5 Ways Teachers Can Encourage Reluctant Readers

We all know that reading is critically important to school success. Previous studies have found reading proficiency by third grade to be the most significant predictor of high school graduation and career advancement. However, in 2014, two-thirds of U.S. third graders lacked competent reading skills.

By the time these students get to middle or high school, they have developed an aversion to reading. The focus on reading to pass standardized tests often  increases this distaste for reading to outright hostility. As a middle school special education teacher, I often teach children who not only lack the adequate skills to read with proficiency, they also lack interest in reading.

I notice that many of my struggling readers do not engage with what they are reading because they just don’t see how it applies to them. They see reading as something they are doing because someone else is making them – an undesirable task to be completed as quickly as possible, like chores or eating spinach.

For this reason, I think that one of the highest priorities and greatest responsibilities of educators should be to bring joy back to reading for struggling students. Here are five steps I take to help older students rediscover the joy of reading:  

Know Students’ Reading Levels and Address Decoding Deficits

None of us like to do something we feel we are failing at. I found that many of my students were frustrated with reading because they were constantly being asked to read things that were too challenging for them. As educators, we must be aware of each student’s reading level.

Some students also come to us with decoding deficits. These may need to be addressed with a corrective reading program. I like those based on the Orton-Gillingham approach. However, this should not be done at the expense of student engagement. While it is important for students with decoding deficits to practice with controlled text, it is also important for them to continue to read self-selected text that appeals to their interests and is at their reading level. All students should have access to high interest fiction, nonfiction books, and magazines. We should also make parents aware of students’ reading levels so that they can use appropriate text with their child at home.

Start With a Question and Allow Room for Choice

Finding out what students are interested in is the key to creating interest in reading. Have students keep a list of questions they have. Then assist them in finding books or articles at their reading level on these topics. Kids are naturally programmed to learn through questions. Showing students that reading can be an outlet for answering their questions creates a purpose for reading.


Make Reading Relevant to Learning

Students have more success in school when they have background information about what they are learning. Many struggling students lack the experiences outside of school that help them to develop the context for new information. Teachers can provide a variety of fiction and nonfiction books in the classroom on topics that students are learning about in history, science, and math. Librarians at school or the public library can often help to put together these rotating classroom libraries which can change as units change throughout the year. A student who is reading a historical fiction story about the Civil War, for example,  might be much more interested in memorizing facts and dates or reading a passage pertaining to this time period in history class.

Teach Reading Strategies

Once students have found material they are interested in reading, the teacher must give them the tools to be capable of reading those texts. These tools are also what will allow a student to increase their ability to read more challenging texts. Students who struggle with focus or overall comprehension can be taught strategies like SQ3R or annotation. Teachers can also model active reading through strategies like using a KWL chart. Reading strategies should be taught and used in all subject areas where students are expected to read and comprehend.

Model the Joy of Reading

Think about what we do when we read for fun. We might discuss or share what we read with others. We must replicate these reading experiences in the classroom by making reading a social activity. You can do this by:

  • Letting students discuss what they are reading with each other in a book club style format.
  • Reading a student-selected book aloud (even older students enjoy this if you choose a book that is interesting, relevant, motivational, or inspiring).
  • As a reward, letting students choose the books that you order for the classroom library.
  • Having older children read with younger children.
  • Finding ways to tie reading in with other interests that students have, such as letting students draw what they are reading, make a photo slideshow, or even a movie trailer that summarizes a book.
  • Holding school-wide or classroom events that engage students in reading like a Read-a-thon, where students raise money by reading, or an opportunity to read a book and meet the author.

Because the bottom line is, we read because we enjoy reading and feel that it benefits us. The key to developing students who also read for enjoyment is helping them to understand reading, not just as a task to be completed as quickly as possible or avoided at all costs, but as something that can bring them personal satisfaction.

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Owner | Parrish Learning Zone, LLC


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