Art Works Blog

Tips for Encouraging Reluctant Readers

There’s no shortage of data outlining the benefits of reading for children. In the NEA’s own 2007 report, To Read or Not to Read, research suggested that reading proficiency was associated with higher test scores, and later, with higher-paying jobs, greater career growth, and higher rates of civic engagement. But what if your child simply doesn’t like to read? We asked Big Read communities from around the country to answer the question “What advice would you give parents or teachers for how to get a reluctant reader excited about reading?" Here’s what they had to say:

"There is a great deal of pressure in the wish for a child to begin to read, and to continue reading throughout childhood. Sometimes even encouragement can feel like an anxious-making expectation. Transmitting the pleasure and enthusiasm a parent or teacher personally draws from reading—that it's relaxing, that it helps one understand other people and the world, even that it helps one understand oneself—can lighten the entire experience. Making the library or bookstore a fun and regular destination, reading aloud, talking about books and writers that have special meaning—all these things convey the joy that reading promises, helping a child master this most essential, and wonderful, of life skills." —Sheridan Hay, Coordinator, Center for Fiction

“It is important to give kids the opportunity to read what they like. Set aside time everyday for children to read whatever they want—magazines, comics, stories, poems, newspapers—in whatever format they like best, whether print or digital. And, when the kids are reading what they like, parents should too. Younger children especially want to be like mom and dad. When parents read, their kids will want to read, too!” —Karol Kennedy, Deputy Director, Waukesha Public Library

“Start with the books on topics of interest to the child. Relate activities to that topic. Read with your children and show your own enjoyment to get the children excited too!” —Nancy Dolan, Director, Quincy Public Library

“There are so many reasons that young people may find reading less exciting than other pursuits, but one of the best ways to get them started is to find a book on a topic that interests them. Sometimes students don’t enjoy reading fiction, and if that is the case, finding a nonfiction book on sports or computer games may be the key that will get them started. Parents can also get involved with their teen by doing a ‘reading exchange’—the teen suggests a book for the parent to read and vice versa. Then both parent and teen get together to talk about the ideas in the book and why the book was chosen. 

Many younger readers get excited by having a book read aloud to them. I can still name the books that were read to me by my teachers in third and fifth grades and another read by a babysitter when I was nine. The act of reading aloud really bonds the reader with the listener. Young people need to see the adults in their lives reading for pleasure and modeling good reading habits. Make reading a daily activity for both you and your child, and be willing to ask your child about what they are discovering in their reading. Librarians love to make reading suggestions, so talk with your librarian about books that kids are talking about and see if those titles might be a hit with your child as well.” –Julie Linneman, Program and Outreach Manager, Wichita Public Library

“Give the child a library card, and the time and opportunity to explore. Let children pick what they want to read, let them follow their inclinations and preferences. Let your children know that reading is a valid and constructive use of their time, and take an interest in what they’re reading—let them tell you what they’re excited about, and listen as they do so.” —Steve Roman, Teen Librarian, DeKalb Public Library

“In order to reach reluctant readers and/or individuals not connected to the community, we attempt to create an experience which brings reading to life. We try to provide opportunities to remind people that literacy can be both a solitary and community experience. Emphasis is placed on the senses and/or in becoming part of the story in an effort to make reading come alive. We have had some successes with these community-building activities as it relates to reluctant readers and avid readers. We emphasize that you can participate with or without reading the book, and find that after participating more people are willing to give the book a shot.” —Joan Pilkington-Smyth, Director, Attleboro Public Library

“Through years of arts education programming, including five Big Read programs, we have found that sometimes finding another entry through which to explore the text can engender enthusiasm in a reluctant reader. At Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts (RCCA), we make all of our arts education and programs for The Big Read accessible to all ages and reading levels. For example, a storyteller brings to life stories of adventure, whether they are inspired by Jack London or Ernest Hemingway—this active call-and-response story session is followed by a related hands-on art activity and an age-appropriate book to take home. One of the programs in The Big Read at RCCA for Fall 2013, for Edgar Allan Poe, was a performance entitled Shades of Poe by a local theater company, and was comprised of a sampling of stories acted through monologue. This performance spurred my teenage son, who is often a reluctant reader, to delve into the Short Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, and he became a huge fan of Poe’s work. These types of active experiences enhancing the literature often plant the seeds for a love of learning and reading.” —Noreen Scott Garrity, Associate Director of Education, Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts

“Staten Island OutLOUD likes to put a fun spin on a writer or on a piece of literature by tying it our community; it awakens interest in the work, and in our local history. For example, when Staten Island OutLOUD featured Stories & Poems of Poe last fall, we tied "The Mystery of Marie Roget" to a notorious unsolved 19th-century Staten Island murder that Poe covered as a crime reporter (and some say that murder inspired Poe's story). We staged an event in the same courthouse where the trial took place, and we invited high school students to pose questions about the case to a judge, a prosecutor and a defense attorney. Reluctant readers of all ages packed the courthouse—Standing Room Only—with a lively discussion. Students said that our event piqued their interest in Poe's stories (beyond Goths and zombies), and that our panelists inspired some of them to consider a career in criminal justice.” —Beth Gorrie, Executive Director, Staten Island OutLOUD

“Through The Big Read, we learned that students demonstrated a greater willingness to read and comment when they felt they were part of a ‘common intellectual experience.’ Hundreds of students read the same book, as did members of the community representing diverse populations. Together they participated in a myriad of events: speakers, dramatic performances, musical experiences, art exhibits, art projects, gastronomic events, discussions, all based on the themes of that book. They were truly motivated: inspired by each other and their multisensory learning experience.” –Deborah Degnan, Coordinator, Center for Holocaust, Human Rights, and Genocide Education at Brookdale Community College

“Parkside's Fahrenheit 451 Big Read encourages reluctant readers in the community in a number of ways. Parkside offers our Big Read book in English, Spanish, and the authorized graphic novel because we know our audience is broad. We seek book discussion and programming settings where community members would otherwise find themselves, whether in a local brew pub or out in a nature preserve. Additionally, our Big Read team collaborates with creative and entrepreneurial types in the community who come up with their own great ideas, or are happy to collaborate with others.” –Anne Rasmussen, Continuing Resources and Copyright Librarian, University of Wisconsin-Parkside Library

"Amherst Glebe Arts Response (AGAR) and two of its partners, the Amherst County Public Library and Public Schools have tried to engage students with books and their authors by involving the students in exciting artistic creation or interpretation. We work to have these relate to the language of the book under study, the life of the author, or the cultural context of the work. AGAR and partners feel that connections between teachers and students and BIG READ books are greatly enhanced by the participation of professional composers, actors, and musicians in these projects." -Lynn Kable, President, Amherst Glebe Arts Response



As a psychologist I think maybe we need to start with what works, even if we have to borrow it from the arch enemy, computer games! Gaming theory holds a lot of interesting information on how to motivate people to spend huge amounts of time in front of a screen, often doing extremely repetitive actions on not-so-stimulating games (think Facebook games and cell phone games here), just to earn points. These points hold no actual worth other than the worth that they have been infused with. 
Anyhow, I think one can set up fun, game based points systems for different reads (depending on length and complexity) and add in rewards to engender a level of competition. 

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