How to Turn the Tide and Get High School Students to Read

Masthead Waves

Getting older students excited about and invested in reading can be a struggle. It’s all too easy for reading to fall by the wayside in high school, even for students that were formerly ravenous readers. High school students juggling classwork, sports, clubs, and creative pursuits alongside shifting social environments and newfound young adult responsibilities can simply be less intrinsically motivated to read for fun.


Yet reading for pleasure and developing deep reading skills are two of the most important assets for college readiness and later career success. To discuss how to better engage high school students with reading, Beanstack school success manager and former Orange County Public Schools program specialist Nicole Lopez led a roundtable discussion with secondary school librarians across the country. During the virtual discussion, two high school media specialists in Texas shared their insights into nurturing successful reading motivation and engagement at their schools. 



Revved-up Recognition in Robstown Independent School District

During the roundtable, librarians and media specialists continually discussed the tipping point in middle school and high school where kids stop reading for fun—and how to stave it off. Robstown Independent School District librarian Jessica McComb saw the reading slide firsthand at Robstown Early College High School, just outside of Corpus Christi in southwestern Texas.


“Junior high is where they start to slow down on that independent reading for enjoyment, and then it keeps sliding more and more in high school as they get involved in so many more athletics and activities,” she recounted, “but I found with our kids it’s all about recognition and those virtual badge prizes.”


McComb includes small, inexpensive prizes with every logging badge in Robstown’s reading challenges. “It’s amazing what high schoolers will do for a blow pop,” she chuckled. “A whole bag is $2, and there we go. And we do tote bags and free books and all sorts of things.”


Along with the prizes, McComb works with Robstown teachers to create fun, interactive activities to integrate into her reading challenges. Many of the activities go beyond simple assignments and create enriching connections between students and teachers, all centered around reading. 


“We do some where they have to actually go find a teacher and tell them something … and they have to take a picture with them and submit that, upload that into their activity. So they’re interacting more with the staff and talking about the books as well,” McComb said.


The most game-changing tactic McComb employs is frequent and varied reading recognition. Their daily morning announcements call out students who are reading and logging in Beanstack. “And it’s not just our top readers,” McCombe said. “We do a lot of recognizing, ‘Let’s all give a big round of applause for a student who has logged their first 50 minutes in Beanstack.’” She found that method helps motivate previously reluctant readers, and keeps students from feeling discouraged or like they’re too far behind to get recognized.


McComb also prints out all the badge images from the school’s current reading challenge and posts them in the main hallway of the high school. Each time a student earns a new badge, their name is added to a list under the corresponding badge.


Similarly, she also prints out all of her students’ submitted and approved reviews, along with an image of the book cover, and posts them in the library. “I actually find that they cluster and start pointing them out,” McComb recounted. “And then they’ll come run over and ask, ‘Do you have this one now?’ So it’s making [reading] for the high school kids very, very visible.”

And McComb started seeing real reading results. “We’re seeing a huge increase in our percentage of participation with students,” she shared. Just between December 2021 and January 2022, during their highly promoted Winter Reading Challenge, their reading participation jumped by 20 percent. And McComb pointed to the widespread visibility of reading and logging in Beanstack at their high school as the key to their success.



All-in on Competitions at International Leadership of Texas Aggieland High School

In Megan Wilson’s first year as a high school librarian, she was already turning the tide toward reading at IL Texas Aggieland High School in College Station, Texas. 


Aggieland High School is the newest and smallest school within the state-wide International Leadership of Texas charter school district. The district kicked off the school year with a charter-wide competition to see who could log the most reading during the Hispanic Heritage Month Reading Challenge.

“My principal was actually the first onboard,”  said. “She is incredibly supportive and very highly competitive … and she was determined we were going to win, [even] with less than 150 students.”


Wilson rose to the challenge. She went into fitness classes to teach “every student how to access Beanstack through their Classlink,” and laid out the principal’s goal: for them to out-read all the other schools in the district.


With the enticing motivation to pull off an underdog victory, Aggieland students banded together and got reading. During the reading challenge, students kept aware of their standings and encouraged more reading through daily announcements and a weekly newsletter.


“We won by a landslide,” Wilson said. “That motivation encouraged our kids to keep going with it … When they saw that we can win with the number of students we have, it just snowballed from there.”

For the next month, she kept the competitive momentum going with a campus-wide reading contest. The prize for the top five readers was to help spend $1,000 stocking their brand-new library with books. “To people who like to read, that’s huge,”  said.


During the challenge this time,  ramped up her frequent updates and reminders—or “badgering and bribing,” as she jokingly called her tactics. “High school students, junior high students, they don’t remember [something] if it’s not constantly in front of them. I feel like I need to make a t-shirt that says, ‘Have you logged those minutes?’” she said.


Once she had her winners,  went around to each winning student’s classroom and announced their victory in front of their classmates. Then, she collected book lists from them and placed a big order of new books—the best reward.


Want to learn about tactics for driving engagement with Beanstack in middle school? Check out our partner post about engaging middle schoolers with reading!

Keep up with the latest news and updates from Beanstack