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3 ways to encourage reluctant readers
Shyla Middleton
February 11, 2020

Getting students to embrace reading can be tricky. Some take to it easily. Others struggle.  Ideally, we want them all to enjoy the experience and develop a lifelong habit of reading. 

Here are three tactics that have been successful with my students. 

Offer an expansive library. With teacher deficits and budget crunches, no one needs reminding that books are expensive. But there are resourceful ways to access quality children’s literature and graphic novels. I use Epic!, which is free for teachers and librarians, and gives students access to premium titles that are available in multiple languages and formats. All of my students have iPads -- we are a 1-to-1 school -- and spend 20 minutes each day reading for pleasure. Not a 1-to-1 school? No problem. Put your students into groups and have them collectively share and discuss a story.

Embrace diversity and foreign languages. Reading introduces students to different people and cultural experiences. This can go a long way toward building understanding and relationships in your classroom.

Recently, in a group exercise, students looked for stories with African animals. One of my Swahili students then translated the animals’ English names into Swahili. This fun activity helped bridged the language divide, nurtured camaraderie, and let everyone learn something new and interesting.

Another idea: Create collections for specific genres and languages. My Spanish students like to read Spanish titles, and my Chinese-speaking students gravitate towards the Chinese fairy tales. Even folktales from different cultures can help foster inclusivity and create interesting classroom discussions. We started out our fairy tale unit with “Lon Po Po” -- a Chinese story -- and then drew similarities between that and more familiar ones like “The Three Little Pigs” and “Little Red Riding Hood.”

Scaffold reading. Graphic novels can help students feel more comfortable in sharing their interpretations of a text. Read-to-me books are another great way to scaffold reading assignments for struggling readers. Seeing the highlighted text and hearing the word pronounced sometimes helps students understand those trickier words and allows for their working memory to focus on the story rather than on each word.

I have come to love our digital library. I can provide more reading experiences to my students and easily share resources with other teachers. I’m seeing increased empathy and better collaboration among my students. Best of all, though, they are enjoying reading. Students are getting into the texts, discovering more about what they like and getting passionate about learning. That’s a win!

Shyla Middleton is a fourth-grade teacher at Glenfair Elementary, a Title 1 school in Portland, Oregon.

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