To Motivate the Unmotivated…

At the grade three level, children are motivated by goals, targets and contests. I begin the year with a contest called “Read Across Canada”. Come January, the children lose interest and are ready for another challenge. To coincide with the Winter Olympics in 2014, I adapted a “Reading Olympics”. In the spring, we move into “Spring into a Great Book” or “Fishing for a Good Book”. The goal is to motivate children to read books at their own ‘just right’ reading level and to foster an excitement of reading.

For “Read Across Canada”, you will need:
• A large map of Canada with dots stretching across the map
• Small figures to represent each student
• Reading Record page
• Incentives or targets (such as coupons like “Choose a game for the class to play in P.E.” or little prizes like bookmarks and pencils)
• Lots of great books

Children create a figure to represent themselves. For each book (or specific number of pages, such as 100 pages), they can move their figure one dot across the map. The children also record the titles, author and number of pages for each book completed on a Reading Record page. I often have students so motivated to read, they read across Canada as a ‘person’, then take a return voyage as a ‘train’ or a ‘car’. (some have even crossed Canada 3 or 4 times!)

The map is created out of laminated poster boards. When fit together (like a puzzle), a map of Canada appears! Notice the dots for the students’ mini figures. IMG_0437

In January, we moved into Reading Olympics. To coincide with the Winter Olympics in 2014, I adapted something I read about on the internet while searching one day for ideas. I designed charts as a way to motive my students while introducing them to a variety of genres besides the widely  popular “Geronimo Stilton”. The students would earn paper trophies and a small prize for each level completed.  Each time a student completed a level, I would hold a mini Awards Ceremony. While playing the theme song from the Vancouver Olympics, I would shake the student’s hand and present him/her with the trophy. This was certainly a highlight!

Reading Olympics Levels 1-4

Sample Sport Trophy to Print

The students loved reading through the levels! In fact, some were so motivated, I had to create additional levels just to stay one step ahead of them.

To read about variations of “Reading Olympics” and “Reading Bingo”, check out this link:

Mrs. ReaderPants’ Reading Bingo

After spring break, we were ready for something new! Some years, I used “Spring into a Great Book“. Each child made a flower to hang on the bulletin board. As books were completed, he/she would write the title of the book and the author on the stem/leaf and attach to the flower. It quickly became a contest to see whose flower could grow the fastest. For some, the flowers extended from the top of the bulletin board all the way to the floor. (I originally found these on

Flower PDF

stem pieces PDF

Other years, I used “Fishing for a Good Book” to coincide with our science pond unit. Each child created a fishing license to display on the bulletin board. With each book completed, the student would fill in the details of the book (title, author, number of pages) on a template of a fish. These fish would then be hung on a pipe cleaner key ring to add to the bulletin board.

Regardless of which ‘reading incentive’ we used, the children were motivated to read! My own son was in my grade three class a few years ago. Throughout the year, his love of reading soared as he devoured about 10 chapter books each week. (Three years later, he still loves to read and collecting books has become almost an obsession).

I realize there is some controversy over the use of Reading Incentive Programs. Alfie Kohn in his blog post “A Closer Look at Reading Incentive Programs”, states that “What rewards do, and what they do with devastating effectiveness, is to smother people’s enthusiasm for activities they might otherwise enjoy.” Although I can see Kohn’s point of view, I have witnessed many children develop a love of reading through such programs that offer praise, encouragement and perhaps a small prize like a bookmark or a pencil. If the designated reading incentive was the sum of all a teacher did in class to foster a love of reading, I can agree with Kohn as he argues that “reading has been presented not as a pleasurable experience but as a means for obtaining a goodie” (Kohn. 1999). Through additional reading activities such as Read Alouds, partner reading, and book talks, reading is continuously viewed in class as a wonderful experience and a gift for all to enjoy.

What are your thoughts in this debate? Should schools/teachers use reading incentives?

Kohn’s Article


Jennifer. (surname removed) (1998-2015). Spring Bulletin Board Ideas. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

Kohn. (2009). A Closer Look at Reading Incentive Programs. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

Mrs. ReaderPants. (2013, July 7). Reading Incentive Idea: Reading Bingo. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

Yanofsky, N. (2010). “I Believe”. CTV Montage 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Retrieved from


5 thoughts on “To Motivate the Unmotivated…

  1. Hi Yvonne,

    Fantastic question and one I am so hesitant to answer! To be honest, I’ve been personally battling with that question myself over the past few years. I generally teach early primary when not in the library, and they are still at that age where they truly love reading, so using rewards is not really effective. The children at that age rely on their parents to read with them and fill in reading logs, so if a parent does not participate or reads with the child but does not fill in the form, then is it fair to penalize a child for not reading? Many parents, however, have become accustomed to completing reading logs and almost “expect” them. In turn, what I have decided to do this year is have an optional reading form where parents just initial if their child read that day (so each month they have a themed page, such as pumpkins for October, and the parents sign a pumpkin for every night their child read). Rather than give out prizes, we then have a reading celebration every so often throughout the year to celebrate all the students’ reading. Because of the age I work with, I’ve found that reading prizes are not really effective in motivating students (since it is really the parents who are the ones who make sure it happens). We’ll see how this turns out!

    As for older students, I really do not know whether teachers/schools should use reading incentives. I know in Stephen Krashen’s The Power of Reading video on my page that he also conjectures that giving a reward for reading is telling students that it is not a pleasant activity and that there was no evidence that prizes work (in the accelerated reader program). He warns that we might be extinguishing behaviour when we give rewards and advises that the best motivator for reading is reading itself.

    However, with that being said, if a teacher or school believes that providing rewards as reading incentives is working and motivating students, then I do not really see any reason to stop. I think what ultimately matters is that the reading prizes are not the only thing being used to motivate reading. Providing choice, encouraging students to read, building reading communities, modeling reading, and allowing them to choose what they want to read all play major roles.

    I’d also like to add that I love that you change up your reading incentive programs. It’s such a neat thing to have it tied to seasons/themes/upcoming events.


  2. Great post full of fantastic ideas for encouraging reading. You came up with many creative ways to make reading infectious and stick. For many students, they don’t know they like reading until they have that first good reading experience. Getting the right book into the right kids hands can change their trajectory. Sometimes you need to entice them, and rewards based reading can achieve that with many students. Ultimately, if you can get some reluctant readers involved, its a success! Great work on your collection of resources, useful links, and good media embedding and catagory tagging!


  3. Hi Yvonne,
    I don’t think using incentives to read are bad. In my experience there are groups of kids who greatly benefit from them and others who just don’t need them. There are times when I have used them and times when I haven’t depending on the group of students I have for that year. I currently am using incentives as my students are in grade 1 and just learning to read. Students are to practice the new sound for the week and log it (with the help of mom and dad) on their tracking sheet. Once the sheet is filled, they return it and get a prize from the prize box. This has been working very well and all students have returned at least one sheet to date. The keeners are on their second sheet.
    I guess I’m not opposed to it because sometimes you just have to, to help a student discover that “hey I actually do like reading!”


  4. I love love love your idea about Reading Across Canada. I would like to try this in January, when we come back from Winter Break! I could also incorporate some socials into it!


  5. I appreciate all your ideas on how to motivate your students to read. I find it challenging to motivate my students to read in French. Many French Immersion Teachers face challenges to motivate their students to read and the same goes for speaking in French. I am in favor of giving out incentives as a reward. We have to ask ourselves if it is better to have a student reading a book to receive a small prize (i.e. free pencil) or to have a student not reading at all? In my opinion, if it helps students develop a passion for reading, I am in favor.
    I will have to try some of your ideas from your post with my French Immersion students. Thank you for sharing.


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