As students progress through their education, reading assignments and materials naturally become more intense and time consuming. The literature itself becomes more complex and the workload or required reading outside of class lengthens. This is all to be expected, especially as students enter honors–level classes, take AP courses, and look ahead towards higher education. For struggling or reluctant readers, the increase in required reading can be daunting—sometimes students are moved to tears due to the frustration of struggling through a challenging passage or laborious chapter. To remedy these reading woes, we have compiled a list of helpful tips to assist students with managing their growing reading tasks.
Craft a schedule
When teachers assign a new text or novel, they typically share with students a reading schedule or rough outline of chapters to conquer each week. If this is not provided, students should ask their teacher to recommend a specific amount of pages or chapters to read each night/week to be on pace with finishing the text by the deadline. Nothing is worse than procrastinating on a novel unit and then trying to blow through the entire book in less than two sittings.
Similarly to the reading schedule, students should set small reading goals when beginning a new text or lengthier required reading. Start small, as to not bite off more than one can chew. Perhaps a reluctant reader’s first goal is to actually read the entire novel for once. Or maybe a goal should be to pick up the book at least once per day. The point of the goal is to encourage forward movement and to make sure that progress is made. These do not need to be overwhelmingly ambitious goals, just a few motivating mile markers throughout the text.
After setting and (hopefully) reaching small reading goals, students can increase intrinsic motivation and boost productivity by looking for some form of light at the end of the tunnel. This means establishing small, incremental rewards to correspond to the goals that students reach in their reading tasks. Perhaps after 25 minutes of uninterrupted reading, a student rewards herself by watching an episode of her favorite show. Maybe parents revive the “book-it” challenge from back in the day and splurge on a pizza or junk food night when kids finish 3 chapter books. The rewards aren’t really about the “treat” at all—they are more about celebrating the accomplishment, grit, and patience that students demonstrate by getting through a challenging task, such as reading.
Stage a comfy reading spot
There is something inherently comforting about a cozy, well-lit nook or hideaway when one is looking for quiet time. Avid readers take pride in their cozy reading spots and routines, but reluctant readers can capitalize on this idea as well. Parents can help spur motivation to read by helping to set up a relaxing cubby removed from the hustle and commotion of the rest of the house where children can snuggle and enjoy a book. Consider adding pillows, blankets, soft white lighting that is not harsh on eyes, perhaps near a window for natural light. Creative touches, like soft, instrumental background music for students to listen to while reading is another great addition. Make reading an experience—pop some popcorn, brew some tea or hot chocolate, and read together to show your kids that this relaxing activity can be enjoyable.
Reading can seem like a rather dull activity, especially for little ones. This is understandable—as reading is a quiet, still, and often solitary task. But it doesn’t have to be. One regular strategy that elementary teachers utilize as a best practice is to incorporate movement breaks when students are expected to read for a length of time. Depending on the reader, a movement break might involve a trip to the water fountain or kitchen to get a drink of water after reading a chapter or section. For others it may involve jumping jacks, a quick dancing brain break, or squeezing a stress ball while reading. Some students also find it helpful to read at a standing desk, on a yoga or balance ball, or on a wobble stool to help engage the body and allow for some rhythmic movement while reading. The key is to allow and encourage reluctant readers to expel energy to keep their minds engaged and focused.
Preview for background info
For many students, the dislike of reading comes from the fact that it can be tedious and strenuous, especially for struggling readers. Therefore, offering various reading strategies to students can help ease the difficulty and, in effect, increase engagement. One of these strategies, especially for nonfiction or textbook reading assignments, is to preview the reading and search for background on the topic.
Depending on the reading and the student, this practice will look different each time, but here are the basics: Pay attention to the titles, subtitles, headings, captions, photos, bolded vocabulary terms, etc. Students can garner a great deal of what the text will involve by looking at the text features beforehand. Skim sections of the text to ground their reading; this will help orient readers and allow them to plan ahead in terms of seeing how long the reading will be. For terms or concepts that are totally unfamiliar, students should be encouraged to do a quick Google search to help ground their understanding of the term, concept, or event. Jot down questions while previewing; this helps students begin to engage with the text and practice close reading and critical thinking. The goal is to then revisit and answer or follow up on those questions after reading.
Highlight as you go
Highlighting is a common tool for successful readers as well. This practice builds strong, active reading skills and helps visual learners at the same time. Students should be encouraged to mark areas of the text for any of the following purposes: Highlight words or phrases that connect to vocabulary terms or important concepts from class; this visual helps to engrain definitions and understanding into working memory. Highlight main points of a section, chapter, or column of text. This way, when students revisit the text, they are able to identify the key points immediately. Highlight areas of the text that they find confusing or have questions about. This will act as a visual cue to remind students to follow up with the teacher, do a little more research about the specific topic, ask follow-up questions, etc.
These are just a few easy strategies to implement that can help all ages find more enjoyment in reading.
Wendy Taylor, M.Ed has extensive experience working with students of all ages and abilities, with a focus on learning differences and disabilities. Prior to founding Learning Essentials, she served as a faculty member at Saint Petersburg College, a supervisor of pre-service teachers and a Montgomery County Public School teacher. A certified educator and qualified educational diagnostician, Wendy holds a B.S. in Social Science and Secondary Education from Frostburg State University and a M.Ed. in Special Education from George Mason University.