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How to Motivate Students: Reading Incentives That Work

Janelle Cox

Learning how to motivate students to read can be quite a challenge. While you may have some students who have a love for reading, you will always find that there will be a few that you just can’t get motivated. For these kids, you have to be creative and think a few fun and unique ways to figure out how to motivate students to read. You can only bribe a student with candy or bookmarks for so long before they get tired of those tactics. As much as you don’t want to “Bribe” your students, offering them a little motivation or small reward can really make a difference. Here a seven reading incentives that teachers use to learn how to motivate students.

How to Motivate Students: It’s Game Time

Just like many of you teachers may have a “Fun Friday” in your classroom to reward your students for all of their hard work during the week, setting aside some time for board games can be an exciting motivator as well. If students have met their reading goal for week (or month, whichever way you want to do it), then they are allowed to bring in a board game from home to play on Friday with their friends.

Party Time

Who doesn’t love a party, and what’s a party without popcorn? An easy, and not to mention healthy, incentive is to have an end-of-the-week party (10-15 minutes max) where all the students who have met their reading goal for the week get to chat with friends, and have a popcorn party before they go home. Pinterest has a lot of creative suggestions for you to do this. My favorite is to bag the popcorn and write a little note that says “Pop Open a Good Book.” And let’s not forget to mention, popcorn is a “Healthy” treat and incentive, so there is no need to feel guilty about this one.

Lending Library

Reward reading with even more reading. A fun idea (also taken from Pinterest of course) is to create a “Readbox,” kind of like the “Redbox” that allows you to rent a movie from the machine. Students are allowed to choose one book from the “Readbox” library as a reward once they meet their reading goal. The key here is to make this “Readbox” a really big deal. These books need to be top-of-the-line, new, or viewed as really special so that students will want to get their hands on these “Exclusive” books.

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Book Trailers

One of the best things about going to the movie theater is watching the movie trailers about the upcoming movies that are not at the theater yet. These trailers seem to really incite the viewer to want to come back to the theater to watch them. YouTube has book trailers where students can view a book before they read it. This is a great way to entice your reluctant readers to want to read. Allow them time to view as many book trailers as they like, or suggest that they watch them at home before they choose the book at school.

Audios and Read-Alouds

Websites like Storyline Online and Scholastic offer tons of read-aloud books where students can listen and follow along to a story. Audio books are another alternative that students may like as an incentive to read more. Try having students meet their reading goal first, then as a reward they can listen to the book either online or by audio, whichever they prefer.

Treasure Chest

Young children love prizes, especially when they are in a treasure chest. They can cost a penny and look like something that you would throw in the garbage, but if they are in a fancy looking treasure chest, then children will want them. Try filling a chest with a lot of different treasures. When students meet their reading goal, allow them to choose a special treasure from the chest. Fancy pencils, erasers, and stickers are all popular items for the little ones, and they won’t break the bank either.

Homework Free Pass

There is not one student who wouldn’t love to earn a get out of homework pass. As an incentive, tell students that once they meet their reading goal, they can earn a homework free pass where they can use it for any homework assignment the following week. If they play their cards right and meet their reading goal each week, then they will have the opportunity to skip one homework assignment each week for the whole school year. Now that is a great reading motivator.

Book parties, dressing up like your favorite character from your favorite book, getting the chance to read outdoors or to a student in another grade, are all a few more enticing ways to get your students to love reading. Try a few or try them all and let us know what your students think!

Do you have any reading incentives that seem to really work for your students? Please share your ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for, as well as a contributing writer to and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.

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