Want Your Students to Read More? Make Them Sign Up!

Last year I set out to solve the riddle of how to get students to do more independent reading. I was convinced that if they were able to choose their books and if they stuck with that book long enough, they would enjoy reading. I don’t know to what extent my students would claim they enjoyed their reading, but I did find some great ways to nudge them to do more of it.

In today’s post I will share with you the top nudge in getting students to complete more independent reading. And the tip comes from the psychological effect of signing your name.

In a previous post I discussed ways I influence students to do more reading. Here is the best trick I know to getting students to go on to complete their outside reading assignment: make them sign up for their books!

Here is what my sign up sheet looks like:


Outside Reading Sign Ups

I post this in the classroom at my eye-level (I am 6 feet tall) when the students are assigned their next round of outside reading. Each round kicks off with a trip to the school library for the students to either check out a book. I make them use physical books, unless they have a dedicated ereader, like a Kindle (not an iPad with a Kindle app).

My outside reading assignments last five or six weeks. At least three days a week we read for the first 10 minutes of class. Early on in the five or six week time period, I will talk to the students about signing up their title. In the file pictured above, I type in their names on the left, print it out, post it, and then in the space on the right they will write their book title and their signatures.

You can see that there is a column on the right with commitment deadlines. This is another nudge. I noticed that if students wait and wait to select a book, they are more likely to cheat on the assignment. So, I incentivize the students to sign up by reducing their potential points they could earn. The later they sign up, the fewer points they can earn.

Let’s say I assign the first outside reading on Thursday, August 17th. I’m going to make the due date Thursday, September 28th. Here’s how the sign ups commitment deadline will work in that case:

  • Sign up by September 7th, you get a chance to earn 100% for outside reading.
  • Sign up by September 14th, you get a chance to earn 75% for outside reading.
  • Sign up by September 21st, you get a chance to earn 50% for outside reading.

I remind them constantly and shout praises across the room when students sign up, which encourages more signing up. At the end of September 7th, I will highlight all the signups green. On the 14th, yellow. And pink after that (or I leave it unhighlighted because I don’t really want to draw attention to the person that signed up really late).

There are a few reasons I have the students publicly sign up for their books.

  1. It solidifies a commitment to read the book. When they sign, they are signaling to everyone, “Hey, this is the book I’m going to read. For better or worse, I will get through it.”
  2. When people sign their name on something, they identify with it. It becomes a part of who they are. And, you and I know as readers, that’s what we want in our students.
  3. I save the sign up sheet after that round of outside reading. Later, if I suspect students are swapping books and one-pager assignments down the line, I can go back and check which books they read earlier in the year. It works great for auditing purposes. At least that’s what I tell the students.

This process gets the students to identify with the book they chose faster than if I did not present them with sign ups. Students are always looking for a way out of a lengthy assignment that involves 200 pages of reading. This keeps them from committing to the work, putting it off longer and longer. The practice of having them sign up for their book helps nudge the students into that commitment, keeping them on track.

It really works! I want you to try it too, so I am sharing the Microsoft Word file with you. Click HERE!

How do you get students to read more books? Tell us in the comment section below.

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