10 authentic ways to hold students accountable for home reading

Let’s face it: reading logs are boring, and most kids hate writing down the titles and authors of books they’ve read in order to “prove” they’ve done their required 20 minutes of reading time at home. Here are some more authentic ways to hold students accountable for their reading time and foster a love of books. Please note that SnapLearning is a supporter of The Cornerstone and the link to that site is sponsored.

alternatives to reading logs: authentic ways to manage students' at home reading

1) Replace reading logs with book journals. One year, I let students pick out a beautiful notebook to record their reading (they could bring in something they’d bought or choose from an assortment I’d gotten at the dollar store.) Having a special notebook they loved and felt proud of was much more motivating than scrawling book titles on a piece of paper or in a homework agenda book.

2) Show kids your own book journal and talk about why it’s useful to keep a reading record. I let kids see that I write down the titles of everything I read and that I also jot down favorite quotes and passages. Then I ask why they think I take time to do that, and help them discover that it’s enjoyable to look back on what I’ve read over the years and remind myself of important take-aways and new ideas I’ve discovered.

3) Allow students to keep digital book journals.  My own journal is now kept in Notes and stored on iCloud so I can access it anywhere, so why not permit kids to do the same if they have access to a device? You can use apps that are specifically designed to record books or an all-purpose app like Evernote. This is an especially good option for kids who hate to write but love using the computer.

4) Encourage kids to record more than just titles and authors. A list of books is far less interesting to write down (and read later) than reflections, inspiring or funny quotes, and so on. Though I have never mandated that students record “aha moments” during home reading, I always shared examples from my own reading and encouraged students to share theirs, too, as a model for the other kids (“I have to show you guys what Bryan wrote about this hilarious scene he read in his book this week—listen to this!”)

5) Ask questions about what students are reading. Instead of (or in addition to) reading logs, talk with kids about their choices. Why did you choose that book? What’s your favorite part so far? Have you had any questions as you read? What new words have you noticed? How will you choose the next book you read? You can talk about these things in individual reading conferences (5 minutes per child per week or every other week during reading group rotations, for example) or at the beginning of your small group reading time as you talk about how students have applied strategies you’ve taught.

6) Provide access to a digital program that automatically tracks and creates reports on what kids have read. For example, Snap Learning provides hundreds of grade-appropriate books, both fiction and non-fiction, which you can assign to your students and send to their devices (you can request a free demo to see how it works.) The reports created by these types of programs can be fascinating for kids: they love to see graphs of how much they’ve read!

7) If students read eBooks, have them take and annotate screenshots to reflect on their reading. They can capture any part of the book that spoke to them and type out why they liked it or want to remember it. Remind students that this is for their personal benefit, not yours! At the end of the year, students can compile these screenshot images into a slideshow (simply by dragging the folder into Picasa or another free tool) and look back on all the best parts of their book choices.

8) Provide time for students to share their reading journals with their friends. Once a month, I used a few minutes of our reading block for students to pair up and talk about what they recently enjoyed reading. This helped students get recommendations for new books to read, and gave them them extra motivation to find

9) Teach kids that it’s okay not to finish a book they don’t like and how they should record that information. Students are forced to read enough texts in class—self-selected reading should be based entirely on what kids enjoy! Tell them about books you’ve picked up and just couldn’t get into, and permit them to do the same. Help kids use their reading journals to reflect on why a particular book wasn’t right for them (Too hard? Too easy? Didn’t like the author’s voice?) and use that as a springboard to look at aspects of strong writing. Encourage kids to use those less than enjoyable experiences with books to help them choose better books in the future. Set the expectation that reading time is precious and no one should waste it on a book that doesn’t speak to them.

10) Have kids revisit their reading journals later in the year and reflect on their growth. Talk about how some of the books they selected in September were difficult for them, but much easier to tackle now. Invite them to talk about how their subject matter and genre preferences have evolved, and think about how they’d like to spend their reading time in the coming weeks.

How do you hold students accountable for their reading at home? Have you found any ways to make reading logs more meaningful? Share your ideas in the comments!

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 elicia cardenas May 20, 2014 at 10:29 pm

These are amazing ideas. I’d love to hear from teachers how they have gotten their kids to read and respond to home (and in-class self-selected) reading. I hate the reading log and would like to replace it with something more authentic. However, they struggle so much with responding to reader’s response prompts (and they seem to hate those) that I have no idea how to scaffold that at home. Are reader’s responses useful? I’m not sure that they are, or I’m not using them effectively in class.

Angela, do you suggest requiring a certain number of minutes? How do you hold them accountable for weekly homework reading if they are only recording titles and optional ahas? What do you do for kids who have no safe place to read, or books, or electricity?

BTW, I use Shelfari for all my reading lists because I can write reviews and it is wonderfully visual, but I don’t think our district policy would allow that kind of web access for my kids.


2 Angela Watson May 21, 2014 at 1:17 pm

I, too, dislike reading logs, and I’m not a huge fan of reading response prompts for self-selected reading. To me, that takes some of the joy out of reading and makes reading inauthentic: when I finish reading a book as an adult, I don’t answer questions about it. I feel like kids are forced to answer questions about their reading so much in school that I’m really reticent to do it outside of school, too.

In terms of requiring a certain number of minutes…I never had a choice in this. All the schools I taught in required 20-30 minutes of reading per night for homework. However, I don’t think that’s a bad system, and 20 minutes for elementary kids seems reasonable for me. I’ve encouraged kids to count any time they spend reading or being read to. I’ve also allowed them to be flexible with the time: the goal is 20 minutes per night, but sometimes you may get caught up in a good story and read for longer, and other nights you might be tired or too busy and only read for 5. That’s okay with me, because that’s how real readers read. As long as I can see evidence that students are spending time with books at home, I’m satisfied!


3 Ashley May 21, 2014 at 9:11 pm

I have been having a personal battle with reading logs and readers response. I stopped logging BC a)it takes a lot of time and b) I felt like they held no meaning. I’ve also struggled with readers response BC I feel like I’m just making them do something that they are never going to have to do again or that is pointless. I just so it because ita in the standards and its expected. I’ll often find myself.thinking, “when are they going to ever truly use this??” I’m trying to figure out the best ways to use both because a response and log are absolutely important, but its important to teach them why they need it. These are great suggestions! Readers Response has been my enemy this year! 😉


4 Angela Watson May 21, 2014 at 10:30 pm

I’m glad the suggestions were helpful, Ashley! I, too, have had a long personal battle with reading logs and readers response. Anytime I can give students an opportunity to just read for the sake of reading, I jump on it, and home reading is where I’ve felt like I had the most freedom and flexibility.


5 Malorie Kahl November 1, 2015 at 11:22 am

Super excited to try this as well. I have been struggling with the reading logs and can tell me high readers do not benefit from it. Really excited to see how this works.


6 C Leifer May 22, 2014 at 7:20 am

I’m a parent with an 8yr old on the ASD. He is thrilled with books & will pile a stack of books next to him @ the dinner table & leaf through them. His issues make reading difficult, and nothing becomes a bigger drag than mandated reading. His skill is advancing, but he can become frustrated easily with difficult words, and then shuts down.

I’ve always felt a bit like a bad example for ‘fudging’ his reading log. His weekly speech therapy includes reading tongue-twisters for nearly 45 mins ~ on those nights he gets a pass & I jot down some random book from our shelves; he has special reading books from his learning support teacher, so I count those. He’ll grab 4-5 books @ the library & read through one in the car – when not forced to recite out loud, he can usually tell a fair story of the content.

I want my child to WANT to read, and I know he’ll never be me = I can remember getting scolded for reading ahead into the SRA box. So, just like ‘coloring’, I’ve decided it’s better that he have the skill of reading w/o turning it into a drudgery. I know it’s not ‘educational’, but the fact that he pauses the TV constantly to read the screen & ask what a certain word is counts for me — I just can’t figure out how to add that to a log!!


7 Angela Watson May 22, 2014 at 11:13 pm

Thanks so much for sharing your perspective as a parent. I love the priorities you’ve set for your child and the way you think carefully about what routines will foster a love of reading. :)


8 joann August 15, 2015 at 8:51 pm

What about using closed captioning on the tv for reading time?


9 Sara May 22, 2014 at 7:43 am

I have always disliked reading logs since the students never seemed to take them seriously. So this year I sat down with my fifth grade students to have an honest discussion about them. The students actually told me that the book logs turned them off from reading. That they didn’t focus on what they were reading or enjoy it because they were thinking more about what they were going to write on their reading log homework. Together we came up with the idea of a reading blog. I would pose a question every night and they would not only respond to the question, but could interact with each other about the books that they were reading. The loved it!


10 Angela Watson May 22, 2014 at 11:14 pm

This is GENIUS, Sara! I’m not surprised your students came up with that–I’ve always felt that the best solutions to classroom problems come from the kids! Bravo to you for seeking their input.


11 Natalie April 1, 2016 at 11:34 pm

I’d love to know more about your reading blog! Would you mind sharing your web address with me? Thank you.


12 Jessuly June 17, 2016 at 9:45 am

Hi Sara!

I love the idea of a reading blog also. Would it be appropriate for 3rd/4th grade students? I’d love to see your website if you’d be willing to share it. I’ll be a first year teacher for a combined 3rd/4th grade class next year and I have to use reading logs, but I am very wary and nervous about using them especially if they turn off reading. Thanks!


13 Maureen August 10, 2016 at 9:58 pm

yes! Sara, I have decided that is the route I’ve wanted to go this year! Any information to help would be great! What types of questions did you ask them?


14 Karen May 22, 2014 at 10:21 am

Thanks for this. I have a love/hate relationship with Reading Logs, and I’m looking for other options to keep kids accountable for their 15 minutes home reading but with some more authenticity to it. Really challenging with a mostly ESL student population and a large percentage of parents not even speaking English, let alone reading it. Printed this for future reference.


15 Angela Watson May 22, 2014 at 11:15 pm

Ah, yes, you’re right, reading logs pose a special challenge for ESL kids. How wonderful that you are being considerate of that and looking for solutions that work for them and their families.


16 Stefan Anders May 22, 2014 at 5:58 pm

I don’t like reading logs either, but too many kids don’t read without some kind of accountability. I’ ve heard too many times this year that “we have to do our homework first.” As a big fan of The Bookwhisperer, I have used many of the other ideas, but I still struggle with reading logs. Right now I give them one every two to three weeks.


17 Angela Watson May 22, 2014 at 11:16 pm

I’m always sad to hear kids say they have to do their homework first–I always tell them, reading is your MOST IMPORTANT homework! :) I love the Book Whisperer, too, and I like your idea of using reading logs on occasion. The every single night drill just gets old.


18 Anila May 24, 2014 at 12:03 am

Great suggestions.How about getting parents to help?They could form a bookclub in their own neighbourhood and have book reading sessions.


19 Angela Watson October 3, 2014 at 1:00 am

LOVE that idea!


20 Bev May 24, 2014 at 9:40 pm

Reading a book is one thing; talking about it is even better!


21 Angela Watson October 3, 2014 at 1:00 am

Good point, Bev. Sometimes we complicate things. I know teachers who have kids talk with a group of students every morning about what they read the night before. That accountability and eagerness to share with their peers is a great motivator…much better than a reading log.


22 Lisa Stringfellow August 12, 2014 at 6:13 am

Great ideas. I moved to online logs a few years ago and it has worked much better. Reading-Rewards allows kids to build a virtual library and I can print weekly reports on their reading. I use it to manage a summer reading challenge also. I also started using Google Sites to have my students keep digital readers notebooks. Again, they can share and see what others are reading and the quality of their reflections has been great. Also they could be made part of an e-portfolio.


23 Angela Watson October 3, 2014 at 1:01 am

I never thought of that! An online log could be useful for kids in so many ways…you’ve got me thinking!


24 Jennifer Hansen September 6, 2014 at 11:37 am

I have used a weekly response journal with students for years. Students are assigned one day a week to write a friendly letter to me about the book they are reading. They provide a brief summary of the reading along with title, author, and genre. In the following 2 paragraphs they share their thinking….the aha moments…connections….and the supporting evidence from the text that supports their thinking. I in turn respond to their letter posing questions and making comments about their reading….probing questions making them stretch their thinking about the book. We do this for over half the year practicing the skill and keeping our collection of letters in a composition note book (chronologically). Once students become skilled at reading and writing about their reading I pair them with a student in the room that has a similar reading lexile.
They select a book together and read the same book while writing letters to each other in their response journals. At the end of the year the students have a notebook full of rich letters about their reading. I have had students come back to my classroom years after they have let my little room and tell me that they still have their notebook and a few have continued the practice.


25 Angela Watson October 3, 2014 at 12:45 am

I love that, Jennifer! Thank you for taking the time to share.


26 Stacey September 6, 2014 at 3:55 pm

I’m going to try this next summer when I do #bookaday so I can have a journal of my own.


27 Kris Ferguson September 10, 2014 at 8:16 am

At what age do you stop reading logs? My son is in 8th grade and they are expected to read 90 minutes during the week. With all the other subjects he’s reading for (Science, Social Studies, Etc.) he doesn’t have much time to get his fun reading in and he LOVES to read. This is my kid who read all the Harry Potter books in 2nd/3rd grade! And I agree with those that said, the reading logs turn kids OFF of reading. Half the time the parents “fudge” the reading anyway. I’m a first grade teacher and I TOTALLY get why reading at home is important. I guess I just get frustrated when we try to force (older) kids to read. You can only do so much to emphasize how important reading is! My older daughter hates to read–it happened in 5th grade. She wasn’t a strong reader and she had to turn in a book report a month. Well, she couldn’t keep up and got very frustrated and now HATES to read. She is a junior in high school and I think she has finally picked up a book she wanted to read on her own (Fault in our Stars). And she comes from a READING mom!! I understand there has to be an accountability piece with the younger students and they NEED the nightly practice. I tell my parents going over sight words can count as your 20 minutes. Again, love/hate relationship with reading logs from a parent perspective AND a first grade, reading specialist, teacher perspective!!


28 Angela Watson September 10, 2014 at 8:33 am

Great perspective, Kris, thanks for sharing. Can he count the reading he does for other classes in his reading log? I’m not sure I’ve heard of reading logs being required beyond elementary school.


29 Temple September 15, 2014 at 1:42 am

I like the idea of using technology to motivate students about reading. I keep book lists on Goodreads.com and I show students how I keep a ‘read’ (with star ratings), ‘abandoned’ and ‘to-read’ list. I have them add those lists to their reading notebooks. If they are struggling to add books to the ‘to read’ list we circulate around the classroom and ask, “Read any good books lately?” Students refer to their ‘read’ list with star ratings when answering that question. When I ask kids, “What are you reading next?” and they are stuck I ask them to refer to their ‘to-read’ list. I also give them the option of completing reading logs and book reports at biblionasium.com. I also keep a spreadsheet with student names in the left vertical column and the date in the top horizontal column. Every few days (every day the first month) I publicly ask kids, “What are you reading?” and “What page are you on?” I give them permission to abandon books and prod them if they’ve only completed a few pages. Because this is a public conversation my fourth graders hear what their peers are doing and are often inspired. I also discovered it’s very common for a child to stop reading once they finish a book. They don’t know what to do next and need some prodding to select a new book. My goal is to develop a love of reading in my students and this helps.


30 Jason December 12, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Another option: use an app, like Books That Grow, that tracks how much your students have read: http://www.booksthatgrow.com.


31 Jill March 10, 2015 at 11:47 pm

Thanks for this inspiration. #2 really hit me – especially because I have been doing some topic specific historical fiction reading that I could easily share with my students. I’ll be doing a book report with my students right along side them now! I’ve linked up with you in my latest post: http://havingmycakeblog.blogspot.ca/2015/03/great-reads-to-keep-up-with-grade-3.html
Thanks again for the practical and interesting advice.


32 Cici July 11, 2015 at 12:07 am

This is literally one of the best ides I’ve read on Pinterest in months!!!


33 Angela Watson July 17, 2015 at 2:23 pm

So glad to hear that!


34 Joy Kirr September 30, 2015 at 6:05 pm

When they’re finished with a book, I ask my 7th graders to give a book talk! :)


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