Develop and Deepen Interests

Empower students to discover their interests

Often, students do not recognize that they have a constellation of interests that drive their choices, including their reading choices. Students at all levels can be propelled to practice and persist with reading if they are encouraged to read on topics that are of deep interest to them. They may need support identifying those interests, however, especially at the middle school level, as they explore their identities. Support students to recognize and articulate the topics that interest them, and help them build depth as well as breadth in their interests.


Middle school students are highly engaged by current, relevant, and controversial informational text. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) confirms that student engagement increases when students are provided with options that are personally relevant to them. The more relevant the options for reading material are, the more likely students are to read, which leads to improvements in reading comprehension.

How you can help students discover their interests

Based on what students read, you can suggest other related stories to extend or deepen students interests. Teacher recommendations help students to identify topics of interest.

Teaching tips
  1. Model how to filter by topic, and then ask students to use the topic filter to find a story they want to read.
  2. Ask students to identify which topics they most enjoy reading about and make a class graph to represent these areas of interest.
  3. Model how to use lists of teacher recommended stories to further build students’ knowledge of areas that interest them.
  4. Encourage your students to become experts! Once students have explored some of the different topics or stories available in an e-text format, have them choose one topic on which to become an expert. Students can then spend a few sessions reading stories and completing activities of their choice. When they have finished their activity, students can take turns sharing their expert knowledge with the rest of the class by presenting one or more of their activities.
Lesson: Sort and Motivate! (Relates to teaching tips 1, 2, and 3)

To build student skills in sorting information for specific purposes; to build metacognitive skills in identifying interests and seeking information. By the end of the lesson, students will be able to explain the rationale behind their reading or activity choices.


Students are highly motivated to read when they have topics and choices that interest them. Support your students’ engagement and motivation by modeling how to filter for individual interests. Make visible how an expert reader (you!) makes choices by showing and talking through how you make your choices for reading. To do this lesson, you will need the ability to project to the class, and a method for recording student responses.

  1. Model: Go to DOGO News or another of the sites from the suggested digital sources for high interest texts list. Show students how to filter readings to see just those that are on sports (or another topic of your choice).
  2. Model: Scroll through the filtered results. As you do, “think aloud” by explaining why you would choose a story. Mention how you use the title, the picture, and/or the brief description to make your reading decision.
  3. Guided Practice: Work through another selection with the class. This time, have students share their thinking about how they would, or would not, choose to read a particular story.
  4. Independent Practice: Now it’s the students’ turn! Ask students to choose a topic. Next, have them select a story from the filtered results.
  5. Review: Have students share how they made their decisions. How many used the title to make their choice? How many used the picture? The story description? How many used more than one of these elements to select their story? Make a quick chart that records their responses and ask volunteers to explain their process. In wrapping up, reinforce how skilled readers use a variety of information to make reading choices that are right for them.

Fulmer, S. M.; Frijters, J.C. Motivation during an excessively challenging reading task: The buffering role of relative topic interest. Journal of Experimental Education, Vol 79(2), Feb, 2011. 185-208.

Guthrie, J. T. (Ed), (2008). Engaging adolescents in reading. Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Corwin Press.

Guthrie, J. T., & Davis, M. H. (2003). Motivating struggling readers in middle school through an engagement model of classroom practice. Reading and Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties, 19, 59-85.

Guthrie, J. (2013). Attaining the CCSS is Impossible—Without Engagement. Reading Online Today. Retrieved June, 2, 2014 from

Common core standards


Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

[Having lots of choices] made me a better reader because all those stories were so interesting, I just wanted to keep reading them and reading them so I just got better and better.



~ Student