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How to Turn Reading into a Habit

by | Nov 17, 2021 | News, Schools

Adapted from Oxford University Press ELT (Nick Michelioudakis)

How can we help learners build a reading habit?

The first thing you need to do is to ensure buy-in. Experts agree that trying to get people to do something they do not really want is bound to backfire. Students have to want to start reading and you can help whet their appetite by showing them some great readers (OUP readers – naturally!), by engaging them in discovery activities and by getting them to choose which one they want to read.

What about the level?

For extensive reading, students need to be able to follow the story easily, without needing to look up words. This means that they need to be able to understand at least 95% of the words in the book. If you are not sure whether Level 3 or Level 4 is suitable for your students, go for Level 3.

What are the key steps to building a habit?

‘Habits are the holy grail of behavioural change because they herald the possibility of automatic behaviours’ (Service & Gallagher 2017 – p. 60). That means that we can do things effortlessly.

Below are a few key tips for helping your students build a reading habit.

1) Set a target

To build a habit, people need to have a routine which they will perform on a regular basis. The starting point is deciding on a target. The target has to be very specific. Students need to know whether they have achieved their target or not. Telling yourself ‘I am going to read a few pages’ is too vague; ‘I am going to read one chapter’ on the other hand is good.

2) Start small

Building a habit is not easy, so students need to start small. Never mind the minimal benefits; once you have established the habit, then you can gradually increase how much you do. So – forget that ‘One chapter a day’; make that ‘One paragraph a day’. If students want to read more, this is a bonus.

3) Select a cue

Habits tend to stick when linked to a specific point in our day. That could be ‘as soon as I wake up’ or it could be another thing we routinely do. For instance, we could tell ourselves ‘As soon as I finish my piano practice, I will read one page from my book’.

4) Select a reward

To reinforce the habit, it is important to link it with a reward. The reward has to be small. It could be a little treat, such as a piece of chocolate, or it could be a behavioural ‘treat’. For instance, I revise my notes every day and I reward myself by playing a game of online chess (2 minutes only) when I have finished. The reward is ‘behavioural scaffolding’. Once the habit has been established, we can dispense with it (Service & Gallagher 2017 – p. ix).

5) Use implementation intentions

Research has shown that it helps a great deal if students write down a mini-plan about exactly what they intend to do and where (Duhigg 2012 – p. 142). For instance, a student could write: ‘As soon as I finish my online French lesson, I am going to read two pages from my reader in my bedroom’. It helps enormously if the reader is already there and in some visible place, so it acts as a reminder.

6) Be consistent

The key to building a habit is consistency. It is not a big problem to miss a day but missing two days in a row could derail your efforts. Depending on the individual and the nature of the habit, it can take between 18 and 254 days to establish a habit (Alter 2018 – p. 271). Generally, two months is needed. This may seem a lot, but once a habit is formed, it becomes effortless and it is also easy to reactivate if for whatever reason we have to stop (Clear 2018 – p. 94).

The teacher as model

The best way to inspire your students to develop a love for reading is to share with them your favourite stories, or simply make sure the students see you reading on a regular basis. Students copy what their teachers do.


Alter, A. (2017) Irresistible. New York: Penguin

Clear, J. (2018) Atomic Habits. London: Random House

Duhigg, C. (2012) The Power of Habit. London: Random House Books

Service, O. & Gallagher, R. (2017) Think Small. London: Michael O’Mara Books

#readingtime #readingislife #bookworm #booklove #bookblogger

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