Tips for Motivating Reluctant Readers

Text-dependent Instruction

In the early elementary years, there tends to be a lot of emphasis on reading for enjoyment. Independent reading time and trips to the classroom or school library to go “book shopping” are often built into the school day, and reading books, magazines, or comic books about a topic of interest is encouraged.

But by upper elementary and middle school, the focus shifts to reading more for academic reasons. Trips to the school library tend to focus on a specific research project. At the same time, students are faced with a lot of competing interests like sports and screen time. Even for a child who enjoys books, reading might start to take second or third place to these other activities. 

So, here are our top four tips on how to increase student motivation and excitement around reading:

  1. Model positive talk about reading. Think about the language that you use around reading in the classroom. Do you speak in a positive, enthusiastic way about reading and model a love of books? The words we choose can have a lasting impact on student attitudes. For example, rather than introducing a complex text as “difficult,” you can describe it as a challenging text that you’re going to read together. If a student says reading is boring, acknowledge them, and then try to reframe it (“Sometimes we just have to search until we find the right book for us.”).
  2. Break free of levels. Limiting children to “just right” books results in fewer challenges or surprises for readers. They can also become self-conscious about what their level is and what books they should or shouldn’t be choosing. We want students to be excited about reading! Letting students browse and find titles that interest them (whether they’re “below”, “at’, or “above” their reading levels) is crucial if we want kids to be enthusiastic about reading. Consider switching up your leveled classroom library and try arranging it by genre, author, or topic instead.
  3. Offer variety and choice. Have a wide variety of books available in your classroom library including culturally diverse titles and non-traditional selections like graphic novels, e-books, newspapers, and audio books. Reluctant readers may have grown to associate only a certain type of book with reading, so they no longer find it enjoyable. If a student can find something they love (say, a series like Dog Man, or a book connected with their favorite movie), they may be more likely to seek out other books and spend time reading for pleasure. Other reluctant readers may benefit from nonfiction choices in their specific areas of interest, like sports, nature, or robotics. These nonfiction recommendations from School Library Journal are targeted to different types of reluctant readers.
  4. Encourage conversations about what students are reading. Sharing what you read with someone is not only enjoyable, but can also help with accountability. Could you pair students up and spend the first few minutes of every other class period talking about what they’re reading?