I’ve never met a book that hasn’t captured me in some form. The way the written word comes to life in connection with your own inner voice and envelops you is close to being magic. Reading allows you to travel through time and space without ever leaving your chair. It can take you to places unknown and make you truly feel like you personally experienced the stories that you read. Some people take to reading as though it were their purpose for existence, but others never seem to find the joy in it at all. While you can probably get through your adult life fairly easily without ever having to read a novel, throughout the duration of a child’s education there are countless occasions where students must read literature of varying degrees of difficulty. If children dislike reading, it can drive a wedge between them and their education and hamper their learning. So how do we get kids excited to read? How do we help them not only see the value of reading, but the pleasure in it?
Find something that interests them.
- It’s difficult to learn to love reading if you’re constantly reading about topics and subjects that don’t intrigue you. If I had to read about the intricacies of tractor maintenance every day, I probably wouldn’t like reading either. Learn what your students’ interests are, and help them find related books. I have worked in many schools with English language learners. Specifically, in Washington State, Hawaii, California, Arizona, and Istanbul, Turkey! Rarely are schools stocked with high interest reading materials specific to the background knowledge of ELL students. This is often due to budget constraints for new materials and/or a staffed school librarian position. My current ELL students love a used book I found online that has short stories and poems in English on one side of the page and Spanish on the other. The characters and stories are familiar to their experience. When we do a shared reading the students help improve my Spanish as I read their language, and I help them improve their English as they read my native language. We chart vocabulary in both languages. It’s a blast! Fun and high interest teaming and consequently engagement by all. I have been crestfallen when there are insufficient high-interest reading materials in classrooms, at a school site, specifically for African American and Hispanic boys. Teachers and administrators need support and guidance in our obligation to purchase and make available high interest reading materials for All Students.
Look for unconventional solutions.
- Perhaps your student dislikes reading because he or she has difficulty with the very act itself. Try experimenting with some alternative solutions that combine reading with another activity that will help the student learn. Graphic novels are an excellent medium, and many classic works have been transcribed into graphic novel format to make for a more engaging read. There are also audiobooks which would allow your student to listen to the stories as they follow along with the book, creating a more holistic and engaging experience. Use engaging scripts. I had a second language learner in 4th grade once who refused to try to read at all. No cajoling or use of any book changed his stubborn stance. During Black History Month I reframed MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech into a readers’ theatre piece. When this fine young man was given a part to speak, his light went on. His father, from Mexico, told me, “My son is reading all weekend now, he loves his part and practices all the time, I can’t believe it!” Use creative dramatics. Choose a piece and let students have fun saying the words in the voice of different characters, or say the words using various emotions (laughing, angry, whispering, etc.) or read really fast or really slow. Help students rewrite a piece into their own skit. Hey, use rewards! Who doesn’t enjoy it when there is some sort of tangible reward for effort? Verbal praise, especially specific verbal praise, works wonders. Such as, “Notice how Sebastian reread the word to confirm its pronunciation. Rereading a word to check yourself is what Good Readers do. Sebastian is a GOOD READER!” (Chart what “Good Readers” do and make a note on the chart with the student’s name when he/she uses the skill.) Bring in local authors to speak, they love meeting with their student audiences. After working on a reading selection with students to include vocabulary and comprehension, divide it into sections. Create teams of students with the same number of people as the sections. Each team assigns one member to each section. Give students 10 minutes to reread/consume their section. Teams stand and each member tells their section of the reading selection in their own words. Make it a game where the team that does the most detailed retell gets a prize. I recently directed this activity and was amazed that some students actually memorized their section word for word in a short amount of time. Noting they would also make great actors with that skill, it was clear there was plenty of reading and oral language occurring that was proactive and not pulling teeth! Make reading a fun and participatory activity, and associate it with emotional reactions to the text, delightful rewards, and team reading experiences.
Find a series that they’ll love.
- So you finally got a difficult child to read a book, but now the book is over and they can’t seem to find a new one to read. Get your young readers engaged with a series that will keep them engrossed from one book to the next. Then, help them find a similar series. The desire to learn more and uncover the events as they progress keeps them reading long after that first book. It’s no secret how many eager readers the Harry Potter series created! When I was growing up it was Nancy Drew, the series lined a shelf in my home and I reread them over and over again. Many students can get hooked on reading when they find the biography section of the library. Reading about real people and how they were as children/students to become “famous” is another potential reading addiction. A simple google search will attach you to many options for series.
Take them to the library.
- With the growing popularity of e-readers, it can be easy to forget that books actually used to be cover-bound pages. It can also make it difficult for children to focus on reading on the very same device they use to play games and watch videos. Take them to the library and show them all the stories and adventures that can unfold if they only crack the covers of some books. Your library visit should be well-planned. Students need to know where to find “Just Right” (accessible at each student’s reading level) books for themselves. The librarian or teacher should mark or pull these books to support student success at selection. Do specific and focused library lessons that help students learn how to use the library. Alas, I have seen library skills becoming a lost or unprioritized activity in some schools. Yikes! The American Dream becomes available for all students through a comprehensive and rigorous free American education. Education is about Learning. Learning requires reading, research. Libraries are about reading, research. Educators have a responsibility to teach students how to access library information, the internet cannot be the primary source. Books in libraries have to be vetted. We cannot say the same for what students find on the internet. How will your child know how to use a college library if skills have not been built since elementary school? While funding positions for trained school librarians (due to cuts in state and federal funding) has taken the backseat in many district budgets, teachers can create a lot of fun library activities with a commitment to taking students to the school library on a regular basis. Optimally, each classroom will have its own leveled library with a selection of High Interest reading materials appropriately labeled and easily accessible.
Reading is something that anyone can learn to enjoy if only provided the right experience and the right material. Don’t let a young person miss out on the adventure that accompanies the personal experience and joy of reading.