Helpful Tips to Encourage Reluctant Readers

1. Help children see themselves as readers

Being an elementary special education teacher, I often hear students say, “I can’t read.” I explain to them why that isn’t true. Even at an age of 2 or 3 many children are interacting with books. Looking and talking about pictures, turning pages, and predicting words are characteristics of beginning readers. By acknowledging and celebrating these rudimentary reading behaviors, we are helping students to see themselves as readers and gain the confidence to pick up the next book and meet the next reading challenge.

2. Read aloud everyday

Younger students that will not pick up a book with a ten foot pole will rarely pass up an opportunity to listen to a parent, older sibling, or teacher read. The earlier we start this practice, the more benefits we will see.

Some benefits are that students build a larger knowledge bank of vocabulary words, become more intuitive with using context clues, and develop a natural love for books. When parents read to their children they are also bonding emotionally. Children long to be in close physical proximity to their parents. Reading to our children is one way to satisfy this need.

3. Use of Reading Interest Inventories

One of the first things I try to do with my students is give a Reading Interest Inventory. A Reading Interest Inventory is a list of questions that seek to find out more about the student’s identity and interests as readers.

Students are changing at a breathtaking pace. One week they are mesmorized by dinosaurs, the next week they are all about spiders. Implementing this tool two or three times a year helps us to remain connected to their changing feelings and interests about reading.

4. Make Routine trips to the Library

As homeschoolers it is a habit for us to make trips to our local library. We have been doing this since our first born was very young. Now that he is 13, he still gets excited when we say, “We are going to the library.”

The local library is the supermarket for our minds. It is an inexhaustive source of literary treasure. Even the most finicky reader can find something there to devour. Many students are required to take out books at the library for a school project. Make time for these students to check out books for nothing more than the pure enjoyment of reading. Students that do this regularly are not just leaving with good reads, but with a robust love for learning.

5. Small Doses

We would never try to stuff a hamburger down a baby’s throat, but this is exactly what we are doing when we force students to read something they have no interest in or can’t read. Solomon wrote, “Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” (Song of Songs 8:4) Solomon was talking about relational love, but there is an application here.

As parents, we have to be sensitive to the natural time tables students have for reading. No two readers are created equal. Some students have a disposition tailored for reading. Others do not. I frequenly work with students that do not. For many of these students there are proven physiological factors that make reading cumbersome. I have learned to provide bite size pieces. A bite size piece is often a story of high interest at an appropriate reading level.

6. Reading for Enjoyment

One of the advantages of homeschooling is that students are not confined to a schedule that compartmentalizes subject areas. In a public school students are discouraged to read about science during social studies or writing time. If my son or daugther is reading a book about space travel, the lesson on nouns or the Incas can wait.

Students that are deprived of extended periods of reading for enjoyment perceive reading as a means to an end. Reading becomes the path to getting a high score or a homework assignment completed rather than enjoyment. Of course, reading for a purpose (whether we have fun doing it or not) is a vital life skill, but in addition to this there needs to be regular scheduled times of reading for enjoyment.

7. Reading Games

Students that are reluctant to read often have more reservation about what happens after they read than while they read. Worksheets with pre-selected questions set off alarms and put them into “fight or flight” mode. Many will resist by looking around the room, doodling, guessing, or even cheating. A positive alternative to worksheets and tests is playing a game.

A game can be designed around a concept in a book or article by you or preferrably the student. Have the student design the rules, objectives, activities, and game board. Then simply watch and take delight in the intrinsic motivation for learning you will often see.

8. Scavenger Hunts

One of my favorite things to do with my three homeschooled children are scavenger hunts. We live by a forest so there are always new things to find and discover there. A scavenger hunt is simply a list of items that a student is challenged to find.

The list can be determined by a theme or even a phonetic pattern. For example students that have difficulty with short vowels can be challenged to find these household items: hat, map, pan, can, and bag. This is a great way to begin a lesson. Encountering words in a concrete way before seeing the abstract representation in print helps students to retain words.

9. Embracing Novelty

One of the killers of an intrinsic motivation to read is boredom. Students long for the predictability a schedule or routine offers, but only to an extent. Parents or teachers that do the same things day by day, may overlook or minimize the natural learning opportunities that present themselves through current events in the world, recreational activities, hobbies, or natural (but interesting) disasters, such as a leaky roof.

These events can be a catalyst for reading. My house has three lakes in walking distance. My children and I often go fishing. These experiences stir in them a curiousity to know more about freshwater fish. Instead of following a scheduled reading lesson, we delve headfirst into books and articles about freshwater fish. The beauty of this is this natural urge to learn about fish motivates them to save money to buy books or check them out at the library.

10. Reading for the good of others

From time to time, reading lessons should extend beyond ourselves to the benefit or interests of others. Our homeschool group has a literature fair every year. Whether our children want to read or not, they are required to read something and to demonstrate this learning to others. At some point in their life, all students will be required to read because it fullfills a purpose beyond themselves.

Anyone that attends college at some point must deal with the drudgery of reading material we are turned off by for the greater goal of getting a degree. Wise parents train students to read even when their feelings are pointed in a different direction. Expecting students to read something because it benefits someone else or may benefit them at a future time is a valuable practice.

Randy Saller Contact Information

About the Author

My name is Randy Saller. I am a special education teacher at Gavin Central in Lake Villa, Illinois. I have a BA in Special Education and an MA in Curriculum and Instruction. I have been married to Amy Jo for the last 18 years. God has blessed us with three wonderful children- Jonah, Gilbert, and Sadie. Some of my interests include spending time with family, running, fishing, and writing. I have written for Turtle Magazine, Chicago Parent, and The Old Schoolhouse. My wife and I are Christians with a passion for homeschooling and family discipleship. Two of My favorite verses are: He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers..... (Malachi 4:6). I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth (1 John 3-4). Amy and I believe that there is no more important ministry than the family ministry. It is our passion to help parents understand the importance of their role in helping their children understand and know God. Although parents will always be imperfect, God has chosen the broken vessel of parenting to have the most influential role (humanly speaking) in the spiritual life of a child. I invite you to explore some of the free resources on this website.

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