Keeping Students Motivated Through the Winter Blahs

Hello Readers!  Carla from Comprehension Connection here to share ideas on how to survive and get the most from your students in the coming weeks.The holidays are approaching, and we are sure to see a decline in student motivation to read. The kids have one thing on their minds, and let me tell you, it is not homework!  So what are we to do to keep them on the right track? How can we mix things up to get the kids to buy in to our plan? What are the secrets to motivating them even when we are not able to remind them daily?  
One option many teachers try is to have vacation packages that include activities to keep kids busy over the break.  We've put together holiday packs with reading logs, project ideas, and math practice pages in the past, and one option you might try is to include options that get the rest of the family involved and that are different from the routines at school.  My students love to do book related projects, and if the directions are not that complicated, parents might actually appreciate materials that keep kids occupied and engaged. By involving other family members, kids will be kept on track with completing the work.

If families are part of the plan, one important thing to remember is to include them in the planning. We need to make the packets easy enough and small enough for the kids to not be overwhelmed by them.  They also will not be thrilled if it looks like "homework" to them, so including in the packet activities such as cooking, websites, writing, and art projects that are easy for families to do with the student may make a difference too. Kids can use critical thinking and creativity in these types of activities which keeps the brain stimulated.
For some students, incentives make a difference.  Having a surprise for work completion and effort goes a long ways with little people, especially if they get to celebrate with their classmates too. However, keep in mind that not earning the prize can be defeating, especially if it's not entirely the child's fault or lack of effort that causes him/her to fail in meeting the goal.  If incentives are used, I would recommend making the goal attainable for all so that it's a win-win.  
Make Reading Plans and Goals for the Break
As a group, brainstorm a reasonable plan for the break and set a goal together.  Include the goal in the packet that goes home as well as a plan to meet the goal. Good readers make plans, so mapping out when and how to reach the goal during break will be easier if the plan is developed with the group.  

Encourage the kids to visit the library and/or set them up with books for break
Now is the time to solicit parents for book donations.  Have the kids bring in books to trade with their friends, let them borrow from books that are donated, and/or borrow from your library.  Students need to be set up for reading, so sending them off with a great selection and perhaps a new book (gift from teacher) will make them excited to dig in.  Encourage the parents to give books as gifts too.

Give your students an author list to check out and give them a teaser before break begins
Just like a movie trailer makes you WANT to see the movie, we need to do the same with books. Showcase the best winter reads and share a little bit of each book to get your kids started.  I am giving my kids Shiloh (5th grade) and Stone Fox (4th grade) for Christmas (Sh!  Don't tell them.), but these two titles were $1.00 per book from Scholastic, so I was thrilled to find them.  I know the kids will enjoy them.  If they've read them already, no worries!  I have alternate books I can trade with them once the gifts are opened.

Talk about Great Books to Read
Invite your librarian and principal in for a little book talk.  Discuss their favorites and let the kids just talk about what they've been reading and what they'd recommend to friends.  That will build enthusiasm.  It's amazing how the reading bug spreads when we just let the kids talk with each other. My little guy, Gary, is the inspiration in my room.  He comes in each day bursting with energy (literally) and can't wait to share with me what he's reading and what he's finished.  He is a reader, and that is spreading among the others.

Make Sure Your Kids KNOW this is Important
Talk about your celebration plans with the expectation that ALL will meet the challenge, but also emphasize the greater importance...becoming a reader and enjoying it.  Share your reading plans and how much you look forward to the time off to read.  Share how schoolwork often gets in the way of time to read (nothing wrong with that as the kids are very important), but that you look forward to a few books you've had saved for the time off.

Match Interests to the Reader
Find out what your students are most interested in and help them find books that will "call them". Kids need to feel in control (and if they're "getting" to read what they want to read, then motivation increases), connected to the common goal, and confident they'll be successful with the plan.
The "best" books for winter may be tough to identify, but as teachers, we love to find great books for a bargain price. These books are what I could find available for a dollar each from Scholastic and from my other favorite vender, The Reading Warehouse. If you order soon, you should be able to get them on time.  These choices are available from both companies for $1.00 per book.  They are from the December, November, and October listings with Scholastic and the Bargain Bin with The Reading Warehouse. Some months are not appropriate for purchases now, but this is what is available at this time and are subject to availability I'm sure.  
First Grade:
Second Grade:
Third Grade:
Fourth Grade:
Fifth Grade:
Bargain Books from The Reading Warehouse 
*Note-there are many Curious George book titles available...perfect for primary.
Certainly, we may need magic to keep some kids going through the winter break and on those snow days, but if we build a culture of reading and involve our students in the planning, we are sure to be more successful than if we just dole out the packets and hope for the best.

If you have ideas that work, please take a moment and share them, and I wish each of you a wonderful holiday filled with time to curl up with your favorite book.  

Until next time...happy reading (and relaxing!)


  1. Hi Carla! I love the idea of setting reading goals together as a class before the break. It helps set the tone that the holiday break is a perfect time to enjoy many great books... that we can talk about when we get back to school. :)
    One Lucky Teacher

    1. I'm glad you liked the suggestion, and I hope your kids do lots of reading over break. Thanks for commenting.