06 Jul Five Strategies for Engaging Reluctant Readers
By Megan Davenport, Rubicon International
How do we encourage a love of reading in our students?
We can all agree that reading is an important life skill for academics and beyond. Many educators (including me) are avid readers, which can make it hard to relate to reluctant readers. I have read many articles on this topic (a quick Google search reveals a wealth of them), and summarized the key takeaways as well as my ideas.
Before jumping into the strategies for engagement, it is important to identify why the reader is reluctant. There are many reasons a student may be reluctant to read, but these reasons usually fall within two main categories: the student struggles with reading, or the student has not been reading enough content that s/he finds engaging. If you find that the student is struggling with reading, in any way, it is important to understand and address the problem. If the latter is the reason, then read on to get some strategies for engaging students in reading material!
Five Strategies to Encourage Reading
Strategy #1: Model
Teachers should share what they are reading to show students how reading can be a lifelong hobby outside of the classroom. Here are a few tips about how to model:
- Don’t share only books that would make an English professor proud, but authentic examples of everything you read-novels, blogs, travel guides, websites, cookbooks, etc.
- Encourage modeling beyond the ELA teacher – ask the football coach what he likes to read, as well as the principal, art teachers, etc. to give students multiple reading models.
- Read aloud- even outside of elementary school! Find an engaging short story and let your students relax and listen. Your reluctant readers may be surprised at how much they enjoy it.
Strategy #2: Consider Alternative Texts
This one seems to be the most common idea for encouraging reluctant readers, for good reason. The idea here is pretty simple- expose students to a variety of reading, and find a way to build choice into the curriculum. Sometimes teachers feel pressured to stick to the more “scholarly” reading material, but it is important to find time to include variety as well. Here are a few ideas:
- Banned books – teenagers are especially drawn to these, plus they start an interesting conversation about why a book would be banned, including the politics and ethics involved [for more ideas, see our posts here and here].
- Graphic novels & comic books – though non-traditional, many have complex plots, themes, and literary elements that certainly reinforce standards.
- Jokes, Riddles, and Magic Books – especially for younger readers, these books can help students see a fun application for what they are reading.
- Books that go along with movies – not only do these allow for compare-and-contrast opportunities, but Hollywood does the marketing for you! Bonus if you can encourage students to read the book before the movie comes out!
- Blogs and Magazines – you can find articles about any topic under the sun, and many are available for free online. Let students choose a topic of interest and enjoy. Additionally, some are written by amateurs, so challenge students to critique the writing.
Strategy #3: Flipped Classroom
The Edutopia article Start a Reading Revolution: Flip Your Class With Blogs poses an interesting idea that did not come up in my other research. In this article, Brian Sztabnik outlines his approach based on the belief that “Students should have an opportunity to read in class and a choice in what they read”.
The students spend class time reading 3-4 days per week for 2.5 weeks. The students blog about their reading at home, which “provides choice and independence, allowing them to own the learning experience”. You might even try this approach for 1-2 units to give students a change of pace.
Strategy #4: Encourage Writing
To dovetail off of the flipped classroom idea, a great way to engage students in reading is to encourage writing. Allow students to write in a variety of formats and styles so that you are appealing to a variety of interests. As students prepare to write, they can read examples to bolster both their reading and writing skills. Here are a few examples:
- Have students write an informal blog post with the target audience of their peers. Next, challenge them to write a formal email they might send to a teacher so that they can practice shifting language.
- Have students read a news article, research the issues presented, and write a thoughtful comment that can be posted on the news website (such as nytimes.com). You might challenge students to actually post the comment and see if it can be featured as one of the “Picks” by the newspaper and/or readers.
- Have students design and write the text for a website. The website might be for a fictitious company they could start in the future, or for a club based on their interest, like a cooking club, soccer club, etc.
Strategy #5: Differentiate for Boys vs. Girls
The subheading for one of the articles I came across states “Fact: boys don’t read as much as girls. This reading gender gap is affecting boys’ performance in high school and beyond.” This point came up in a few of the articles I read, and after reading more about it, I think it should be taken into account. Here are a few ways you can engage the boys in your class:
- Find male role models to demonstrate reading. Many boys are encouraged to read by their mothers and female teachers, so some boys associate reading as a female activity. To combat this, boys should witness their fathers, grandfathers, and male teachers reading so that they can see what an important, fun, and interesting part of life reading can be.
- Incorporate technology. Some boys prefer to read on an iPad, Kindle, or computer.
- Encourage a variety of reading materials. The article goes on to state that “Women are significantly more likely than men to read fiction: a study by the National Endowment of the Arts found that in 2008, for example, 41.9 percent of men reported reading literature, versus 58 percent of women.” When I think about encouraging reluctant readers, I think about finding an engaging work of fiction. However, we can encourage the reading of news, blogs, comics, etc. as they might resonate more with boys, bringing us full circle to idea #1.