There are thousands of ways to try and inspire reluctant readers to get the reading bug. I won’t deal here with issues like dyslexia and other medically based reasons for a child’s failure to read. In these cases, diagnosis of the particular child in question is key, as is a structured plan made with the help of experts in the field.
My suggestions, listed below, are for use in schools or at home for children who are physically and mentally capable of reading, but who, for one reason and another, are not making sufficient progress, or reading for pleasure.
In school we try a combination of approaches depending on the children, their age and ability and the level of intervention we feel they require.
Reading Miles projects either in individual classes or as a whole school are proven to be very effective ways to coerce children into reading at home as well as during the school day. There are lots of different ways to start a reading miles scheme, but the basic premise is the same. You find a way to mark the children’s progress other than the straightforward marking down the number of pages they read in their reading records. You could, for example, create a Round the World Theme where the children reach different milestones depending on how many pages they read. You can create passports for them to collect stamps in as they read their way round the world. In class you put up a big display and get the children to race each other round the world. You can, if you wish, add the element of prizes to make the race even more competitive. Competition does work, as does bribery.
Lots of schools give out prizes at their end of year assembly. We have trophies for academic and sporting excellence, kindness and other things. Why not give a prize for the child who has made most progress with their reading?
Invite authors, poets and other wordsmiths into your school to perform, run workshops, etc. Children seeing adults who make their living from writing, reading and performing can have a profound effect on the way they view reading and writing, particularly if they are being entertained, and enjoy what they have seen and/or participated in.
Create notice boards and displays within school highlighting different authors. Pick an author of the week or month and make sure that a range of their books are available in school for the children to browse through. As a teacher, make sure that you tell the children about the author or the book being displayed. Show that you like/are enthusiastic about the author. If you can’t be bothered, why should they be?
Involve children in literacy based events. There are all kinds of festivals, days of celebration, days to mark different events and ideas that you can become involved in, as well as competitions your school can take part in.
Read regularly to your children, and make sure that they know that you enjoy what you are reading to them. Also, if a child is reading to you, make sure that they know that you are actively responding to what they read. If they feel that you are just marking time, waiting for them to finish, they will be much less motivated to read. An appreciative audience is always going to help.
Talk to the children in your class/family about what you are reading. Explain to them bits that excited you, or made you sad. Tell them if you sat up until three in the morning reading ‘just one more chapter’. Make them see that reading for pleasure is an indispensable and enjoyable part of your every day life. Model the behaviour you want to see in them.
Teach them to browse. Give them time in the school library and show them how it works, and what kinds of things they might like. Take them to your local library and do the same. Allow them to pick a range of books, including ones that may be too young or too old for them, as long as there is something in there that you feel they will enjoy. Let them experiment and explore books. Don’t stifle their urge to push the boundaries, whilst at the same time guiding them positively towards things that they are capable of reading and you think they will enjoy.
Lots of classes now encourage reading time in the afternoons, where the children sit and read books for pleasure. Try to ask a few of them what they are reading, if they are enjoying it, would they recommend it to you? Take one home and either read it or skim read it, and report back to the child in question. It does wonders for their ego if an adult reads a book they like or have recommended. It makes them want to read/recommend more.
Read more children’s books yourself. Talk to the children about what they are reading with knowledge and experience so that they know they can trust you when you say you think they will enjoy something.
Read them things that are too hard for them, and make a point of saying how adult or difficult they are. Children love thinking they are doing something illicit or difficult. Explore texts with them. You need only to pick a page or paragraph from something, but make it something exciting. Hook them into wanting to know more.
Create a book club for children, but one in which you have read the books too, and can guide the discussion. I have written about book clubs for schools elsewhere on the blog and there are lots of ways you can adapt your book club to make it suitable for the types of children you are working with.
Involve parents in their children’s reading. Create activities that demand family reading. Get your PTFA to host a bed time stories evening and ask some of the parents to come and read to the children. Ask some parents to come in and listen to children read, or get parents to come and read to children. Show them that reading continues after school and after childhood ends.
Create mentoring schemes where more able readers help the less able readers. We do this in our school with reading books, but expand it to include reading for pleasure.
Be interested in reading. Show that interest. Let them see that it is alright to like reading, or writing, or story telling. Give them permission to be brilliant, enthusiastic readers.