Motivating pupils to read 2

This is the second 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 2 - literature article

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

  • Motivation
  • Maintaining and protecting motivation
  • Rounding off the learning experiences
  • 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.

Maintaining and protecting motivation
Support the reading process.

Presenting while-reading tasks with explicit objectives in a motivating way, and diversifying these by incorporating different levels of support and allowing for different forms of response, can help overcome the problem of mixed level and interest classes, engage all pupils and thereby enhance their self-esteem and confidence. Many publishers provide downloadable task sheets to provide ideas or, if possible, work with colleagues to produce worksheets.

Monitor reading.
In the first instance, this involves checking that a certain amount of reading has been done and what has been read has been understood, and building upon that comprehension to motivate further reading. Ideally, this should become interaction with texts read, their interpretation and discussion all of which need to be encouraged. Pupils have to be stimulated to recognise the value of bringing their own expectations and experiences to bear on what they read. Opinions and interpretations must vary, and their exchange and evaluation is a vital part of the interactive learning process, involving language development, cultural awareness and learner growth in overall education terms. Very often there is no one correct answer to a question. The more open that the text is to interpretation, the more rewarding it is likely to be for the pupil.

Have pupils keep a reading diary.
Another form of monitoring which encourages pupil rather than teacher monitoring, is the keeping of a reading diary. This has the advantage of being an individual and personal record, while at the same time documenting and reflecting on work done in or out of class. It can be written in the pupils' own language as well as partly in English, but as pupils' language level improves, they should be encouraged to use more and more English in their reading diaries. Negotiate with pupils and set ground rules that cater for and include all levels. Reading diaries can be arranged under several headings such as

  • Story: Pupils highlight key moments in the plot and compare expectations before reading with what actually happens. Summary skills will often be useful here.
  • Vocabulary: Pupils keep notes of new, unusual, attractive, useful or specialised words.
  • Characters: Pupils make brief notes on characters to establish their importance in the plot, how they develop, and what happens to them in the end. Pupils can also record their own feelings or opinions about the characters, their expectations and results.
  • Setting: This can cover both time and place. Journeys and voyages can be traced; period details and descriptions jotted down and commented on.
  • Narration: Pupils establish the narrative point of view.
  • Genre: Pupils determine the genre.
  • Illustrations: Starting with the cover, any visual materials in the book can be commented on and their contribution to the understanding of the work and enjoyment value considered.
  • Style: This will cover features such as archaism, humour, colloquialism, dialect, specialised language used, register and chapter length.
  • Evaluation: An evaluation stage after reading can also be included in the diary (see below).

Integrate multimedia.
There is no doubt that multimedia adds a motivational dimension. There are many film tie-ins or audio recordings that can be used in combination with a story. In addition, the Internet can be used to research authors, settings and locations, historical details or topic-related information. Software with authoring programmes such as Storyboard (a text reconstruction activity) can be used either by the teacher or groups of pupils on short, favourite passages or summaries, for example. 

Rounding off the learning experiences

  • Display final outcomes. It can be very motivating for pupils to see their efforts displayed. Outcomes can be produced individually or by groups of pupils. If appropriate, involve parents.
  • Encourage positive self-evaluation. As mentioned above, a reading diary can include an evaluation stage to encourage pupils to reflect on some or all of the following:
    • Was the book enjoyable for you? Why or why not?
    • What were your favourite or least favourite moments?
    • Who were your favourite or least favourite characters?
    • Was the book easy for you to read? Why or why not?
    • Would you recommend it to your friends? Why or why not?
    • What did you learn from the book? For example, useful language, factual, cultural, historical, geographical information, etc.
    • Would you like to read another story by the same author? Why or why not?
  • Give honest evaluation. Let pupils know why they did or did not do well and what they can do to improve. We need to be aware of the dangers of an over-reliance on praise, and of the negative effects of punishments and reprimands.

To conclude, viewing motivation as a process and considering how each of the different stages interrelate can help our pupils develop the habit of reading by becoming more self-aware, positive, competent and autonomous and, consequently, motivated to tackle the next authentic text. Happy reading!

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 1

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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