Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

Students don’t keep up with the reading.

Students might not perceive a sufficient payoff for keeping up with the reading.

Carnegie Mellon students consistently report that they are less motivated to do readings if little or no proportion of their grade depends on doing them. Students also are more likely to do readings that do not duplicate material they can learn in other ways, such as by attending lectures.

While we would all prefer that students did their assigned reading for the pure love of knowledge (as opposed to grades), research indicates that extrinsic rewards for certain kinds of tasks can eventually lead students to value those tasks for intrinsic reasons. In other words, even if students initially do the readings “to get the grade,” simply doing the reading can lead them to a deeper appreciation of its intrinsic value.


Increase the payoff for students who do the reading.

Avoid redundancy.

Increase the payoff for students who do the reading.

Structure your assessments and grading criteria such that skipping the reading or reading carelessly will have consequences for a student’s performance and thus grade. You might, for example, include essay questions on exams about assigned books or require students to submit written answers to questions about assigned articles. You might require students to incorporate assigned reading into semester-long projects or research papers. You might consider requiring students to keep reading journals that you collect regularly or without warning.

Capitalize on the social dynamics in the classroom by either asking questions about readings that require students to articulate their understandings publicly or assigning individual students or groups of students the responsibility for leading a discussion of particular readings.

Such strategies are not just clever motivational levers. They also help ensure that there is alignment in your course among learning objectives, assessments, and instructional activities. In other words, you should assign readings that help students meet the learning objectives and use assessments that determine whether these learning objectives have been met.

Avoid redundancy.

Select your readings carefully so that they complement other course materials without duplicating them. Readings should reinforce, illustrate, add greater depth to, or provide new perspectives on the material covered in lectures, such that students perceive a benefit to keeping up with the reading.

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