How to Motivate Pupils to Read for Pleasure

As a literacy researcher interested in improving children’s reading attainment, I’ve spent the last few years focusing on children’s reading motivation and engagement as a route towards increasing attainment outcomes.  There is undoubtedly still a need for more research in this area; however, there are some studies that have statistically evaluated the success (or lack of success!) of interventions and programmes aimed at enhancing reading motivation, engagement and skill. From this research, here are my top 5 (evidence-based) approaches to fostering greater reading motivation and engagement, including practical suggestions for the classroom:


Children need access to a range of reading activities, and the freedom to make choices. While reading books is considered to have a greater effect on reading and language skills than reading other type of texts, it is important that children have access to a range of texts to reflect their interests.

Excessive teacher control over children’s reading activities will disengage them from reading


Children need access to texts which are relevant to their life, culture and context. Encouraging children to make connections between characters and stories and their own lives can encourage greater reading engagement. 

Scottish Book Trust’s book lists are organised by age group and theme and are being added to regularly – these could help you find texts which are relevant to your pupils.


Excessive teacher control over children’s reading activities will disengage them from reading. Children need the freedom to make their own choices.


Reading and sharing books with friends and peers (e.g., via book clubs) has been shown to lead to gains in reading enjoyment, motivation and engagement. Children may need support initially with structuring these collaborative activities to ensure they run smoothly.


Children need access to books which they are able to read relatively easily and which have an accessible vocabulary. Of course, we want children to develop their reading skills through reading more challenging books, but these books still need to be accessible. Praising effort and growth in reading (rather than ability and performance) is important and encouraging students to make effort attributions (rather than ability) encourages greater reading motivation and engagement.


Strategies to promote motivation and engagement in reading

In addition to the research literature, I believe there is a lot to be gained from gathering teacher insights into this topic. In a recent project with teachers, I’ve been working with 22 reading partnership primary schools in Scotland. From these schools, over 50 teachers have participated in workshops which take an evidence-based approach to improving children’s reading skills. Our aim is to co-produce knowledge (using both researcher and teacher expertise), to improve children’s reading outcomes.  From these workshops, here’s what teachers say about activities to enhance reading motivation and engagement:

Be ruthless: get rid of tatty books that children no longer read

Dedicated time to read for enjoyment

DEAR (drop everything and read) or ERIC (everybody reading in class) are similar concepts which provide children with an opportunity to read for pleasure without being asked to report back on what they have read. The teacher also reads for pleasure during this time. 

Making the library/book displays attractive

Encouraging children to develop the class library and choose books for the library, in addition to making books/book displays attractive to entice children into reading is important. Teachers highlighted the importance of being ruthless - get rid of tatty books which children no longer read.

Peer discussions around reading

Creating opportunities for children to share/recommend books with their friends was regarded as important. In addition, a reading buddy was considered to be beneficial for some children too. 

One-off reading initiatives in the classroom

One example was a ‘speed dating’ initiative, where tables in the classroom were set up like speed dating, but children were asked to give book recommendations instead. This encouraged children to talk enthusiastically about their favourite book and gave them access to a wide range of books in a short space of time. At the end, children voted for the best book seller(s).

We need more input from our students!

Promoting a school reading culture

Teachers discussed games and initiatives to encourage a whole-school reading culture. One of these was the ‘guess who’ game, where all members of staff in the school had a portrait photo taken of themselves, but behind their favourite book (or their favourite children’s book), and children had to guess who the person was based on the book. This was a great way to get staff across the whole school involved – the head teacher, teachers, janitors, catering staff etc, and promotes a whole-school reading culture by showing children that everyone is a reader. It also creates lots of opportunities to discuss a range of books.

The most successful interventions/supports to enhance reading motivation and engagement are likely to come when researchers, teachers and students work together. At present, we need more input from our students! So why not ask them what would encourage them to read more and work with your students to foster greater reading motivation and engagement in your classroom?



Guthrie, J. T., Wigfield, A., & VonSecker, C.  (2000).  Effects of integrated instruction on motivation and strategy use in reading.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 92, 331-341.

Guthrie, J. T., McRae, A., & Klauda, S. L.  (2007).  Contributions of concept-orientated reading instruction to knowledge about interventions for motivations in reading.  Educational Psychologist, 42, 237-250.

McGeown, S. P., Osborne, C., Warhurst, A., Norgate, R., & Duncan, L. G.  (2015).  Understanding children’s reading activities: Reading motivation, skill and child characteristics as predictors.  Journal of Research in Reading, 39, 109-125. 


You can also get some tried and tested ideas to create a reading culture from Scottish Book Trust’s resource here.

If you want to give your pupils more of a voice and ownership of the library, check out this blog from Craigentinny Primary for inspiration. We welcome contributions from teachers and librarians - get in touch with us if you've got something you'd like to share on our blog!

Dr Sarah McGeown

Dr Sarah McGeown is a Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology in the School of Education at The University of Edinburgh. Her literacy research spans a range of areas, including early reading acquisition and development (phonics), reading and spelling, sex differences in reading, reading comprehension with different text types and reading motivation and engagement. She is committed to working with teachers, policy makers and literacy organisations to encourage greater use of research evidence to support practice.  More details of her research can be found here:

For more reading on this topic, please see: McGeown, S. P. (2013). Reading motivation and engagement in the primary school classroom: Theory, research and practice.  UKLA Minibook Series. Available here: