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Home Ask A REL What does the research say about K-12 student choice of literature?

What does the research say about K-12 student choice of literature?

Central | July 01, 2017

Following an established REL Central research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles to help answer the question. The resources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic databases, and general Internet search engines. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response, and we offer them only for your reference. Also, we compiled the references from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

Creel, S. (2015). The impact of assigned reading on reading pleasure in young adults. Journal of Research on Libraries & Young Adults, 5. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This research presents the results of a survey of 833 U.S. adolescents, ages twelve to eighteen years old. It was hypothesized that teachers are assigning reading (rather than students self-selecting books) and that this leads to dissatisfaction with reading. Additional factors (gender, age, and self-identification as a reader) were also examined for their influence on reading satisfaction. The results indicate that approximately one-third of the respondents were allowed to select books for school reading assignments and that self-selection had a statistical impact on their self-perceived reading pleasure. Limitations include geographic location, a non-random sample, and data collection by various surveyors. This study adds to the growing body of research showing that student self-selection of reading materials leads to greater pleasure and interest in reading.”

Davis, L. (2010). Toward a lifetime of literacy: The effect of student-centered and skills-based reading instruction on the experiences of children. Literacy Teaching and Learning, 15(1-2), 53–79. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Educators agree that the teaching of reading is of critical importance in elementary classrooms. Debates swirl as researchers and educators alike attempt to determine the most effective instructional practices in developing student engagement and achievement. One side aligns itself with explicit instruction of discrete literacy skills, the other with a whole language, student-centered approach. Through practitioner-based research within her own classroom, the author examined how two different instructional approaches influenced 19 second-grade students’ attitudes and engagement in reading. Surveys, interviews, and observations assessed self-concept as a reader, perceived value of reading, attitudes about reading, and time spent actively engaged in literacy activities. An interdependent relationship was identified between instructional practice, student engagement, and interest in reading. Practices that support student choice, collaboration, and shared control of learning outcomes were linked to self-expressed interest in reading and engaged reading behaviors. The results suggest ways in which teachers can organize reading instruction to develop self-efficacy, competence, and engagement in young students.”

Edmunds, K. M., & Bauserman, K. L. (2006). What teachers can learn about reading motivation through conversations with children. The Reading Teacher, 59(5), 414–424. Retrieved from Full text available

From the introduction:

“As elementary school teachers, we (the authors) have frequently heard comments such as ‘I hate to read’ or ‘I never read a book.’ We have taught in various school settings, including urban, suburban, and rural school environments, with diverse student populations. We have employed a variety of strategies and incentives, and, like Kohn (1993), we have found that extrinsic rewards were not effective at producing lasting change. Despite our efforts, we still heard negative comments about reading from our students. After many discussions, we realized that our students’ levels of reading motivation varied as much as the students themselves. We also discussed how we would much rather hear more positive comments about reading from them. Therefore, we decided it was time to talk with our students and find out how we could turn the negative comments into positive ones. We decided it was time to find out how to really motivate students to read.”

Gambrell, L. B. (1996). Creating classroom cultures that foster reading motivation. The Reading Teacher, 50(1), 14–25. Retrieved from Full text available

From the introduction:

“Gambrell discusses what research and theory suggest about the role of motivation in literacy development. She describes six research-based factors that are related to increased motivation to read.”

Gambrell, L. B., Codling, R. M., & Palmer, B. M. (1996). Elementary students’ motivation to read (Reading Research Report No. 52). Athens, GA: University of Georgia, National Reading Research Center. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This study explored 330 third- and fifth-grade Maryland students’ motivation to read using the Motivation to Read Profile (MRP). The first part of the MRP, a Likert-type, self-report, group-administered questionnaire, was completed by all students. The second part of the MRP, the Conversational Interview, was individually administered to a random sample of 48 students. Results provided support for the importance of two dimensions of motivation to read: self-concept as a reader and value of reading. In addition, the Conversational Interview revealed insights about the influence of text type, school, and home factors on motivation to read. Taken together, findings suggest that motivation to read is linked to four key features of literacy learning: access, choice, familiarity, and social interaction.”

Jennings, K. A., Rule, A. C., & Vander Zanden, S. M. (2014). Fifth graders’ enjoyment, interest, and comprehension of graphic novels compared to heavily-illustrated and traditional novels. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 6(2), 257–274. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“The comparative effectiveness of graphic novels, heavily illustrated novels, and traditional novels as reading teaching tools has been sparsely researched. During the 2011-2012 school year, 24 mixed-ability fifth grade students chose to read six novels: two traditional novels, two highly illustrated novels and two graphic novels. Students participated in discussion groups structured with thinking skills, and completed assignments during and after reading the books. Student comprehension and enjoyment were measured by rubric-graded assignments and rating scales. The numbers of student responses during discussions per type of novel were tabulated. The graphic novel received the highest scores in all categories. The researchers conclude that graphic novels be considered an engaging and effective method of teaching reading to fifth graders.”

Johnson, D., & Blair, A. (2003). The importance and use of student self-selected literature to reading engagement in an elementary reading curriculum. Reading Horizons, 43(3), 182–202. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“The purpose of this article is to discuss the importance of student self-selecting literature and reading engagement in an elementary reading curriculum. The article discusses the use of self selected reading in the context of child development, book difficulty, independent reading time accountability, and a supportive environment. The successful use of self-selected reading by the Children’s Choices Project is also discussed.”

Turner, J., & Paris, S. G. (1995). How literacy tasks influence children’s motivation for literacy. The Reading Teacher, 48(8), 662–673. Retrieved from

From the introduction:

“The major finding of the study was that the most reliable indicator of motivation was not the type of reading program that districts follow, but the actual daily tasks that teachers provided students in their classrooms. Tasks that provided opportunities for students to use reading and writing for authentic purposes (like reading trade books and composing), that conveyed the value of literacy for communication and enjoyment, and that allowed students to be actively involved in constructing meanings and metacognitions about literacy were most successful in motivating students.”

Weih, T. G. (2014). Student-described engagement with text: Insights are discovered from fourth graders. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 6(3), 395–414. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This article reports on a research study investigating student-described engagement with self-selected text in a classroom where a core reading program (in the context of this study meaning instruction based primarily on manuals and commercial textbooks) comprised the majority of their literacy instruction. Fourth grade students were invited to characterize their responses to their self-selected reading within focus group discussions. Data instruments included audio taped focus group discussions, student photographs, observational field notes, and students’ literature. Implementing the constant comparative method for data analysis, outcomes were determined and implications for classroom practice suggested.”


Keywords and Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Self-directed reading in elementary school, promotion of student engagement in literacy, structured vs. unstructured reading time in the classroom, structured reading elementary

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published between 1992 and 2017 were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority was given to ERIC, followed by Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were used in the review and selection of the references: (a) currency of available data; (b) study types–randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, etc.; (c) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected samples, etc.), study duration, and so forth.

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