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Encourage Reluctant Readers in 4 Simple Steps

Carol Brooke, M.S., M.Ed.




How can we encourage a student to read if he doesn’t want to read? We must delve deeper and find the reason before we can be successful. This is a challenging process, and as teachers already know, it takes more than simply teaching the child to read.

Here is my 4-step process for turning reluctant readers into bookworms!

Before the Books

Primary Needs Assessment & Working with Parents

It’s obvious that students who are hungry, thirsty, exhausted, or psychologically-traumatized cannot concentrate. If a student is not able to see text well, able to hear, or is easily distracted, parents need to know. The challenge arises when we, as teachers, are not able to answer these needs in the classroom. It can be frustrating when we care so much about the student, but we honesty cannot do the parents’ job. Such as make sure the child gets adequate sleep, eats healthy food and is treated with kindness and compassion by his parents. After all, these needs must be met before learning can be expected to take place.

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Connecting with the school counselor can be helpful, because she can advocate for the student in a confidential manner. Checking-in with the cafeteria staff to make sure hungry students are receiving free lunches can help, too. If the student has an Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P), we may have a team to help answer the student’s needs. If not, we have to informally connect with a team, such as parents, the school counselor and principal. Student Support Team Meetings (S.S.T.) can be scheduled, if we feel that a formal meeting with documentation needs to take place.

This busy work is all outside of simply teaching the child to read. This is an example of why a teacher’s job is never done… After all, we do wear every hat you can imagine, but we just can’t take on the accountability that belongs to parents. All the while, teachers constantly document how accountable their teaching practices are.

Holding those needing to be accountable… Accountable.

So, how can we hold parents accountable? We, as teachers, can have a team meeting with the parents, principal, school counselor and any other professional we feel can help. That way, we can openly discuss our concerns in a constructive environment, and make a plan.

"Children are made readers on the laps of their parents."  ~ Emilie Buchwald

There are parents who are accountable, yet lack resources, awareness or understanding of how to resolve the challenging circumstance. Having a positive, caring and constructive meeting can help the student and parent(s) feel safe, understood and supported. When a student feels safe, understood and supported, he is in an environment where learning can take place. When this goal is met, we are able to successfully move on to the next steps.

Choosing Books for Reluctant Readers

What Do Your Students Love?

Does he love spiders, baseball, frogs or worms? As we get to know our students we can set books in front of them, which we know they will love. Visiting the library and intentionally picking up books you have in mind for a particular student at the appropriate reading level can help.

When I taught 2nd grade, I intentionally set several baseball and frog books in the reading basket in front of a student who didn’t enjoy reading. His passion for baseball and frogs was so strong, he was able to pick up the books and read. With older students, a visit to the library with a list of suggested searches ahead of time can help (e.g. ballet, medieval costumes, jewelry design). That way, the student can choose books she loves. After all, think about the books we read. We all want to read books we enjoy.

Assess the Child’s Prior Knowledge

Depending upon the grade level, we have different tasks to complete regarding assessing the students’ prior knowledge. K-2nd grade teachers have reading assessments to complete. That way, we can track reading levels as the students progress and design specific lessons to help catapult the student to the next level. Having a leveled, classroom library helps the teacher keep the students reading books at the appropriate level.

For all grade levels, it’s important to assess the prior knowledge the students may already have regarding the subject matter in the text. Is the text too easy or too challenging? Doing informal, verbal assessments or written, formal assessments of the student’s prior knowledge can be helpful before deciding on a reading assignment for the student.

Creating Reading Lessons

Consider Learning Style, Challenges and Primary Language

It’s important to know each child’s learning style, challenges and primary language. We all know how to design lessons including visual, auditory and kinesthetic modes of instruction. This teaching tool was included in our coursework and student teaching experiences. We have also shown that we know how to teach English Language Learners, as well as how to make use of instructional tools to help our students facing the challenge of dyslexia.

There are different ways to read, including silent reading, buddy reading, reading while we complete a task, such as a science experiment, following directions, making a craft or playing a game. Taking this into consideration when giving reading assignments can be helpful.

"When I was a kid they didn't call it dyslexia. They called it you know, you were slow, or you were retarded, or whatever. What you can never change is the effect that the words 'dumb' and 'stupid' have on young people. I knew I wasn't stupid, and I knew I wasn't dumb. My mother told me that. If you read to me, I could tell you everything that you read. They didn't know what it was. They knew I wasn't lazy, but what was it?"  ~ Whoopi Goldberg

Tailor Reading Approaches for Learning Styles & Challenges 

  • -If John is a kinesthetic learner, he may enjoy reading while he is playing a game or doing a science experiment.

  • -Auditory learners may need to hear the text read aloud.

  • -Visual learners will appreciate pictures or illustrations along with the text.

  • -Providing visuals and demonstrations is also crucial for the reading comprehension of students learning English.

  • -Students facing the challenge of dyslexia may find it helpful to use a blank 3x5 card under each line of text, while reading for meaning.

  • -Students suffering from auditory processing disorder need their peers and the environment to be especially quiet while reading or listening to instruction.

There is a wealth of knowledge within our community of teachers. Brainstorming and networking can increase the likelihood that we will find a strategy that will help the student.

How do you encourage reluctant readers? Share in the comments section!

About the Author:

Carol Brooke, M.S., M.Ed., is a previous K-2nd grade teacher and school counselor. She is an editor for Teaching Resource Center, a teacher store providing families and classrooms with educational supplies for over 25 years. Visit Classroom Crafting with Carol for free lesson plans.

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