How to Get Students to Read: The Give One/Get One Strategy

 Recommendations and strategies to get students to read.

“What are some strategies I can use to get students to read?”

“Where does reading fit into the active learning classroom?”

“Students don’t read before class. I feel like I have to go over the whole reading assignment during class. What can I do?”

These are some of the most popular questions faculty have asked me about teaching using active learning strategies to engage students. Getting students to do the pre-class work is a challenge for many of us, but it seems like it takes more effort if the pre-class work includes reading. What can you do?


Click on the image below to get your free Give One / Get One template.


Here are two recommendations and one strategy to encourage students to read:

Recommendation #1 to Get Students to Read: Find the why.

If you’re struggling with how to get students to read before class, one of the first questions you need to address is the “why.” Why aren’t students reading? There are many reasons to consider:

  • They don’t delegate enough time (or realize how much time it will take).
  • They read superficially or don’t know how to read for college-level understanding.
  • They don’t see the value of the reading assignment.
  • They don’t know what to do with the information they read.
  • The reading material is too complex and they get confused or overwhelmed.
  • There’s no immediate accountability. They can put it off until later.
  • Other responsibilities or interests take priority.
  • Maybe there’s too much reading.
  • The reading assignments don’t reflect diverse authors, backgrounds, or perspectives.
  • They’ve been able to “get by” without reading in prior courses.
  • They want to wait for you to explain it first and then they’ll go back and read it.
  • They are not interested in the course, unmotivated or lazy.

I’m sure there are many other reasons why students don’t read. Your challenge is to try to learn more about why YOUR students aren’t reading so you can make adjustments, clarify expectations, or provide guidelines or structures to help students succeed.

To learn why, ask them! You can do the “start, stop, continue” activity and specifically focus your questions on the reading assignments in the course. Or, you can create anonymous surveys or “minute papers” to quickly gather feedback.

You don’t have to make all of the changes students recommend, but their responses will probably include a couple of ideas you can easily implement without needing to re-design the whole course.

And of course, remind them if they want you to take their ideas seriously, then they need to take the process of providing feedback seriously (no, we are not going to delete all of the reading assignments…).

Recommendation #2 to Get Students to Read: Clarify the “Do”

To help students see the value of the pre-class reading assignment, clarify what you want students to be able to do with the information.

For, example, if you say, “Read Chapter 2” without any additional information, then you may not be giving students enough structure or direction for this assignment.

  • What exactly do you want students to DO with chapter 2?
  • What should they be able to do after reading the assignment?
  • Will they need to be able to define key terms?
  • Compare and contrast an argument presented in the chapter?
  • Outline the main points?
  • Answer the questions at the end of the chapter?
  • Summarize what happened?
  • Describe something in their own words?
  • Identify significant events?
  • Interpret a graph?

By answering these questions and clarifying what students need to be able to do, you are providing structure, self-assessment, and value. They know what they are supposed to do and they know whether or not they did it. And, if you integrate whatever they do into the next lesson, then they will see the value.

Note: You may not need to do this for every reading assignment. You may decide to set the standards at the beginning of the semester and show students how the process works. Once they are aware of the routine and expectations, you may be able to relax the structure.

Now, let’s look at one strategy you can use to get students to read. Let’s FLIP it with Give One/Get One:

FLIP Strategy:  Give One/Get One

Before writing this post, I reached out to my list of subscribers and asked “What’s working well?” when it comes to flipped classrooms and engaging students. I received SO MANY responses!  My readers are so creative!  They generously shared their ideas, and now I’d like to start sharing a few of their strategies with you throughout the blog.

Let’s start with the Give One/Get One strategy because it addresses many of the challenges we face when it comes to getting students to read.

Fran Dulcich, an associate professor in human services and teacher education at Onondaga Community College in New York, responded to the email and shared a strategy she adapted called “Give One/Get One” which has been a successful approach for getting students to read their textbooks.

Fran explained, “I’d like to share something I do with my students that has been very successful in getting them into their textbooks. It’s a variation on a Give One/Get One. I assign chapter pages for the week, dividing the chapter approximately in half. Students have a paper to fill out with 6 blocks on a page.”

She continued, “They must fill in the first 3 blocks on the left with 3 ideas/concepts/interesting/surprising things they got from the chapter. They come to class and then exchange their ideas (Give One) with 3 classmates (Get One). I’ve done this for two semesters and when I ask students for their thoughts about this strategy, they overwhelmingly say they like it because it gets them to read the text.”

Yay Fran! This is awesome!

This strategy is awesome because it addresses many of the challenges from our list of why students don’t read:

  • It shows the students how the reading assignment is valued. You are using it during class time and integrating their ideas into the next activity, discussion, or lecture.

  • It clarifies what they are supposed to do when they read. (Read, find three ideas, record them on your worksheet, and prepare to give one and take one.)

  • If they are confused about the reading, this worksheet can be the space where they share their confusion and possibly connect with another student who can explain it to them or who feels the same way.

  • There’s immediate accountability. It holds students accountable because they have to be prepared to “give one” and “get one” from their peers.

  • It encourages them to focus on what they are reading and try to find an idea that some of their colleagues may not have found.

This strategy can be adapted to blended and online courses as well. You could do “Give One/Get One” with the syllabus, the course website, or any other content you want students to review and share.

And I think this could be an excellent strategy to use at a professional conference to encourage participants to meet each other, share ideas, and learn from sessions they may not have attended.