dull and unrelated to their lives.
Too often, students believe they can
learn what they need to know by simply
listening in class and following procedures without referring to the textbook.
A first step for teachers in increasing
the perceived value of reading is to
help students understand how reading
the text benefits them across a range of
For example, in one study, teachers
asked students to write a paragraph
about how the material they were
learning in a section of their mathematics or psychology textbook was
relevant in their personal lives. After
students completed this task for five
different textbook sections, their belief
in the value of the book increased.
They saw the relevance of the text, and
their achievement in the course also
increased (Hulleman, Godes, Hendriks,
& Harackiewicz, 2010).
Effective teachers give students
opportunities to apply the informational
text they read to concrete classroom
tasks—for example, they may ask students to read a two-page section of a
textbook and then use the information
they obtain to draw a diagram or to
explain the topic to a classmate. Or students may read several texts to prepare
for a team debate and then reflect on
how the information they learned
through their reading gave them the
expertise they needed to perform well.
Social interaction around text has to be
well managed to ensure that students
listen to one another, but it is neither
complex nor impossible. A wide range
of interactive and collaborative arrangements can work in classrooms.
One simple way to support collabo-
ration is to arrange desks in pairs and
incorporate two-minute paired activities
into each lesson. For example, students
may read one page of text silently and
then briefly share with their partner
the most important point made on that
In all such interactions, effective
teachers provide appropriate degrees
of structure depending on class size,
as well as students’ cognitive skill and
comfort with social interaction. Some
students will do best when given a
simple, clear, concrete goal and a short
time to complete the task. For example,
the teacher may say, “Read this para-
graph silently and then reach agreement
within your group on the three most
important words in the paragraph. Be
prepared to defend your choices to the
When students struggle with reading the
textbook, teachers sometimes sideline the book.
Avoiding the textbook, however, is a mistake.
class. You have three minutes.” More
advanced student groups can handle
multiple goals, looser interaction
requirements, and more choices about
how to express the knowledge they
learned from the text.
Use Social Motivation
Every middle school teacher is aware
of the power of social dynamics for
students in this age group. Yet teachers
rarely tap into these social processes to
strengthen informational text reading.
Social motivation can inspire dedication to text reading if students want
to impress their peers and not let them
down by failing to fulfill their role in the
Effective middle school teachers set
up frequent opportunities for collaboration to support students’ social motivation for reading informational text.
page. In these interactions, students
clarify their own thinking by expressing
their views to someone else; they may
also be spurred to reflect on the key
information from the text in a new way
when they hear their partners interpret
it. Thus, in a brief read-and-share
activity, students become active learners
and deepen their text comprehension—
and enjoy the social interaction.
Another successful approach is collaborative reasoning, in which a group
of students discusses a story or an
informational text (Chinn, Anderson,
& Waggoner, 2001). Students build
on one another’s thoughts to explain
the major theme of the text by successively adding key elements as they take
turns contributing to the synthesis. This
activity can help students become more
skillful in interpreting complex text.
Some form of collaboration is possible in any classroom with any text.
To be productive, collaborative or
cooperative student work should be
accountable, interactive, and text-based.
For example, teachers may ask students
to collaborate in writing a summary,
drawing a graphic representation of
a text, or building an argument for a
position they will explain to others.
Give Students Choices
Middle school students need to feel in
control of their world. Making simple
choices is a rewarding form of control.
Thus, teachers who give students choices
in their informational reading help them
develop an interest in reading.
We are not recommending that
teachers let students choose whether
to read a textbook or whether to complete assignments. Rather, we are suggesting that teachers provide more
limited choices—which paragraph to
emphasize in drawing conclusions, or
which examples to read closely, for
example. Students may be allowed to
choose which portions to emphasize
in a science chapter that includes more
topics than the teacher can fully cover.
Choice helps adolescents find materials
relevant to them, which increases their
delight in reading.
Options in learning can extend
beyond the text. For example, teachers