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The fall semester has started, and you’re teaching a course that’s heavy on reading assignments. How do you get your students to actually do the reading? Literature courses are often general education courses, which means that many of your students aren’t used to heavy reading loads and have little to no interest in doing all the reading you’ve assigned to them. So, in today’s post, I want to offer three student accountability strategies that can help motivate your students to read their assigned texts. While the strategies might be quite common, I go into detail on how I design these activities for best effect.

So, in today's post, I want to offer three student accountability strategies that can help motivate your students to read their assigned texts. #ELA #edutwitter Share on X

Creative Reading Responses

How do you get students to read the assigned material? Require them to respond to the readings in written or oral form. Sounds a bit too obvious, I’m sure. But the trick here is to design the responses to interest your students in a way that the material they are reading might not. For example, literary analysis papers or summary/opinion pieces might be go-to activities when assigning reading responses, but those don’t have to be the ONLY styles of response you allow your students to complete.

For example, there are many creative activities that can actually interest the students, in a way that’s unlikely when assigning a literary analysis discussion post or paper. [Here’s a description of the one-pager activity that’s pretty trendy at the moment.] I’ve had students create concept maps tied to the novels they are reading for homework, for example. They are tasked with visually tying certain concepts, scenes, characters, etc. with one another and explaining the reasoning behind these connections in class. They like the simplicity of the “written” element of the reading response, but they know they have to be able to back-up their map with textual evidence, as we discuss the maps in class.

I’ve also assigned students to create “still-life” images that they feel represent a novel as a whole. In this ENG 125 assignment, students must create a piece of still-life (via drawing or cutting out images from magazines and such) by picking five objects that they feel best represent the novel. When reading Feed by MT Anderson, many students included an image of a microchip. When reading Simon vs the Homosapien Agenda by Becky Abertalli, many included an image of a computer. What can make for a fascinating written response and class discussion, though, are the objects included in your students’ still-life responses that you would have never thought to include. Once again, the creative element lets students enjoy the reading response activity more than they would if I had only asked for the written description of why those five objects were chosen.

Can students fake knowledge of the readings in these more creative reading responses? Of course. But that’s true for more formal reading responses, as well. The more you can get students interested in the response activity itself, the easier it will be to get them to do the reading for it. Of course, the weight of the responses in grades or points will also influence how willing students are to put in the effort to do the reading. But, I’d rather think more about how to design the activities to help students keep themselves accountable in regard to the reading load, than have students constantly thinking in terms of grades and points when completing class activities.

Reading Quizzes

Another way to get students to read the assigned texts is by having students take reading quizzes. Now, I don’t always assign reading quizzes in my courses. But, it definitely is a strategy to get students to keep up with the reading. I recommend dropping the lowest quiz grade, too. As I tell my students, I understand that doing the reading for my class can’t always be a priority for them with their other activities and responsibilities (especially considering the courses I teach are typically general education courses). So, if they can’t find the time to read one of the assigned novels, that won’t completely skew their overall reading quiz grade. They can also leave it as a back-up in case they get sick or are otherwise not able to attend class on a quiz day.

But, don’t just assign a reading quiz and then move on to another class activity. USE THE QUIZ as a class discussion starter. I talk about how I approach designing my reading quizzes in the video below. I find they really help lighten my lesson planning load.

Video Note: Please ignore how many times I say “right” in this video. Interestingly, I didn’t have to edit this video at all. It’s just one clip after the intro, which has never happened before. But, it seems in exchange for not having to do any second or third takes, I often use filler words like “right” and “okay.” Fascinating (to me, at least).

While I usually let students decide which student or two will summarize their group's answers, every once in a while I'll require every group member to chime in during the presentation. #ELA Share on X

Collaborative In-Class Activities

Lastly, there are so many activities that can be done in a literature classroom based on the day’s readings. I have a whole post about class discussion designs, but what’s key for this student reading accountability strategy is the motivation of collaboration. Or, if you want to use more negative terminology, peer pressure. The way I will describe this last strategy will likely sound a bit manipulative to some. I could take the time to strategically make it sound like the most loving and loveliest approach ever. I do use this approach because I have my students’ best interests at heart, after all. I want them to succeed in my class, and that means doing as much of the assigned reading as possible. But, I feel that it’s more authentic to describe this strategy as follows, because my thought process for including these activities does not stem only from research on the educational benefits of collaboration.

So, why else do I include so many collaborative in-class activities?

If you only have students complete individual-based activities in response to the reading, students will likely respond in two general ways. One, they’ll do the reading because they can only depend on their own knowledge to complete the activity and do well on it. Two, they won’t complete the reading because the activity doesn’t matter enough to them to worry about succeeding at it. What’s one quiz or response really going to do to my grade?

But, if you add in collaborative activities, then you can help motivate at least some students in this latter group. Perhaps they won’t care about completing an individual-based activity because they can’t see how doing poorly on a reading quiz or response will affect their overall grade in any major way. [Note: Do your best to help them see the significance.] But, if they know that they’ll be taking part in a collaborative activity in class, then they know a few of their peers will know if they haven’t done the reading. These group mates might not care about having to pick up the slack of their unprepared group mate once or twice, but consistently disregarding the reading will not endear them to their classmates or to the instructor walking around to check on how the group members are working with each other.

This awareness that their lack of reading knowledge will be quite evident to those around them in class can provide a push to complete the assigned reading. What if my group mates tell the instructor that I didn’t take part in the activity, because I didn’t know what they were talking about? This motivation can be triggered even further by including in-class activities that involve presenting information to the class as a whole. While I usually let students decide which student or two will summarize their group’s answers, every once in a while I’ll require every group member to chime in during the presentation.

Here’s a major group project assignment that requires participation from everyone. My students tend to really enjoy the power this assignment gives them.

Some students don’t need the motivation of collaboration to get them to do the reading. They could just enjoy the reading. Or, they could just feel strongly about doing well in the class and/or doing their best when completing any activity. Some students won’t be able to find the motivation in themselves or via collaboration. They’ll do as little reading as possible in order to pass the class. But, there are plenty who can be motivated by the nature of collaborative projects. They might not care what their instructor thinks, but they care about what their classmates think. This might be a cynical way to describe a major benefit of group activities, but teaching isn’t always rainbows and butterflies.

Final Thoughts

If you want students to keep up with the reading load you’ve assigned them, then sometimes tough love will be necessary. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to get students to at least partially enjoy the activities. Nor does it mean all students will respond in the same way to these three strategies. Do some experimentation in your classroom. Find out what motivates your students to do the reading. Ask them what will help them succeed by doing activities like a Midterm Chat. There’s no perfect approach, which is why I create different types of assignments and provide as many opportunities for student choice as possible.

Comment below: How do you get your students to read the assigned texts?

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Not sure how to get your students to read the assigned texts? Struggling to get a good class discussion going in your general education literature class? Here are 3 strategies that can help.