How Do You Make Kids Love Reading?

  • academic vocabulary
  • 08 October, 2017

Blast from the Past: These days we're again hearing much about how requiring classroom reading time makes kids lifelong readers and fosters a love of reading. Given how widespread such practices are these days, one would think that reading is more popular than ever. Of course, that isn't the case. Perhaps requiring students to do something on teacher time isn't the best way to true love. This blog entry from 2017 makes the case for approaches aimed at getting kids to build reading into their lives instead of into ours. I'm intrigued by teachers who find ways to push books home, who help kids to figure out how reading might fit into their out-of-school schedules during summer and the school year, who clear space for kids to talk about what they're doing with reading on their own, and who are willing to listen thoughtfully to those boys and girls who detest independent reading time (rather than to the parents of the kids who already love reading and who are happy to escape from schoolwork to do it). I hope the suggestions here suggest more profound and effective ways for encouraging reading. First published October 8, 2017; re-released on February 8, 2020). 

How do you make kids love reading?

Before I answer, let’s consider something similar.

Several years ago, I invited Bertram Bruce to speak to our graduate students.

Chip is a thoughtful, soft-spoken, Fulbright scholar at Urbana-Champaign who has spent a lot of time considering the role of technology in learning, and he has done some cool studies on reading and community inquiry.

While we were visiting, I asked him a question that was then nagging our Literacy faculty: How could we teach the teachers enrolled in our Master’s program to teach technology in their classrooms? Teacher preparation standards were starting to require that kind of thing and let’s face it, digital technology was (and is) intruding more and more into our lives (reading and otherwise).

I figured he was going to tell me to add a course to our program, a course that would teach how to distinguish a bit from a byte, how to select instructional software, how to write code, and other technology skills. Maybe he’d suggest that our teachers militate for classroom tech centers.

But as I said, Chip is a thoughtful man. He knows his stuff and he knew what it would really take to get teachers to commit to technology.

He said, “Start using technology in your program.” In other words, post readings online, send assignments by email, hold virtual office hours, and so on.

Most people don’t use technology because they love technology. They use it because it makes their lives easier or better in some way.

For me, the initial benefits from this kind of technology were professional. Electronics gave me ways of writing papers and analyzing data that reduced my work time and allowed me more time with my own kids. (Of course, then email took much of that back, but it also provided me with a wider and closer network of colleagues.)

After that, I started doing family budgets and figuring our taxes on a computer. And, now I find it hard to shop without one (thanks, Amazon!).

I vividly remember colleagues—those who were gaudy in their pride of never having used a computer. Well, when their kids headed off to college, the dam broke. It was amazing how quickly these Luddites immigrated to digital. Staying in touch with college kids is a huge technology motivator for my generation.

Recently, I started thinking about Chip’s technology advice and its germaneness to reading. Teachers often tell me that their goal is to make kids love reading or to turn students into lifelong readers. We can argue about whether those are thoughtful educational goals some other day (don’t get me going), but the question is how would you accomplish these goals?

The solutions that I see seem pretty far from Dr. Bruce’s well-earned insights.

These teachers tell me that they make kids love reading by requiring them to read on their own for certain amounts of time. Or by dumping required readings; choice is big. Or by paying the kids off with free pizzas or rooftop principals.

Chip never said that we should require that our teachers log onto computers for 20-minutes a day. He didn’t tell us to inundate the classrooms with technology. He didn’t tell us to reduce instruction to give our students free technology time. He didn’t tell us to avoid websites that we thought would be most beneficial to our students so that they’d have sufficient Angry Birds time.  

No, his notion of getting people into technology was to make technology serve real purposes in people’s lives.

Hmmm… could that really work in reading?

That made me think about some other thoughtful friends of mine, Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey. Along with all the other things they do, they are Teacher Leaders at the Health Sciences High and Middle College, a charter high school in San Diego.

At their school, the curriculum is shaped by big ideas… questions—real questions that students want to answer. Each year, the kids nominate questions, and then there is an election to select the questions that will shape the curriculum. This year’s cohort is exploring:

  • What makes you unique?
  • Who can we trust?
  • What is love?
  • What is the difference between surviving and living?

To answer these successfully, teachers will have to align their curriculum in ways that can support the kids’ investigations, and a lot of reading is likely to be needed, of course; reading that isn’t being done because teachers are saying, “Read! I want you to like this,” but because reading can help solve real problems of intellectual curiosity in these kids’ lives and because reading allows them to be part of the group and to contribute to its success.

[In my own reading life, I’ve gotten interested lately in the big intellectual ideas of the Twentieth Century, and how they shape our lives. Cyndie decided she wanted to ride along with me on this journey. We just finished Spengler’s lugubrious Decline of the West (both volumes) and now are immersed in the economic formulations of Lord John Maynard Keynes. It takes all kinds. But we’re reading these—not to read—but because we want to know something, and reading them together is like a continuing date night.]

If you want kids to love reading, then make reading important in your students’ lives.

Instead of providing free reading time during the school day, pose academic and social problems for the kids to solve (or, better, let them pose their own); problems that reading can help address.

The idea that loving reading means reading particular kinds of texts in a particular fashion, like sitting with a book for 20 minutes of continual reading is a pretty narrow vision of love anyway.  

As a father and now grandfather, I’m able to take the long view.

My daughters both liked reading. The oldest would have rather read than breathed, and the younger liked reading, too—though not as much as she enjoyed talking to friends, burning CDs, talking to friends, swimming, talking to friends, building things, and so on.

Now they have their own careers and families. Reading waxes and wanes in their lives based on their current needs. My oldest, the inveterate reader—the Accelerated Reader record holder, doesn’t read so much these days, at least not for pleasure. She is addressing the medical needs of a family member now, and novels and free reading time aren’t the meat she seeks.

Her love of reading looks much more like the environments that Chip, Doug, and Nancy emphasize.

Of course, reading can help in lots of different ways: It can be a source of entertainment or emotional escape. It can provide spiritual fulfillment and insights about how to live one’s life. Reading has something to do with forming an identity, too. But kids are more likely to discover reading while tackling those needs than they are to discover the relevance of reading to those needs during free reading time.     

Instead of trying to make kids love reading, why not make reading important in their daily lives, and then trust that reading will be loved in the only way that really matters—they’ll use it when it meets their needs. 


See what others have to say about this topic.

Jen Oct 10, 2017 02:03 AM

When there is authentic purpose, students are more likely to engage...

Timothy Shanahan Oct 10, 2017 03:44 AM

Yep... and “go read on your own because I want you to love it” is not likely to work.

Sunday Burger Oct 10, 2017 04:30 PM

After reading this blog, I sat still a little stunned and somewhat exasperated. First to compare the love of reading a fabulous book to using a computer to do taxes was an extreme injustice to reading. There is no comparison of the two. Also, the problem is not "making kids love reading." The real problem is a nationwide epidemic of kids that can't read. So before we put the cart in front of the horse, we need to address the fact that kids don't want to read and don't love reading because they can't read. Our Middle School has chosen to attack this problem head on with the old fashioned notion of teaching our Middle school students the basic foundational reading skills they haven't acquired so far, for whatever reason, and model for them during "free reading time" that reading is fabulous when you're learning the skills you need to be a successful reader, reading books on your level regardless of grade level, while watching teachers that are also reading their own book of choice during "free reading time." Reading is presented as extremely valuable and celebrated in every way everyday. The love of reading comes from having the skills necessary to read, having books they're interested in to practice and enjoy reading on their level and to see adults they respect modeling their love for reading with them on a daily basis. Then the love of reading just magically happens one special day after they read that first special book that changes some part of them way deep inside! We all have that special book. Educators need to have a radical shift in thinking. It's not a chore to read, it's pure pleasure, and nurture that idea in our students. I challenge teachers to help a student who thinks they don't love to read to scour the planet until they find that book that lights them up and they fall in love with reading! They will remember you forever.

Timothy Shanahan Oct 11, 2017 12:57 AM

I agree with everything you said about using school time to teach reading, but the idea that you get to decide what other people get to take joy in makes me very uncomfortable. I’ll decide that for myself, and I’ll respect kids’ right to make those choices too. (Of corse, if you don’t love baseball I will look down on you forever ????

Adrianna Thomas Oct 12, 2017 06:27 PM

Hello i need to do an inquiry based paper. So im circling it around reading .... Im trying to get some opinons on feed back on number and past related projects

Dawn Walker Mar 25, 2018 02:19 PM

I have this understanding that kids need a minimum reading level to be successful citizens in our "democratic" society. I'm thinking the ability to read an instruction manual, medicine directions, food labels, voting ballots, bus schedules, drivers license quizzes, tickets, job application, summons,.. you get the idea. I know a few adults who do not read and they make it with the help of others. But, doesn't it seem fair or at least logical to expect some sort of basic skill? It always gets me to hear the 'life long readers' and "love reading" brought up, shouldn't we get the basic down first? Or at least? As an instructional coach at my school I work with passionate, dedicated and very different teachers. I struggle to find common denominators for successful reading instruction that can easily be observed or monitored. It seems every curriculum supervisor has a different recommendation. It is helpful to visit the resources found here so ... thanks!

Savannah Apr 06, 2018 02:51 AM

The creativity in teaching has been almost lost and pushed out of the classroom because of the strict mandated standards that do not focus on creativity but on a uniform and often scripted teaching style. The teach to test mentality that is occurring in schools does not promote a love of learning, it does the opposite. The high stakes-testing world often discourages students and teachers. Standards are often written to look for a concreate and finite response; these tests do not promote critical thinking skills or create interpretation. The current culture of education is leading to high rates of teacher burnout. We need to make school fun again! We need to create a culture where students enjoy learning and being involved in school culture. This article is interesting to me because it discusses a common theme, students dread reading. I completely understand this. When I was in high school and college, we read canonized literature and research articles. This did not help me become a strong reader, it made me resent reading. It was not until a class my junior year of college that my love of reading came back, I had an awesome literary professor and she asked us to find a children’s book that spoke to us. We had to create a 5-day lesson plan surrounding this text and then we taught it where we were student teaching. I loved sharing the book with my students and sharing fun interactive lessons with them. This was a great opportunity for both my students and myself. We need to have the ability to teach our students creativity and find issues that both teachers and students are passionate about.

Sam Bommarito Oct 08, 2018 05:46 PM

Love this part of your comment "Instead of trying to make kids love reading, why not make reading important in their daily lives, and then trust that reading will be loved in the only way that really matters—they’ll use it when it meets their needs. " I'll add provide a print rich environment at home and allow for real choice. P.S. may just take the quote from you to post in my office. Think you really nailed this one. Sam

Elizabeth SoRelle Feb 08, 2020 06:23 PM

I just had an epiphany. Seriously. I have encountered so many kids who are tired of SSR. Two kids I am thinking of are seniors and GT. They are bright kids who don't necessarily like to read novels. But I have long argued that they do read ... Just not in the way we book lovers do. Give them something they want to research and they will spend hours reading through college level documents. Isn't that advanced reading? Thank you for this post because I am going to think on it all day.

Lois Letchford Feb 08, 2020 06:26 PM

Love it! There's power in purposeful reading!

Jen Jump Feb 08, 2020 06:39 PM

This statement, "Instead of providing free reading time during the school day, pose academic and social problems for the kids to solve (or, better, let them pose their own); problems that reading can help address," gives students power that supports reading. What do children want more than power--not much.

Opening doors for students to USE reading for a valuable purpose is exceptionally powerful. This is why the Minecraft "how-to" book is widely loved and appears abused at my own daughter's school library.

The scary part here is that it isn't easy to set up scenarios for students--because often we don't truly understand them. When teachers can take the time to know what motivates their students, they can pose ideas that will support reading--but it takes time. It takes craft. More that 20 minutes of independent reading time and a genre wheel.

Thanks, as always!

Nancy Duggan Feb 08, 2020 07:43 PM

This is a thoughtful and practical post! Also remember that kids who are struggling to read, not fluent, not comprehending, may never “love” reading in the same way some kids will never “love” gym class. But the motivation to learn to read despite this struggle, and to get that extra help is much more likely, in my opinion in light of purpose for needing to be a reader. Never the less be mindful that some students are trying, they are aware that better reading - or reading at all - would make their lives easier. They know this, they may have school anxiety because of it. When they enter a classroom that pushes “love reading” they are left with more anxiety. But a classroom that works to accept “OK this is hard but let’s figure out explicitly and systematically how to make reading better, let’s improve skills not demand love. “ That’s what will take away that school anxiety and as Stanislas Deheane said in his newest book “a dear free environment may reopen the gates of neuronal plasticity. There will be no progress in education without simultaneously considering the emotional and cognitive facets in our brain..” (How We Learn : Why Brains Learn Better Than Machines .. For Now)

Nancy Duggan Feb 08, 2020 07:46 PM

*fear free not dear - Sorry

Nancy E Feb 09, 2020 12:36 AM

I agree with Dr. Shanahan. The importance of school is not to foster a love of reading per se, but a love of knowledge, curiosity, imagination, and innovation. When students discover that they can answer their questions and become informed, they are motivated to read or perhaps, gasp, even listen to audio versions of books or TED talks, or lectures on YouTube. Of course, students should be taught to read by the best methods we know, but after that, what difference does it really make if they then engage with the world through actual decoding or some other means as long as they are continuing to learn and grow? Reading is not a natural skill and for some students, it is laborious regardless the effort. If one in ten students, or one in five, depending on your sources experiences learning difficulties around the task of reading, will they learn to love reading if forced to do it or steered toward books on their decoding level but not their interest/intellectual level? Loving learning and being motivated to learn about our world is the key to our future. Humans across history have not always relied on reading and who know about the future, but creativity and curiosity have always been the hallmarks of humanity.

Brenda Feb 09, 2020 02:16 AM

I agree with the thoughts put forth in this article. At least by the time they hit middle school, it rings true. The students who already love to read will read while the students who hate to read will pretend they are reading or cause trouble. In your last blog post, you directed me to some of your publications which were very helpful. Perhaps you can give me some insight on my current situation.

Due to stagnant state test scores, our grade level was mandated to "grow" in ELA. We are happy to grow and would gladly do that if someone would give a little direction as to how to go about that, especially with our special education population. The only help we received was "write more". So it was decided in our PLC to flip and do all of the informational/argumentative reading/ writing first and then hit the narrative at the end. We spent 6 1/2 months in expository reading/writing. The topics were random...nothing flowed because it is difficult to find two articles with rigor on the same topic with sufficient text evidence to use in an essay. Since students have to read two articles, answer 3 selected response questions, a constructed response, and write a 4-5 paragraph essay in 90 minutes, the idea was "repetition is the mother of all learning" in terms of learning the formats of the two different modes of writing. Then, let's talk about trying to give feedback to 97 students after skim grading the essays. Mainly the good writers improved a little, and the low writers have not shown much progress. Now we move to literary/narrative, which throws them into a totally different type of writing. There's a good chance students will lose a good deal of the progress when they don't use it for 3 months. Incorporate practicing language skills in isolation because that is how they are tested and a reading intervention/enrichment program, Reading Plus, two days a week for 30 minutes per day.They are 7th graders, which is a wonky age anyway, and we have 70 minute block per day. It has been grueling to say the least. Even if the students understand the topic and writing prompt, many fail miserably when trying to synthesize the information. I feel like we would have to do it 6 more months in the same fashion for the majority of them to even be able to perform on grade level. Any guidance is appreciated. We feel the pressure and the stress!

Jeannette Feb 09, 2020 02:32 AM

I love this. There should always be a purpose which can be focused on some essential question that is presented that has a meaningful theme. As far as technology the key is to get going with it. It does make things easier but people can be scared of it and fear change. A great resource is GETEPIC for elementary's the Netflix for books. It's a great way to find books easily on any topic. It provides read to me methods as well which can hook kids in and has other great features as well.

Tim Shanahan Feb 09, 2020 03:16 AM

One suggestion for you would be to place these kids in grade level texts and to guide the kids to read these successfully. Let them know what you’re up to. Look on this site in publications, look at the articles and powerpoints on teaching with complex text. That will help. Get the kids to write about the texts they read... using the texts as models, summarizing the texts, analyzing/critiquing, and synthesizing multiple texts. There is a PowerPoint on that, too.


Kathy Amburgey Feb 09, 2020 04:17 AM

I teach the first grade. I struggle to provide my students with self-selected reading time. My students have a variety of reading abilities. Some of them come to school with limited CAP skills. Therefore, it is important for them to engage with text, discuss what they see or read. They also look and discover what interest them and want to learn. They will see an animal in a book and want to learn more about it.

My students know that I love books and reading. I have a couple hundred books in my classroom. I also provide magazines for them to “read” and explore. I also provide leveled readers. I have the books sorted by genres and/or topics. My students love listening and discussing books. I try to provide purposeful learning. I know the value of reading aloud to children. They learn to engage with text and may appreciate a variety of genres.

I have found Accelerated Reader can be enjoyable if the books are self-selected . However, the program should not be punitive or affect grades. It is my hope that reading will help provide my students to develop into intrinsic learners and not out of fear.

Ann Feb 09, 2020 11:59 AM

Lots of great perspectives....and, though I will ALWAYS market reading to my students and now grandchildren and ALWAYS reach out to find that special book for that kid; just like you can lead a horse to water, but can't make him drink.....some kids love it and others just plain DON'T. With that said, we never stop trying, we may even ignite a few....but, I truly believe it is innate. Some kids can't live without book, and other kids don't want or need a book to live....just LIFE!

Pie Corbett Feb 10, 2020 08:17 AM this article might be handy - this school serves one of the poorest areas in England yet has very high attainment - because they teach phonics sound to print, increase rate of reading using decodables and oral comprehension, teach comprehension using challenging texts and a dialogic approach so deep reading becomes a habit of mind, teach a few strategies to help children notice when they have lost comprehension, are test familiar but do not endlessly test, identify those faltering and support and everyone pretty much loves their reading ..... reading for pleasure comes from having the right materials and a teacher who loves reading..... we actually know how to get almost every child reading. The issue is whether schools develop systems based on effective practice, refine in the light of impact so that learning is cumulative..... the answers are there!

What Are your thoughts?

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How Do You Make Kids Love Reading?


One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

He studies reading and writing across all ages and abilities. Feel free to contact him.