Encouraging students to read course material

Students who read assigned course material before coming to class are better prepared to actively participate in discussion on the topic. However, many students do not read before class, if at all. How can we encourage more students to read so that they can be active participants in the classroom? Here are some suggestions:

  • Henderson and Rosenthal (2006) suggest that teachers ask students to read the material and then have them pose questions to the instructor online (e.g., using a Discussion Board) or via e-mail before the next class. In doing so, students should describe a difficulty they encountered in understanding some aspect of the material and ask a question relevant to the specific aspect with which he/she has had difficulty. Some value should be assigned to the questions.
    • This ensures that students have at least read the material and have a basic understanding and provides the instructor with feedback to help him/her prepare for the next class.
  • A slightly different take on reading questions is suggested by Boelkins and Ratliff (2000). They suggest that the instructor poses reading questions (posted on web, e-mail or at the end of class prior to assigned readings). After reading the material, students respond to the questions via the web or e-mail and before the next class. Some value should be assigned to the responses.
    • This serves to focus students’ reading and enables the instructor to gage the level of understanding so he/she can prepare for the next class.
  • A third strategy one might use to encourage students to read before coming to class is to give a few (perhaps 4 with the lowest score being dropped) short unannounced quizzes over the course of the term that are based solely on the reading for that class. An alternative might be to begin each class with a brief quiz or even a single question based on the readings. Instructors should give some consideration to assigning a point value for these responses, perhaps bonus points, attendance credit, or participation points could be working into the overall grading scheme.
    • This should encourage students to read, increase their understanding of material, and improve the quality of discussion in the classroom.


Boelkins, M. & Ratliff, T. (2000). How we get our students to read the text before class. Mathematical Association of America Website. Retrieved February 9, 2009 from http://www.maa.org/features/readbook.html.

Crouch, C. & Mazur, E. (2001). Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics, 69(9), pp. 970-977.

Henderson, C. & Rosenthal, A. (July/August 2006). Reading questions: Encouraging students to read the text before coming to class. Journal of College Science Teaching, pp. 46-50.