How to Build a Reading Community in High Schools

students reading in class
Masthead Waves

Addressing the challenge of reading skills in high school can be complex. While some students struggle due to phonological and phonemic awareness difficulties, others may simply lack the motivation to read. How can educators effectively address these complexities? One solution is to strengthen the school community’s reading culture. We’ve found that community reading competitions, rewards and incentives, and recognition can build or grow a strong reading culture in high schools. With Beanstack, maturing students are motivated to embrace reading as a habit that rewards—giving them something in return.

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The Importance of Reading for Student Success

Elementary schools place a strong emphasis on reading for a reason. Reading is one of the most significant predictors of success in school and beyond, and that doesn’t change when students enter middle and high school. In fact, at the high school level, daily assignments require students to read and actively engage with text. If a student struggles with reading, they may struggle in other subjects, too.

Reading is also directly connected to self-esteem. One study found that less skilled readers were much more likely to deal with mental health concerns than those who read regularly. Students need to read to thrive in academics and navigate their mental health.

Why Do Middle and High School Students Read Less?

Despite the importance of reading, there’s a significant drop in time spent reading for pleasure in middle school and high school. By age 17, around half of students read for fun at most once or twice a year. Why is this? Several factors play into the drop-off, including:

  • Increased distractions: High school focuses heavily on extracurriculars. Students may get jobs, start playing sports more often, or get involved in music or drama. Phone use and social media may also distract them from reading for fun.
  • Increased demands: Academics get harder as students transition through middle and high school; students may deprioritize reading for fun due to lack of time. 
  • Lack of ability: When students leave elementary school with reading challenges, they will likely continue to struggle if this issue is not addressed.
  • Peer pressure: The reality is that reading just might not be “cool” enough. And if a school doesn’t have a culture of reading, students lack motivation.

With increased distractions and demands, educators must prioritize reading proactively. Middle school is the turning point for building good habits that stick both in high school and adult life. The right tools can motivate even the most reluctant readers, equipping them with the skills and ability required to succeed.


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Top Strategies for Helping Older Students Read More

In high school, it’s important to create a supportive reading environment. Being intentional about building a reading community can significantly impact and may even help students think “reading is cool.” Here are some strategies to help teachers and parents motivate older students to read more.


Tips for Educators

Teacher interactions with students, discussions of reading choices, and assignments can impact how much students choose to read. The tips below help build a stronger reading community in high school classrooms.

  • Differentiate instruction: Differentiating how students learn or what they read can help engage struggling readers. This type of instruction caters to the various ways different students learn, allowing them to show their learning in a way that works for them.
  • Model active reading skills: High school students benefit from explicit instruction in active reading skills. Model active reading by showing students how to map their thinking while they read. This will create more active, engaged readers, inspiring some to look at reading for fun again.
  • Encourage rereading: Encourage high school students to reread a book they finished and enjoyed. Prompt them to revisit ideas and themes in the book or get to know the characters better. By engaging with a text they previously enjoyed, they may rediscover a love for reading.
  • Expose students to different formats: Sometimes, students shy away from reading because the traditional print format doesn’t appeal to them. Encourage students to explore a variety of formats until they find the right fit. Graphic novels, audiobooks, and large print are just a few! 
  • Prioritize D.E.A.R. time: For ELA classes, adding 15 to 20 minutes of Drop Everything and Read time during class periods allows students to incorporate reading into their daily routine. For fun, students can pre-select a book from the library or bring one from home.

Looking for additional strategies to boost your students’ reading habits? We’ve compiled a list of 20 best practices that will inspire and motivate them to read more. 


Tips for Parents

Parents can also impact a high schooler’s desire to read. Here are some tips inspired by this article from Scholastic:

  • Let kids choose their reading material: Statistics show that kids who choose their reading material, even at a high school level, express more enjoyment of reading.
  • Read the news together: Middle and high schoolers are often quite interested in what’s happening in the world. Read news articles together and talk about them. Your child will be more informed about the world around them, and it’s an excellent opportunity to talk about media literacy.
  • Discuss books with each other: You can model reading and discuss what you’re reading with your kids. This demonstrates that you value reading and helps strengthen your home’s reading culture.
  • Encourage reading to younger siblings: Struggling readers are often embarrassed about their lower reading level. Reading to younger siblings (or even pets!) can build literacy without fear of embarrassment. They have a reason to read “kid” books and can develop their fluency simultaneously.
  • Visit the library together: Make trips to the library a family affair. Explore the shelves, new books, authors, and library programs together.

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How Beanstack Supports High School Reading Communities

Fostering a reading community is crucial to encouraging secondary school students to read more at home or school. Using Beanstack in schools has effectively increased students’ reading time through community goal-setting and motivational rewards. Reading challenges transform it into a social activity and incorporate gamification elements, making the experience even more fun and engaging. This ultimately cultivates a culture of communal reading, even at the middle and high school levels.


Flexible Reading Challenges

Beanstack helps schools effortlessly build and run reading challenges. The platform’s versatility, paired with a number of existing templates, allows admins to build challenges that fit their students’ needs. For older students, try these options:

  • Battle of the Books: Set up a March Madness bracket or a quiz bowl-style battle, and have your kids compete to be the winner.
  • State book awards: Use Beanstack to tap into your state book award program. Encourage students to read the titles and vote as a school to see which are most popular. You’ll discover students talking about these books when you work as a group to read through them.
  • Heritage Month observances: Do you celebrate heritage, such as Black History Month or Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month? Set up a curated book list and reading challenge to coincide with these observances.
  • Required summer reading: Increase engagement with your required summer reading program using Beanstack. Set up a required reading list by grade level or classroom, or set a minute goal and allow students to read what they choose. Participants can earn rewards for participating, and you can link to school resources and databases to further their learning.

Reading challenges that fit other aspects of the school year will encourage greater interest and involvement, plus contribute to the culture of reading.


Reinforces Reading Habits With Extrinsic Motivation

Establishing short-term reading goals is crucial for developing consistent reading habits. With Beanstack’s gamification features, students are motivated to earn badges, maintain their reading streaks, and work toward achieving goals together. These small incentives make reading more enjoyable and rewarding, turning it from a task into a fulfilling experience. 


Our data indicates that even just one reward can boost school engagement by almost 95%. Students participating in reading challenges with incentives dedicate an average of 21 minutes to reading each day. Schools have succeeded by incorporating fun and inspiring rewards that ignite excitement and anticipation. 


For instance, a high school in the Pasco County School District surprised students with a latte cart as a reward for reaching a reading milestone. This small treat created a ripple effect in class, motivating more students to log their reading.


Taps Into Students’ Intrinsic Motivation to Read

Beanstack also helps educators tap into teenagers’ intrinsic motivation to read. By fulfilling students' need for independence, they become confident in their abilities and are inclined to cultivate positive reading routines. Beanstack encourages reading choice, allows students to earn rewards regardless of their reading proficiency, and links them to a vibrant reading community. All of this combines to increase intrinsic motivation to read.


Provides an Easy-to-Use Platform

Our platform is user-friendly for students, making it even easier to build a reading culture. Students using Beanstack find it simple to log their minutes, see their rewards, and track their progress, which means more participation. The more students participate, the more they talk about what they read and build that reading culture.


Schedule a Demo Today

Are you ready to build a community reading culture in your secondary schools? Request a demo of Beanstack to see how easy it is to use. Looking to understand pricing for your school district? Get a custom quote today.

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