Friday, February 22, 2013

Elementary Activities: 12 Ways to Help a Reluctant Reader

By: Deborah Pace Rowley

As a teacher, I recognize that the ability to read well is the most important academic skill a child can have. But what do you do with a child who has absolutely NO desire to read? Here are a few suggestions that I have used with my own children and with my students to help reluctant readers gain a love for reading.

1. Read Aloud- My first four children were natural readers, so I was surprised when my youngest seemed to hate reading. During her 2nd and 3rd grade years, getting Katie to read was like pulling teeth. I was concerned because although she had rudimentary reading ability, she was definitely not learning to love reading like her older siblings. During her 4th grade year, I simply gave up the fight. She still had a reading chart to fill out which required her to read for 20 minutes a day. I began to read aloud to her for those twenty minutes. I didn't make her take turns. She didn't have to read a page followed by my reading a page. I just let her snuggle next to me and listen. I chose Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for our reading time, knowing that we would be going to Harry Potter World in the Spring. I loved the half hour we spent together reading a book that I also enjoyed. We moved quickly through Book 1 and onto Book 2. Through the course of that year, we moved through the rest of the series and finished Book 5 together. Then she grew impatient and launched into Book 6 on her own! She finished Book 6 and Book 7 without me. From then on, she was hooked. She is now reading as much or more than her older brother Joseph. When struggling readers are expected to read on their own, word processing takes so long that they miss the magic of the story. When Katie could just listen, she experienced the magic and wonder of the written word. She was addicted to the story and by then she knew it was worth plowing through on her own. Once she had the motivation, she started to read more and more which resulted in increased reading fluency. This is my single biggest suggestion to parents whose children struggle with reading. Just read aloud to the child as often as you can! Here is our list of some great choices for reading aloud.

Our Favorite Books to Read Aloud

2. Try audio books- If you don't have the time to read aloud to your child, pick up some audio books at the library. This will accomplish the same purpose of letting your child get lost in the magic of a good story without worrying about sounding out the words.

3. Pick the right book- Sometimes with a struggling reader, the key is to simply find the right book. I had one student who had become my personal challenge. I had tried to interest him in countless book that I thought he would enjoy. Nothing doing. Finally, I pulled out the Knights of Right series written by my daughter. He devoured Books 1 through 4. I was so thrilled with this result that I actually snuck him Books 5 and 6 off her computer. (Don't tell! They haven't actually been published yet.) To find the perfect book for your struggling reader, try to determine what your child's interests are. Look at their favorite movies and video games. What hobbies does this child enjoy?  What are his or her interests? All of these can be clues in helping you find the correct book. Talk to a teacher or librarian. They may also have suggestions of popular books that other students with similar interests have enjoyed. Once you have found a book that you think will fit the bill, use the suggestion above and read the first few chapters aloud. That may be enough to perk your child's interest in continuing the story on his or her own. Information on how to order Knights of Right for your reluctant reader is included on the right side bar. I have found this is a great first series for both boys and girls. One veteran first grade teacher told me that these are the first books she has found in 25 years of teaching that have kept the interest of her ENTIRE class. Great job, M'Lin!

4. Find a series- Once you have found the right book, it is even better if the book is part of a series.
Then your child can move right into Book 2 without delay. Here are some fairly easy series that my students and my own children have enjoyed.
* Guardians of Ga'hoole
* Warriors
* A Series of Unfortunate Events
* Bailey School Kids
* Diary of a Wimpy Kid
* Dragon Slayer Academy
* Junie B. Jones
* Judy Moody
* Magic Tree House
* A to Z Mysteries
* Geronimo Stilton
* Secrets of Droon
* Knights of Right
* Spiderwick Chronicles

5. Try nonfiction or other genre- Sometimes the easiest introduction to reading is not through a novel but through nonfiction. Some of my reluctant readers will willingly read a great comic book or a nonfiction title about their current interests such as sports, race cars, movie special effects etc.

6. Build interest- There is a reason why Hollywood creates movie trailers. Trailers are a great way to build interest in an upcoming movie and entice viewers to choose their movie out of the countless other options out there. The publishing industry is picking up on this effective marketing strategy and has started creating book trailers as well. To find some book trailers for books that might interest your reluctant reader check out this link to Slime Kids.

Book Trailers

It contains hundreds of Book Trailers along with the appropriate reading level and grade. You can also do a google search for Book Trailers for Kids. Watch the book trailers together and ask your child which of the four or five trailers that you view looked the most interesting. Pick that book up at the library and start to read it aloud to your child. 

7. Check his/her vision- One of my students really struggled with reading until she was diagnosed with difficulty in visual processing. She got some contact lenses and received training in focusing and tracking her vision. She has soared academically since then. It is always important to rule out a vision problem when working with a struggling reader. Even if your child's vision is fine, there may be other visual processing problems that only a trained doctor can detect. I can recommend two great doctors if you are in the Davis County area. Here is a shout out to my brother Dan and my brother-in-law Adam. They are excellent doctors and work very well with kids.

Family Vision Care of Bountiful 

8. Encourage and Model-  Research suggests that one of the most effective things that we can do is model reading behavior for our children. We can share what we are reading and let them see us read. Here are the items on my night stand right now:

To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink
Love Does By Bob Goff
The TimeKeeper By Mitch Albom

I am loving each of these books and have been sharing the things that I am learning with my husband and kids.

9. Don't Nag or Fight- This suggestion probably should have been number one. Don't add to the negative associations your child has about reading by turning it into a battle between the two of you. Children should not view reading as a chore or something that they HAVE to do before the real fun starts. If that is their attitude, of course they will avoid reading at all costs. Try to keep reading positive and fun. I am still reading picture books to my 5th and  6th grade students. I don't care who the child is, every child loves to be read a picture book! Keep reading picture books if that is all the reading that your child will let you do. At least reading will be associated with fun and pleasant memories with you.

10. Make going to the library an adventure- My mom instilled a love of reading in each of her seven children, including my brother who was diagnosed with learning disabilities. I think one of the ways that she did this was to make our weekly trips to the library so much fun. We each got our own library cards and had special bags that we could use to carry home our selections. There was no limit to the amount of books we could bring home either! I remember packing my bag with 20 or 30 books each week. Then we would go out for ice cream or stop at the park on the way home. I used to love going to the library. It was the highlight of my week. Make library visits fun for your child by adding a fun treat or letting them choose a movie. There are so many fun things about libraries now from story times to activity packs to prizes for completing reading charts. Take advantage of all the fun things your local library has to offer.

11. Create fun reading areas throughout the house-  Since before I was married, I dreamed about having a home with a library filled with floor to ceiling books, gorgeous natural light, and one of those cool ladders that you had to climb to reach the uppermost shelves. Unfortunately, I still haven't been able to create this dream library. However,  I have tried to create fun reading spots in different places in my house.

Here is Joseph's favorite place to read. This is underneath his log bed.

Here is Katie's favorite place to read. This is inside her barn bed.

Here are some fun reading areas in our play room.

Here is fun reading area in the "cave" under the stairs. I painted glow in the dark eyes on the wall of the cave.

A blanket thrown over a table makes a fun reading hideout. Add a flashlight, some snacks and a basket of books and you may have to coax your child to come out and join the rest of the world. How about a hammock with a basket of books and some lemonade during the summer? Or a treehouse filled with comics and adventure novels? Even a window seat with comfortable cushions or a recliner with a fuzzy blanket and a bunch of books all make enticing areas. Look around your house to see if you can find out of the way or interesting places where your child might like to read.

12. Pair Movies and Books- One way to motivate a struggling reader is to pair a great movie with the book that inspired it. Tell your child that they can earn a movie night with you if you first finish the book together. Here is our list of great book and movie combinations.

25 Ways to Read a Book and Watch a Movie

Good luck inspiring your reluctant reader to love to read! I don't think there is any more important task we can tackle as mothers. Or anything more rewarding once we succeed. Truly we will have given our child the world.

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