Motivating readers: Make reading relevant

Today we have a special guest blogger, Kate Adams, author of Trio Reading, Oxford University Press.   Kate has some great ideas for connecting students with content.

Krashen points out that the only way we become good readers is by reading (2004). If we gain reading skill by reading, then the key question is how do we motivate students to read?

Grabe and Stoller (2011) assert that “Teachers who build relevance into the curriculum, and by extension the assigned readings, will motivate students” (p. 154).

Here are some ideas for making reading relevant in order to motivate students.

  • Connect readings to students’ lives. Before reading engage students in questions to anticipate the content of the text and connect it to their life experiences. Not only will this help engage them but Grabe (1991) points out that one major source of processing difficulty with second language readers is a lack of schema activation. Our young adult and adult learners bring a plethora of experience to the classroom. We can draw on that experience, validate it in the classroom, and use it as a productive conversation and language activity to activate prior knowledge before reading.

For example, in Trio Readinga new reading curriculum from Oxford University Press for beginning learners, we ask the following questions before students read two texts, the first about a young woman and her self-defining characteristics and the second about the world-famous soccer player Lionel Messi. Reflecting on these questions helps set a purpose for the reading and connect to the author’s purpose, and they create a point of interest for the reader, an entryway into the text:

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  • Questions to draw on the reader’s background knowledge can also be used for informational texts. Tell students that by thinking about the ideas in the text, they will be able to better understand what they read. In fact, research shows that when students take the time to connect to the text, they have better comprehension and recall of the text ideas. Emphasize that they should think about what they know while they read. Use questions to guide them. Here’s an example from an informational text about Google maps in Trio Reading.

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  • You can develop questions like these for any reading. Skim the reading. Identify the topic and think about how it relates to students lives. If there isn’t a clear connection, use a K-W-L chart for students to identify (1) what they know about the topic (2) what they want to learn and (3) what they learned or what they predict they will learn based on the title and the pictures. Alternatively, pull some statements from the text to have students identify as (true/false or exciting/boring, healthy/ not healthy). By previewing the content in the text, you can pique students’ interest and begin a conversation. Now, they want to read to see if their predictions were correct. Now they are thinking about what they know and what they’ll learn. Now they have a purpose for reading.
  • Return to this conversation with the text after reading. Guide students in responding to the text, agreeing or disagreeing, or reflecting on what they learned. For example, in Trio Reading, we ask students to check the statements from the text they agree with and then explain why to a partner. This not only motivates students to engage with the text and share their ideas but it’s also the type of critical thinking academic readers do.
  • Ask questions that allow students to synthesize information from the text with their own ideas.

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  • Ask questions to revisit the author’s purpose of the text. Help students understand the purposes for which we read.

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One of the main ways we can help students become better readers is by motivating them to read. When students make personal connections to the text, activate prior knowledge, and discover the value of reading—what they learned and why people read—they go on to be active readers, to read and engage with the text on their own.


Grabe, W. (1991). Current developments in second language reading research. TESOL Quarterly. Vol. 25 (3) 375-406.

Grabe, W. and Stoller, F. (2011). Teaching and researching reading. Great Britain: Pearson Education.

Krashen, S.D. (2004). The power of reading. Portsmouth NH: Heinemann.

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