How to Encourage Students to Read When You Aren’t The English Teacher

Every teacher is a reading teacher.

How to Encourage Students to Read When You Aren't The English Teacher

Even though I am a high school drama and history teacher, it is part of my mission to encourage students to read. I am a reader. I grew up in a home of readers and follow that tradition. There are piles of books all over my house and more come in regularly. Books are my go-to: when I don’t know something, when I’m stressed, when I’m bored, when I’m happy.

My high school students, by and large, are not readers. They don’t read, they don’t enjoy it and try to avoid doing it.  As a reader I want my students to learn to enjoy reading, or at least not hate it.

Since I don’t teach English, reading is not automatically built into my history and drama classes. Below are some things I am trying this school year to encourage students to read.

1. I’m making it a point to read aloud to my students.

I try to read to my students when I can. There are many children’s books that connect to history and I use them to introduce units or assignments when I can. I’ve used 14 Cows for America, Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, Stone Angel, The Librarian of Basra: A True Story From Iraq, Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya and Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan. Even though my students are in high school, they like being read to like they were in elementary school.

2. We are reading more together as a class.

On top of article reading that we do in class, I’ve added at least one book to all of my classes that we read as a group. In history we read A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park as part of our unit on Africa. In theatre we read a play every year as a class. I’ve done The Importance of Being Earnest, The Glass Menagerie and Macbeth and this year it will be Othello. We read and discuss as a class, helping students understand and introducing them to literature they may not be familiar with.

3. I spend time talking about reading.


I try to share what I read with my students. When I share a fact I got from a book, I tell them what book it came from. When I read a great book or play I tell them about it. When I got to read over the weekend I tell them about it when they ask me what I did. I try to show reading as the positive experience it is for me so they have a positive reading role model.

4. I’m assigning open-ended required reading.

Each semester my history students must read a book connected to history (historical fiction, historical non-fiction, biography or autobiography.) Aside from that the assignment is very open ended. I tell students that if they don’t like a book to put it down and try something else. I encourage them to find a topic that interests them. I let them read graphic novels, listen to audio books, whatever speaks to them. By making the assignment open ended it gives students freedom to choose what to read. Our librarian helps me by having displays of books that meet my requirements out for most of the year.

5. I’ve set up a classroom library.

I have both a theatre and a history classroom library. The theatre library was already mostly in place when I got to my school (most theatre teachers have books and scripts all over the place) and over the past two years I’ve built my history one. I get books from my personal library, Goodreads giveaways, books the librarian is giving away or donated to me when I told her what I was doing, donations from my family, wherever I can find them. They are free for students to check out throughout the school year. I keep track of who has what book on a Google spreadsheet.

6. I’m creating a reading nook.

This is in my plans for this year. I want to put in a couch or beanbags by my bookcases where students can read when they are done with assignments. They only time people can sit in that area is if they are reading. If they don’t like a book they can choose a new one but they must be reading. My students love different places to sit so I think this will be fun for them if I can get the funding.

7. I’ve started a reading competition.

I read a lot so I’ve started a competition with my students. Each class keeps track of how many pages they personally have read. Their goal is to beat me. If they do, as a class they get to choose some kind of reward, like a party or new seating chart or groups for an assignment. Students get to add to their class’ success, even if it is only a few pages. This pushes me to read more too, since I want to make sure they have some competition.

Reading is not just for English class. We can incorporate reading into our classes if we try! What are some of the ways you encourage in your (non-English) classroom?