This is the first of two articles that look at ways to apply the process model of motivation as proposed by Dornyei (2001) to a number of suggestions and techniques for making the challenge of reading authentic literature accessible and motivating.

Motivating pupils to read - literature article

This article describes ways to generate initial motivation, the second one shows how to maintain this motivation.

  • Motivation
  • Creating the basic motivational conditions
  • Generating initial motivation
  • References


Motivation is one of the key factors that determine the rate and success of L2 attainment. It provides the main incentive to initiate learning a foreign language and later the determination to persevere and sustain the long and often difficult learning process. Without sufficient motivation, even individuals with the best of abilities cannot accomplish long-term goals. Teachers working in state schools are first and foremost supposed to teach the curriculum, but we cannot ignore the fact that this cannot happen without motivating our learners. In addition, adolescent learners come with their own emotional and psychological baggage and interests making the task of motivating them one of the greatest challenges for teachers. Using authentic literature to supplement core materials is one way of motivating adolescents yet the task of reading a short story or novel in a foreign language can be daunting for many pupils.

Creating the basic motivational conditions

  • Create a pleasant and supportive learning environment. A context which is supportive will encourage pupils to develop their full potential.
  • Establish ground rules or a class contract between yourself and your class regarding behaviour and norms which everyone agrees to. See Greenwood 1997 for an example.
  • Encourage peer support groups which recognise individual pupils' interests, levels, skills and strengths. See also final outcomes below - many of these can be produced as group outcomes thereby exploiting different talents and intelligences within each group.

Generating initial motivation

  • Inform your pupils of why they are being asked to read an authentic text, and explain the benefits to them. For example, exposure to the richness of real English will develop language awareness, language competence and passive vocabulary assimilation, it will develop global rather than discrete comprehension, it will be different to their regular materials and activities and provide variety, it will develop knowledge of the culture of the target language and, overall, will contribute to pupil's long-term language learning goal. Make sure pupils realise that when reading an authentic text the objectives will be different to those for studying a short text so they can form realistic expectations and avoid frustration and disappointment. Tell them they can do it and will enjoy it!
  • Involve pupils in the selection of the text, if possible. For example, if you are using a collection of short stories, give a brief description of each or provide a point of entry (see below) for three or four and organise a class vote for the one pupils like best and, if possible, different groups can work on the story they prefer. Being involved in such decision-making will give pupils a sense of ownership and responsibility. Furthermore, much of successful reading is affected by the way the subject matter relates to the pupil's existing cultural and general knowledge or to subject-specific knowledge. Pupils will be helped in their reading if some of the information is already understood and this will help the learning of new vocabulary. The choice of appropriate texts is important as those which provide 'too low a level of challenge can result in apathy, but a too high a level can lead to over-anxiety or stress' (Williams 1999). The word challenge suggests something that is not easy but that can be overcome, given outside support and encouragement, in addition to the pupil's own hopeful attitude to the outcome. It also suggests something that is worth overcoming because it leads to personal growth and a sense of achievement.
  • Explain how the book is to be worked on. For example, once a week for half an hour in class, fifteen minutes in class and fifteen minutes in the pupils' own time. Make sure the rhythms of reading are built up and class interaction on the reading is developed. How much class time is dedicated to reading will depend on your teaching situation, your curriculum requirements as well as on yourself and your pupils.
  • Prepare your pupils. Most pupils will need help in making the leap from teacher-guided close study of graded short texts to authentic literature. Encourage pupils to think about their approaches to reading and how to build their confidence. Allay fears they may have about not understanding every word by emphasising that 100 per cent comprehension is not necessary to understand the overall meaning. They should use all available clues from the language, the context and from the illustrations, where relevant, to help make sense of the book. We need to bear in mind that 'training of pupils to be hopeful and robust in the face of a challenge, and to develop and use strategies to deal with 'difficulty' is very much the teacher's responsibility' (Rixon 1995). Therefore, train pupils in some of the strategies needed for effective reading such as previewing, skimming and scanning, inferring meaning etc., and explain that support will be provided (see below).
  • Provide a point of entry. This could be a scene from a story, an illustration or any paragraph or even page can be looked at or read in class before the actual reading of the whole book begins. The main criterion is for the material to be accessible to the pupils and sufficiently stimulating to arouse interest and motivate and give a flavour of the work in terms of setting, characters, and narration etc. It can provide a starting point (and a future point of reference throughout the reading) for all subsequent reader involvement with the text. The point of entry should be able to be read largely without explanation, and the pupils should be encouraged to react to the stimuli the passage contains. Pupils can predict what the story will be about or express a reaction (positive or negative) to the material. If there is a film tie-in or audio recording of a story containing sound effects, these could also be used as points of entry. Appendix 1 provides an example of a point of entry for Treasure Island.
  • Provide pre-reading stimuli. This is a before-reading stage involving, for example, previewing the title and the cover illustration, the back cover, information about the author, looking at the list of contents or chapter headings, and looking through the book to get an impression of layout, print size and illustrations. Pre-reading stimuli will also exploit various elements which lead into the story involving stimulating pupils' interest, eliciting vocabulary, introducing characters and setting, making predictions about genre and using prior knowledge to contextualise a story and to relate it to what they already know. For example, for Treasure Island ask pupils what they know about pirates and pirates' tales. What do the stories have in common? (Treasure, violence, excitement, mutiny, etc.)
  • Inform pupils of a final outcome. Many stories lead naturally to a stimulating outcome such as acting out a story, producing a poster, creating a quiz, a role-play, writing a summary, a letter, a book review, or questionnaire, organising a project or a display, recording favourite passages complete with sound effects, directing a TV book programme, etc. Knowing that their work is leading towards something concrete and relevant can help pupils invest the necessary effort and persevere throughout the reading process.


Dornyei, Z. 2001. Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom, CUP.
Ellis, G., McRae, J. 1991. The Extensive Reading Handbook for Secondary Teachers, Penguin English
Greenwood, J. 1997. 'Promises, promises class contract', Activity Box, CUP
Rixon, S. 1995. 'What is "Too Difficult" for young learners of English to understand?', The Journal, Vol.2, N° 1, TESOL France in association with the British Council
Wida Software, Storyboard
Williams, M. 1999. 'Motivation in language learning', English Teaching Professional 13: 6-8

Motivating pupils to read part 2

Gail Ellis, Head of Young Learners Centre, The British Council, Paris and Special Lecturer in the School of Education, University of Nottingham


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