It happens in classes across the country, whether in person, remotely, or in between.

Your students don't do the reading you assign—reading you assign because you want to actually teach them about what's going on in that part of the text. You don't want to waste valuable time creating daily tasks no one will complete or explaining to half the class what the reading was about, while the others are bored because they actually read the text.

As much as we wish every student would eagerly read the books assigned to them, we know that some students need a little extra push. The following are four techniques you can use to improve student accountability when it comes to reading assignments.

Set Clear Expectations from the Start

Take a look at your syllabus. Does it tell students, in no uncertain terms, what is expected from them? More specifically, does it lay out what it means to be ready for class?

Being ready for class involves more than just showing up (or logging in), and your students need to know that. Being ready for class means being prepared to tackle the topic du jour, whatever that may be. In cases when a reading is assigned for homework, students who come to class prepared to discuss the text are ready for class.

By having a clear set of expectations, you’re demonstrating that you believe in each student’s ability to do the work. Studies have shown that when teachers believe in them, students tend to achieve at higher levels. Setting expectations—and enforcing them—may give students a sense of responsibility and help motivate them to do their assignments.

Give Students Specific Reading Pointers

When you assign students their reading homework, you may want to prime them by telling them about key things they should look for in the text.

One way to do this is by telling them what the next class is going to focus on. Instead of saying, "Okay, read pages 78-90," say, "For homework, read pages 78-90. Tomorrow, we're going to discuss how the events in this chapter foreshadow a major change in Sarah's characterization."

Asking students to look for something specific in the text gives them a purpose for reading and can help them stay focused on the assignment. Plus, it gives you something to use during the next class to gauge whether they actually read the section.

Ask Students to Keep Reading Journals

A reading journal is a free-form type of diary in which students jot down their thoughts about the book they're reading. But it can be more than that, too. Students can use reading journals to:

  • Speculate about upcoming plot points based on what's happened thus far in the text
  • Write about their favorite characters and what makes them so awesome
  • Ask questions they have about the text
  • Write poems or lyrics about the book
  • Draw scenes and characters
  • Create charts linking characters and/or events

The only requirement of these reading journals is that each entry should be about the current reading. Otherwise, students should feel free to use their creativity to make something unique. If you decide to make these journals part of your students' grades, it's a good idea to grade only for completion and a good-faith effort to engage with the text.​

Reading journals are also effective for keeping track of students’ progress during distance learning. Try asking your students to log their thoughts in a Google Doc or Word file, adding to it as they continue the book. Need inspiration? We have several free Google Docs literary journal templates you can adapt for your classes.

No matter the format, encourage students to truly make these journals their own. They might even find themselves having that elusive element they tend to associate with anything other than school: fun.

Do your students need more guidance when it comes to journaling? Take a look at our Response Journals. Each title-specific unit is filled with thought-provoking writing prompts that will encourage your students to reflect on the text and how it relates to their lives.

Have Students Complete RAFT Writing Prompts

RAFT stands for:

  • Role of the writer
  • Audience
  • Format
  • Topic

You can use the RAFT method to create writing prompts to use after each reading assignment. Perhaps you want your students to write a letter from Hamlet to Ophelia in which he apologizes for how he treated her and explains why he believes that what he's doing is necessary. The RAFT would look like this:

  • R: Hamlet
  • A: Ophelia
  • F: Personal Letter
  • T: Apology/Explanation for acting badly

Students would then use what they know about the characters and the plot to complete the writing prompt. Not only is this a good way to determine how well your students understand the text, but it's also a great way to get students to write in different genres and for different purposes.

If you’re looking for other ways to have students engage with the text, check out our Activity Packs. These title-specific guides contain plenty of literature-based activities and writing prompts that help students think critically about the text while learning about literary elements such as theme, symbolism, characterization, allusion, and more.

Having trouble holding students’ attention with long texts? Reading Literature has what you need. In each book, you’ll find a carefully-selected collection of famous short stories and poems appropriate for its corresponding grade level (9-12). Annotations throughout each text provide students with vocabulary word definitions, explanations of unfamiliar allusions, and interpretations of difficult passages, helping them better understand and appreciate the work.