Friday, 9 October 2015

What motivates children to read?

Researchers interested in studying children’s reading motivation often focus on the multidimensional nature of it – that is, the many different reasons that children choose to read or not read.  In a previous blog post “Speaking up for reading motivation” I highlighted the importance of understanding children’s affective responses towards reading (e.g., their motivations for reading, confidence in reading and attitudes towards reading), as a way of identifying ways to improve their reading skills, but also to promote greater independent reading and positive reading experiences.

In the research literature, there are a number of different theoretical frameworks used to examine children’s reading motivation; however the intrinsic-extrinsic framework is one of the better known.  This theory focuses on the distinction between intrinsic (i.e., internal) and extrinsic (i.e., external) reasons for reading (e.g., see McGeown, Norgate & Warhurst, 2012; Wigfield & Guthrie, 1997).  For example, a child may be motivated to read because they are curious to learn more about a specific topic, or because they enjoy the experience of getting ‘involved’ in fictional stories and ‘getting to know’ these fictional characters.  These reasons would be regarded as intrinsic motivators.  On the other hand, a child may be motivated to read to obtain good reading grades, or to receive praise from the parents/teachers for their reading skills/effort.  Both of these would be regarded as extrinsic motivators.

Of course, children are motivated to read for a variety of reasons (both intrinsic and extrinsic), at different times and in different contexts.  Nevertheless, researchers have found that intrinsic reading motivation tends to be more closely and consistently related to reading attainment than extrinsic reading motivation (e.g., Becker, McElvany & Krotenbruck, 2010; McGeown et al., 2012; Wang & Guthrie, 2004); suggesting that efforts made to foster motivation should focus on intrinsic motivators (if the aim is to improve reading skills).

I think it is important that teachers are aware of the multi-dimensional nature of reading motivation – that is, the many reasons that children choose to read, as this provides knowledge and increased awareness of opportunities to better support students.  For example, by better understanding children’s specific motivations, teachers may be better placed to direct children towards specific book types that meet their needs/desires.  Indeed, children’s reading motivation has implications for their reading choices.  For example, in a recent research project (McGeown et al., in press), we found that children’s reading motivations predicted their reading choices.  In a study with 791 pupils, we found that those reporting higher levels of motivation to read in order to learn, reported reading more factual books, those motivated out of a desire to become involved in stories/characters, reported more fiction book reading, while those motivated out of a desire to achieve good grades reported more school book reading.


Becker, M., McElvany, N., & Kortenbruck, M. (2010) Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation as predictors of reading literacy: A longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102, 773-785.

McGeown, S. P, Norgate, R., & Warhurst, A.  (2012) Exploring intrinsic and extrinsic reading motivation among very good and very poor readers. Educational Research, 54, 209-322.

McGeown, S. P., Osborne, C., Warhurst, A., Norgate, R., & Duncan, L. G.  (in press).  Understanding children’s reading activities: Reading motivation, skill and child characteristics as predictors, Journal of Research in Reading.

Wang, J.H., & Guthrie, J. T. (2004) Modelling the effects of intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, amount of reading, and past reading achievement on text comprehension
between U.S and Chinese students. Reading Research Quarterly 39, 162–186.

Wigfield, A., & Guthrie, J. T. (1997). Relations of children’s motivation for reading to the amount and breadth of their reading. Journal of Educational Psychology 89, 420–32