Project Description

Getting students to do assigned readings

By Prof. Spencer Benson, former Director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning Enhancement

Many of us have experienced the situation where students arrive at class and a significant proportion have not done the readings. This is especially troublesome if the pedagogy within the course involves discussion or analysis of the readings. Below I provide a few suggestions on how to incentivize students to do the assigned reading before class.

Require a pre-class reflection

For classes where discussion of assigned reading materials is an important component of the in class learning activity one option is to have students post a required short reflection in Moodle on the before class. For undergraduate classes it may be necessary and certainly wise to explain what a reading reflection is and a guideline of what you expect. My guidelines for reflections are to answer the following three queries, what was the key idea or take home lesson in the reading? What did you take away/learn from the reading? How does assigned reading contribute to the class? I routinely assign reading reflections in my graduate seminar courses. One efficient approach it to have the reflection posts be submitted via Moodle’s discussion forum tool.

Reading reflection scoring rubric




Missing, nothing posted


Poor or marginal quality, little or no evidence of effort, simply restates the article, no reflection, turned in on time F to D level work/effort.


Solid post, identifies key points, states what they learned, evidence of appropriate effort, clear that they read and thought about the reading. This is the expected score, C to B level work


Exemplary post, clear they read and thought about the reading, provides new insights and/or perspective, may include reference to prior reading or other material, may challenge points in the reading, A level work


Any 2 or 3 level post that is turned in after the forum closes

I generally assign 10 to 20 percent of the class assessment points for reading reflection posts activity.

Require completion of a short on-line quiz or questionnaire

For undergraduate courses where much of the reading is from a textbook, I require students to complete an online quiz based on the assigned reading. For a previous introductory biology course (>200 students) I used auto graded multiple-choice questions. The purpose was to provide an incentive for students to open the textbook and read the assigned chapter. My experience and student responses from end of the class surveys suggests that the biggest hurdle in getting students to read the textbook is to have them open it. I often used M/C questions from the end of the chapter or those provided by the publisher. Unfortunately, developing auto graded quiz questions using the Moodle quiz tool can be time-consuming. One trick in setting up repetitive auto graded quizzes in Moodle is to first develop a prototype quiz with all the correct settings and then use the duplication function to clone the quiz. This way you only need to edit the timing and the question and answer components of the duplicated quiz. An alternative is to use the questionnaire tool and give a low number of points for those that complete the questionnaire prior to class. In this case I close the questionnaire 30 minutes before the start of class and those students who miss it forfeit the participation point(s). In Moodle questionnaires can include M/C questions, but the answers are not graded.

Give students choice in the assigned readings

A third way to help incentivize student reading of assigned texts, is to reduce the amount of text they need to read, while this sounds counterproductive in fact it can be quite useful. One approach is to assign 3 to 4 readings and allow students to choose one or two and reflect on those. While not every student will have read every assigned reading enough students will have read each of the readings so that it is possible to hold a discussion on each of them. Moreover, since the student posted reflections that are available to all students every student has the opportunity through the work of their peer to see the key points of each of the readings. In my graduate courses this is worked exceedingly well and was greatly appreciated by the students. It also gives me feedback on which items they chose to read, this in combination the reflections helps me to refine the assigned reading for the next time I offer the course.

Revised by CTLE on 27 January 2022.