Read and ride – mixing page turning with pedal power

We know that reading for enjoyment is associated with higher academic achievement, but convincing students to pick up a book can be a challenge if they'd rather be off doing something more active.

Former school counsellor Scott Ertl was riding an exercise bike while reading a magazine when it struck him that one simple solution could be to combine pedal power with page turning.

'I realised "This is the only time during the week when I read. I wonder if students would enjoy reading if they were allowed to ride an exercise bike instead of having to sit still?",' he tells Teacher. 'My principal was always asking for innovative ways to help students enjoy reading, so I thought this might be a good idea to try out.'

Read and ride.

Image © Shutterstock/mama_mia

His principal at Ward Elementary School, in the city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was excited to see if the idea would make a difference. That was back in 2009, when Ertl takes up the story again.

‘We started with one exercise bike in one classroom and grew quickly to have 11 classrooms that each had their own exercise bike in a corner for students to take turns riding throughout the day, along with one full classroom of 30 exercise bikes so teachers could sign up for 10 to 15 minute periods for every student to have their own bike to ride at the same time.

‘This worked especially well during inclement weather – when it was rainy, too cold, too hot, when recess was cancelled - as a "bonus" recess period, right after media centre time when students had just checked out a book to read, or during independent reading.'

To assess the impact, Ertl and colleagues surveyed students to measure their interest in reading, and analysed reading comprehension scores from end-of-year testing. The average reading proficiency for Grade 3, 4 and 5 students at Ward Elementary School in 2009/10 was 61 per cent.

  • The three classes that used the dedicated room the least during the year, on only a handful of occasions, scored 41 per cent proficiency.
  • The three classes with an exercise bike in their classroom, which was used as a reward or activity option after completing their work, scored 55.5 per cent.
  • The three classes that used the room the most during the year, making 29, 30 and 57 visits, scored 83 per cent proficiency.

Pre- and post-trial survey data also suggested the approach stimulated an interest in and enjoyment of reading. Within a few months Ertl had created the Read and Ride program and the success story has now gone global.

‘I never knew it would grow to the magnitude that it has grown. I have received hundreds of phone calls and emails since 2009. Also, I have spoken to thousands of principals, teachers, and school counsellors about the Read and Ride program at state and national conferences.'

Ertl says the approach is particularly helpful for hyperactive students and those with learning difficulties. ‘They have a way to release their extra energy while they ride. Many claim that this is their first time when reading was fun - it had previously been so difficult for them that they disliked reading and seldom understood what they were reading.'

Today, he is national coordinator of the Read and Ride program and has continued to look for ways to combine movement and learning. ‘Our school also experimented with yoga balls, standing desks, wiggle seats, and I later invented Bouncy Bands (which attach to student desks and chairs for kids to bounce their feet and stretch their legs while they work).'

So, what are his tips for other schools out there wanting to set up their own program?

  • You don't need a large budget. Most schools can find exercise bikes for free. Many adults purchase them with good intentions but end up parking them in the attic or garage without being used. You'll find people are eager to donate unused bikes to schools who allow students to ride them (especially when you provide them with a thank you note, a tax-deductible donation, and offer to pick it up from their location).
  • Checking the local wanted ads and asking people to donate, or contacting local businesses and asking them to purchase equipment in exchange for a note on the bike that says ‘This bike is sponsored by 123 Dentist ....' is also worth a try. These businesses also appreciate having a photo of students riding the bike along with a thank you note that they can display in their office or waiting rooms. This provides a win-win opportunity for businesses to support education while giving them proper appreciation for their generosity.
  • When you set up the program, start small. Ask one teacher if they would be willing to have one bike in the corner of their room for a two week trial period. Offer your help in getting the bike and even taking it away if they're not satisfied – no-one wants to be stuck with something in their classroom.
  • You don't have to start from scratch. Visit for data, photos, rules and tips to help you along the way.

In your classroom, what activities have you introduced in order to encourage students to enjoy reading?