook with students
  • Explain why you have selected the course textbook
  • Show enthusiasm for the textbook
  • Explain how to navigate through the book
  • Highlight favorite feature
  • Encourage use of supplemental materials connected with textbook
  • Use the book in class to establish its importance

What assignments are most effective in getting students to read?

  • According to students surveyed in higher education, taking quizzes was the most effective technique at getting them to read (Hattenberg & Steffy, 2013).
  • Short writing assignments was number two on this list.
  • Anything optional, including being called on in class or letting them work on their own, was rated lower.

Should I hold students accountable for assigned reading(s)?

  • Consider assigning 15-30% of the final grade for reading-related activities (e.g., quizzes, reading responses) and inform students about the importance of the retrieval effect.
  • If we don’t grade students on an assignment, they think we regard it as unimportant.

How can I set expectations for good reading?

Remember, students don’t always come to their classes with great reading habits. Consider direct instruction of the kinds of reading you’d like to see your students do:

  • Use text-based strategies:
    • Pre-viewing the selection. This helps “warm up” the brain to get ready to read and look for information.
    • Vocabulary clarification. Should they be looking up every word they don’t know? What should they do before they look it up?
    • Passage clarification. What should they do if there is a whole chunk of text they don’t understand?
    • Visualization. This helps students think about the idea in a new way. It also helps with memory/recall.
    • Summary. This doesn’t have to be a paragraph. It can be an outline or a map!
  • Use strategies that move “off the page,” supporting individual meaning-making and critical thinking. Good readers automatically connect what they are reading to their own experiences and lives. These kinds of personal connections help us to better understand and remember what we are reading. Possible personal connections sentence starters:
    • This reminds me of when …
    • Something similar happened to me when …
    • This sounds like something I’ve read/watched/observed before …
  • Use rhetorical reading strategies.
  • If there are reading strategy workshops advertised on campus, encourage students to attend.

How can I structure class time to focus time on assigned reading(s)?

The following is an example of how to structure a class focused on assigned reading(s) using active learning activities:

  • During the first 5 minutes of class, consider one of the following exercises to begin class using the assigned reading:
    • Open-ended quiz (retrieval practice)
    • One-minute paper for students to reflect on questions on assigned readings
    • Mini-presentation
    • News report
    • Focus with a quote, question, story, problem, or video
    • Make it meaningful team
    • Check for reading notes or summary maps
    • Write/pair/share from a discussion prompt (connection to reading purpose)
  • During class, try reading groups/circles with 5 or 6 students, each with a different role in the group: 
    • Discussion leader- prepare questions to facilitate discussion.     
    • Passage master- identify important passages that provide key information.
    • Creative connector- makes connections between readings and social, cultural, political, and economic ideas.
    • Devil’s advocate- list of questions raised by critics of the authors
    • Reporter- summarizes group discussions.
  • Or during class, you can try Jigsaw readings:
    • Assign different sections of the same reading to different small groups. Small groups identify the 3-5 main points from the section that their classmates need to know as well as examples.
    • Assign different readings on the same topic or allow students to choose from two or three. Students who read the same article should identify the 3-5 main points and examples.
    • Either way, students get ‘regrouped’ with other students who did not read the same section or article. Students teach each other the material.
    • Critical thinking, the extra step: Ask students to find connections between the ideas in the different sections or articles. This is a good time to practice the source integration and citation style you’d like to see in your students’ papers.
  • For the final 5 minutes of class, you can try one of the following active learning exercises:
    • One-minute paper for students to predict what will be covered in next readings (Lang, 2016)
    • Interleaving quiz based on assigned reading and class discussion
    • Focus with a quote, question, story, problem, or video
    • One-minute paper (What did you find most meaningful from the reading and lecture? What did you learn? What is the muddiest point?)
    • 5-minute application exercise (students must identify five ways in which the material they learned in the reading can be applied in outside contexts)
    • 5-minute metacognitive five (How are you learning? What can you do to improve your learning?)

References and Other Sources

Bartolomeo-Maida, M. (2016). The use of learning journals to foster textbook reading in the community college psychology class. College Student Journal, 50(3), 440.

Carney, A. G., Fry, S. W., Gabriele, R. V., & Ballard, M. (2008). Reeling in the big fish: Changing pedagogy to encourage the completion of reading assignments. College Teaching,56(4), 195-200. doi:10.3200/CTCH.56.4.195-200

Ferris, D. (2015). Supporting multilingual writers through the challenges of academic literacy. In N. W. Evans, N. J. Anderson, W. G. Eggington (Eds.), ESL readers and writers in higher education: Understanding challenges, providing support (pp. 148-160). New York, NY: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Gee, J. (2014). Reading circles get students to do the reading. Retrieved from

Harrington, C., & Zakrajsek, T. (2017). Dynamic lecturing: Research-based strategies to enhance lecture effectiveness. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Hattenberg, S. J., and Steffy, K. (2013). Increasing reading compliance of undergraduates: An evaluation of compliance methods. Teaching Sociology, 41 (4), 346–352.

Honeycutt, B. (2016). FLIP the first 5 minutes of class! 50 focusing activities to engage your students and create more time for learning. Raleigh, NC: FLIP It Consulting.

Howard, J. R. (2004). Just-in-time teaching in sociology or how I convinced my students to actually read the assignment. Teaching Sociology, 32, 385-390.

Lang, J. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. Jossey Bass.

Kerr, M. M., & Frese, K. M. (2017). Reading to learn or learning to read? engaging college students in course readings. College Teaching, 65(1), 28-31. doi:10.1080/87567555.2016.1222577

Lei, S. A., Bartlett, K. A., Gorney, S. E., & Herschbach, T. R. (2010). Resistance to reading compliance among college students: Instructors' perspectives. College Student Journal, 44(2), 219.

Maurer, Trent W. and Longfield, Judith (2015) "Using Reading Guides and Online Quizzes to Improve Reading Compliance and Quiz Scores," International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Vol. 9: No. 1, Article 6. Available at:

Nicholson, N., Vela, C., & Cavazos Vela, J. (2017). Strategies to get more students to read assigned materials. Workshop presented at the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE), University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Sappington, J., Kinsey, K., & Munsayac, K. (2002). Two studies of reading compliance among college students. Teaching of Psychology, 29(4), 272-274. doi:10.1207/S15328023TOP2904_02

Vandsburger, E., & Duncan-Daston, R. (2011). Evaluating the study guide as a tool for increasing students' accountability for reading the textbook. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 42(1), 6-23. doi:10.1080/10790195.2011.10850345

CTE Workshop

PPT Presentation