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Encouraging Students to Complete Assigned Readings

  1. Edit your course reading list. Does every item on the list contribute to the learning objectives you want your students to achieve? If not, remove it. If a long reading contains an important section, identify those pages and eliminate the rest. Students are more likely to complete the readings when they see a justification for doing so. Connections between the readings and other class activities should be made obvious to students.
  2. Preview the readings in class. Mention upcoming readings in your lecture in such a way as to pique students’ interest and provide context. You may also provide reading guides that identify tricky parts of the reading, explain background concepts to provide context, and offer guidance for optimizing understanding of charts, graphs, and figures.
  3. Conduct an online, ungraded, completion/non-completion, or low-stakes quiz before your class session. Require students to complete 5-10 multiple choice questions based on the readings. They can take the quiz in CourseWeb before they come to class. CourseWeb will automatically enter their scores into the Grade Center and, if you wish, display the correct answers to students after they take the quiz. These questions should target what students should be reasonably able to answer before the class.
  4. Teach reading strategies. Do not assume that students know the best way to mark and annotate a text. Sometime near the beginning of the semester, set aside some class time to demonstrate effective marking techniques on a few pages of reproduced text. This is a good way to bring the issue of assigned readings into the classroom as an object of discussion and to provide a model of how experts make sense of complex texts.
  5. Use think-pair-share activities in class. Pose a question to the class that requires students to have completed the readings and ask them to think about it for a few minutes. Then have them pair up with a classmate to discuss. Finally, ask pairs to report results of their discussion. For many students, doing the reading is preferable to letting down a peer.
  6. Have students write a Minute Paper. Give students 2-3 minutes to answer the question, “What important questions remain unanswered?” and collect the papers before discussing the reading material in class.
  7. Ask students to create a multiple choice question for each reading. Provide some coaching early in the semester on how to write good multiple choice questions. Create assignment links in CourseWeb for students to submit their questions to automatically track submissions through the Grade Center. Choose questions from among the student submissions to include on the exams.
  8. Design and deliver lectures that assume students have completed the readings. Do not reiterate in your lectures what the students have read. Rather, use your class time to clarify particularly muddy points, share examples that further illuminate the topic, and engage students in activities that give them practice with the material.

References and Further Reading

Hobson, E. H. Getting students to read: 14 tips. IDEA Paper #40. Retrieved from the IDEA Center Web site at http://www.theideacenter.org/sites/default/files/Idea_Paper_40.pdf.

Strategies to get students to do the reading. Retrieved from the Boise State University Center for Teaching and Learning Web site at http://ctl.boisestate.edu/documents/ReadingStrategies.pdf.
Angelo, T. A. & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.