by Susan E. Knell

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could wave a magic wand and turn all reluctant readers into engaged ones? What is it that motivates children to want to read and to continue to read, even when there is no reward, grade, or condition for doing so? Unfortunately, there is no one program, strategy, or reward that will make children want to read. However, Gambrell's (1996) research with first-, third- and fifth-grade children revealed five essential areas that promote engaged reading.

  1. Engaged readers tend to have classrooms and homes that are rich in a variety of books. Classroom and home libraries are important, and they should include books from a variety of genres, topics, and reading levels.
  2. Engaged readers like prior experiences with books. Children love to read and interact with books more than once.
  3. Engaged readers want to choose their own books. Choice is vital to reading engagement. As children learn to self-select their reading materials, they become discriminating and independent readers.
  4. Engaged readers need opportunities for social interaction. Have you ever had a friend tell you that you just had to read a particular book because it was so fabulous? Children also need opportunities to tell their friends and teachers how books made them feel.
  5. Engaged readers view books as the best reward. If we want children to be motivated readers who read for their own purposes, we need to rethink extrinsic reward programs (see Knell, 1999). There is no research base indicating that any organized reading management or incentive program promotes reading motivation. In fact, such programs can actually decrease intrinsic motivation to read, and they take a great deal of your time, money, and energy (see Lamme, Fu, & Allington, 2002). If you desire to use incentives, use free books instead of candy, prizes, or points for rewards.

Following are some guidelines that research reveals do promote reading motivation.

Read aloud to your children. You should read aloud to your children every day, regardless of their age. Reading aloud promotes bonding and instills a greater desire for children to read to themselves. Moreover, it can be the most enjoyable part of the day for you and your children.

Provide many and varied opportunities for children to interact with books. Children need various ways to respond to books, such as writing in journals, dramatizing scenes, creating works of art, and simply talking about books. These interactions promote further appreciation of books.

Use interest surveys with children. Discover their attitudes about reading and where their interests lie, then find books accordingly. (See page 326 for an interest survey.) Reading engagement increases when children find books about their favorite interests.

Give book talks regularly. Advertise newly acquired books by keeping them in a designated basket or decorated box. After giving book talks on each, let children know that they may peruse them during the day. Don't be surprised if, by the end of the day, the basket is empty! A good website for information on book talking is

Provide a conducive environment for quiet reading. Designate a special reading center with comfortable spots for curling up with a good book. Author centers, book arrangements, and collections of children's responses to favorite books should look inviting and show visitors that books and reading are valued.

Provide daily time for children's recreational reading. Allow children to read anything of their choosing for a sustained period each day. During this time, you can either read or confer with individuals about their reading selections.

Integrate technology with reading. Share multiple websites on authors, illustrators, book reviews, and best-sellers.

Stock your classroom library with great books. Keep current by visiting bookstores, reading reviews in journals and online, talking to librarians, attending professional conferences, and visiting publisher and author websites.

Share your own love of books. Bring your personal books to the classroom, so your children can see you reading them during independent reading time. Tell children what you are reading now and what you plan to read next. When you finished a book, tell them how it made you feel. Explain to them how reading books taught you about the world, helped you better understand other people, and showed you how to do new things.

Try the psychological phenomenon of "blessing" the book. Gambrell (1997) relates that when you have introduced a book, read portions of it aloud, and "gushed" over it, your children will want to read it themselves. Adults have strong influential power with their children, and they should use this in a positive and motivating way.

All too often, I have literature students who admit that they never liked to read, and they may never have read an entire book before taking my course. When I ask them why, most respond that they never found any books that interested them. Because children's books cover nearly ever subject, this means no adult ever introduced them to the right book. One of the most important jobs you have is to find just the right book for the right child at the right time. Then all your children can be motivated to read.