I am planning on teaching a couple of math-y classes next semester that will involve a large amount of in-class group work and discussions, and relatively little lecturing. There will be required outside reading for almost every class (3x/week), but as I am at a large public university where student work habits are not generally great, I am worried about making sure students stay up on the reading for each class. Also, the students will probably not be in the habit of doing reading for math classes.

Currently, to encourage students to stay up-to-date on the readings, this is what I am thinking of doing:

  1. Use books that are relatively easy to read and hopefully interesting for the students (closer to popular books than textbooks when possible), and try to make each individual reading assignment short.
  2. Give simple quizzes on the reading once a week or so
  3. Generally try to make sure the in-class activities are closely related to the assigned readings.

Are there any other effective techniques that would help encourage students to stay current on the reading?

Note: while I want them to read certain things before each class period, I do not want to give a reading quiz every class period.

  • Yes, indeed, readings that are genuinely interesting, or at least engaging, if only for non-mathematical details, are essential. Technical readings are tough to sell. The usual, and obvious. Thinking how to get the students to want to read the stuff is the issue... and "threats" are not the ideal, clearly. We'd wish they'd read the stuff because it is so amusing/charming/engaging. Certainly standard math textbooks almost uniformly make even the best mathematics dreary and unexciting, completely lacking in drama, all feeling removed. Apr 15, 2016 at 23:07
  • Good question, but why not math educator stack exchange?
    – user22080
    Apr 15, 2016 at 23:19
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    @fmlin while I have no doubt it is on topic there, it is also on topic here.
    – StrongBad
    Apr 15, 2016 at 23:24
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    You might find this helpful: AMS blog post My Lecture-less Modern Algebra and Foundations Courses–Part I of an Ongoing Saga Apr 16, 2016 at 3:04
  • @theindigamer Indeed, thanks. One of my courses is something like the foundations course mentioned in that post, and I have been looking for a book, so I will look at the one the mentioned there. (Though I do worry that our student bodies have a quite different makeup.)
    – Kimball
    Apr 16, 2016 at 12:54

1 Answer 1


I require students to fill out a short summary sheet of the reading prior to the start of class for classes with small group work based on required reading. The summary sheet looks something like a structured abstract of the reading. In total it is less than 200 words of writing. I make my summary sheet available after the class. Based on feedback, the students like the sheets since they help them in reviewing for the exams. It also helps them gauge differences between what I think is important and what they think is important.

I divide the class into groups based on if the students have completed the sheet or not. Generally, I tell students to go to one side of the room if they have completed the sheets and the other side if they have not. I and the students can then quickly visually inspect the sheets to see if they are completed or empty. The groups of students who have completed the sheet get to work on the group activity, for which having the sheet is useful. The groups of students who have not completed the sheet work on the sheet and if time allows work on the activity. I make it a point to reassign students if the sheet is filled out with nonsense.

  • To the first upvoter. There is no way you even had enough time to read my answer ...
    – StrongBad
    Apr 15, 2016 at 22:35
  • That's a good idea. I was thinking about breaking up students into groups based on scores from previous quizzes or hw's, but this sounds better.
    – Kimball
    Apr 15, 2016 at 22:51
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    @Kimball don't divide them on performance. Mixed groups tend to be fairer and lead to better learning (and student reviews).
    – StrongBad
    Apr 15, 2016 at 22:53
  • Indeed, in my experience with several attempts at "math as humanist subject" and such, it is important to plan for non-compliance and/or misunderstanding (which is unsurprising in the face of the massive cultural biases and silly mythologies about math). So one doesn't want to have the whole class period be a "no-go" because 1/3 of the people didn't do any reading... which will, pseudo-mystifyingly, always be the case. Apr 15, 2016 at 23:02
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    I do very similar — students have a few brief questions design to support the understanding of the text. They hand it in online before class but I only grade for completion. In class, having done the work, everyone has at least something of a base to work from and we do more applied / discussion stuff in groups. Apr 16, 2016 at 0:54

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