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September 27, 2012 Motivate Your Students to Read at Home By Genia Connell
Grades 3–5

    Reading has always been a love of mine, and I bet most elementary teachers would say the same. No one ever needed to motivate me to read, and chances are no one ever needed to motivate you to read, either. Teachers know, however, that getting children who have already decided reading’s not for them to read at school — let alone at home — can be a monumental task. For years I have used an at-home reading incentive program I call Reading for Dollars that gets children who have always avoided picking up a book at home reading hundreds of minutes each reading for dollars students shoppingmonth.

    I know, I know, research says that our children should be intrinsically motivated to read or do anything else on their own. And I should be intrinsically motivated to eat right and exercise, but things don’t always happen as they should. I only know what has worked in my classroom, and this week I’m happy to share my Reading for Dollars program with you. For total transparency, the only data I’ve collected on this program is anecdotal: every single year I have at least two parents tell me that this was the first time their child ever picked up a book at home on their own, and that now they can’t get them to stop reading. That’s enough research for me.


    Getting Started

    Reading for Dollars is pretty simple to implement. First, I introduce it to my students at a class meeting to get them excited. I flash a handful of my Big Bucks and tell them I am going to pay them to read. After the buzz dies down, I explain it in greater detail.

    • Any student who wants to participate fills out a reading calendar that I hand out each month. Reading to yourself, reading with your parents, and reading aloud to a younger sibling all count for dollars. Reading in school does not.
    • The calendar needs to be signed by a parent and turned in the first week of the following month.
    • Students receive one Big Buck for every 100 minutes they log on their reading calendar. Any leftover minutes carry over as “cents” to the next month. I record each student's minutes monthly to keep track. 
    • Money can be spent on prizes and rewards once a month at the Big Bucks Store or saved for next time.


    The Payoff

    One key to the program’s success is that it is optional. No one has to participate. The first month there are always two or three students who decide not to do it. When giant dollar bills are being paid out, however, and their friends and classmates are excitedly shopping at the store, you can see the longing in their eyes. Because lending Big Bucks to a friend is strictly forbidden, those students, often my reluctant readers, realize there is only one way for them to get in on the action. They are going to have to read.


    The Store

    The store is really just a hodgepodge of things I have collected over time or parents have donated. The cost of items for sale ranges from one to fifteen Big Bucks. Items include dollar store-type merchandise, pencils, stuffed animals, books, and coupons I’ve made. The coupons are one of the most popular items and save me a great deal of money. Examples for the coupons include free books from the book order, eating lunch with the teacher, a free homework, and bringing your stuffed animal in to read with you.



    Reading for Dollars and Scholastic

    Using Storia for Reading for Dollars

    This year when I introduced Reading for Dollars, there was extra excitement. We have been using the e-reader app Storia on our classroom iPads, and I showed students they could track their reading at home very easily using the Manage e-Books feature. It shows how many minutes were read in each week or month and how many pages were turned. I told students they could have their parents print off their reading report and they could staple that to their reading calendar instead of filling it out by hand. They were thrilled to hear about that shortcut because so many of them are already using Storia on their PCs and tablets.

    Introduce your parents to Storia.

    Reading for a Cause

    Every year Scholastic sponsors a program that donates a book to a charity for every twenty minutes a student logs at their website. My students earn their rewards while earning books for others. This year they are excitedly taking part in Paws for Reading, and the dogs are definitely winning! 


    My program is certainly not perfect. There is always that child or two who thinks I was born yesterday and will believe they read 300 minutes straight all thirty days of the month. My inner detective tends to come out as I question ("interrogate" may be be a better word!) those children about their calendars until we agree on a more accurate number. Setting up the store can sometimes be a pain, too, taking up to fifteen minutes of my release time. It’s all worth it, though, when I see the excitement the store generates and hear their plans to read even more next month because they are saving up for a big-ticket item. When I question whether I should reward students, I only have to look in my purse at my Starbucks gold card and my DSW and grocery store reward cards, and I think, yeah, everybody likes rewards.

    What do you do to motivate your students to read at home? Any ideas for free or inexpensive rewards? Let me know in the comments section below.




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Susan Cheyney