Engaging Reluctant Readers: Strategies that Work

Engaging Reluctant Readers: Strategies that Work

Engaging Reluctant Readers: Strategies that Work

To address the challenge of engaging reluctant readers, we gathered ten effective strategies from experienced Librarians and Literacy Specialists. From an initial suggestion of engaging with easy and funny books to the final strategy of making the child an expert reader, this article provides a comprehensive guide to transforming reluctant readers into enthusiastic book lovers.

  • Engage With Easy and Funny Books
  • Empower Children to Choose Books
  • Host a Book Buffet
  • Build a Connection and Understand Reluctance
  • Incorporate Movement in Reading Activities
  • Offer High-Interest and Non-Traditional Texts
  • Turn the Book Selection Into a Scavenger Hunt
  • Leverage Technology for Interactive Reading
  • Introduce Novels in Verse
  • Make the Child an Expert Reader

Engage With Easy and Funny Books

I once had a group of 6th-graders in the library who disliked reading and never wanted to check out books. They preferred to sit and goof around, refusing every attempt to engage them with books.

Until the day I strewed a pile of Elephant and Piggie books on the table. “These are baby books,” they said with disdain. “Oh, but they aren’t,” I replied. “I love them so much I purchased every one of them, and I am a grown-up. It is fun to read easy books, and I especially love it when they are funny.”

The next thing I knew, these too-cool-for-school, worldly-wise preteens were guffawing, reading aloud to each other, and swapping copies until it was time to go. Permission to read something easy can be a golden ticket for reluctant readers.

Lori Sabo

Empower Children to Choose Books

As a Children’s Librarian, I was surprised to find that my daughter, a fourth grader, is not as a voracious reader as I had been as a kid. Bringing books home from work for her was hit or miss, and I often found myself returning books that she didn’t even crack open.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I showed her how to look up books and put them on hold for herself. I told her this would ensure that I am bringing home books she actually wants to read. She is finally branching out from rereading the same few books, and she is learning that there is an entire world of books for her to discover.

Michelle Halpern
Children’s Librarian, Yonkers Public Library

Host a Book Buffet

I love to hold a “Book Buffet” to generate interest and allow choice in my classroom. First, I gather an array of books that students can choose from. I display them around the classroom so that students can get up and move around.

Students then have a designated time to sample the book, looking at the title, author, and front and back covers, and reading the first page or two. I provide them with a worksheet with spaces for their notes about the book: first impression, front cover, back cover, any illustrations, blurb on the back, and any previous experience with the author.

I ring a little gong, and they move on to the next book, repeating the process. A variation that I have done is handing a book to each child in a small group. When the gong rings, they pass their book to the person to their right.

A paper worksheet could also be replaced by an electronic document or even a collaborative Jamboard or Google Doc. I like to finish the strategy by allowing sharing.

Maria Walkowiak
Ela Enrichment Teacher

Build Connection and Understand Reluctance

When engaging a reluctant reader, I always start with the connection. Time spent building a relationship is a worthy investment; students are likely to work harder when they feel seen and supported. This time will also give me a window into the reason behind the reluctance, whether it is a difficulty with the text, topic, or mindset.

Difficulty with the text might lead me to suggest a “hi-lo” decodable reader, such as from High Noon Books, that provides high-interest texts on a lower reading level to make the text more accessible to striving readers.

In difficulty with the topic, I might suggest wide reading, a strategy in which we could read multiple stories about the same topic to build a stronger base of knowledge.

Finally, if it is difficult with the mindset of the student, I would consider additional ways I could foster connection, perhaps even engaging other members of the student’s support system.

Lacey Ladd
Senior Literacy Specialist, Marian University

Incorporate Movement in Reading Activities

I suggest creating games and centers that embrace movement for reluctant readers, such as a timed relay race. For this activity, students are asked to read a word, jog to the board, and spell that word before time runs out.

I also often turn card and board games into reading games by asking students to spell or read a word before rolling the dice. Going through familiar literacy activities at a brisk pace keeps reluctant readers engaged and feeling successful.

Colleen Brady
Literacy Specialist

Offer High-Interest and Non-Traditional Texts

Providing high-interest books that pique a student’s interest is the best way to engage reluctant readers. Sometimes, this includes non-traditional text sources like graphic novels and texts read aloud for students to follow along and listen. I even recommend students use closed captions when watching video content to see the words while they are being spoken.

Rachel Derr
Reading Specialist

Turn the Book Selection Into a Scavenger Hunt

Locating the perfect book for a reluctant reader can be challenging as a school librarian. I want readers to be engaged in and enjoy discovering a good book to read, not dread the experience.

At the start of the school year, I have my sixth-grade students complete a survey about their reading habits, hobbies, and interests. Using this information, I carefully curate three books for each student I believe they’ll each enjoy.

During a library visit, they embark on a scavenger hunt to find their tailored books, turning the task of aimlessly wandering the stacks into an amusing quest with personalized reading materials as their reward!

Demonstrating a genuine interest in readers’ preferences and taking the time to discover books that align with their passions can significantly affect reluctant readers.

Making the book selection process immersive and personal is incredibly rewarding for both parties involved. The time and effort are worth seeing all the satisfied smiles.

Taylor JenningsTaylor Jennings
School Librarian, The Pennington School

Leverage Technology for Interactive Reading

Reluctant readers are usually reluctant because reading is hard for them (i.e., it makes their eyes tired, or they don’t understand what’s happening in the book because decoding is so difficult for them).

One strategy that seems to work is using technology to engage reluctant readers. For example, use a book that has interactive components, such as words you can click on that will show a short video of the word’s meaning.

Another strategy is to show a short video of the book, like a book trailer, to pique the interest of the reader, but not reveal the ending. When they finish reading the book, they can create their own book trailer!

Elizabeth O’Heaney, Literacy Coach, The Learning Center for the Deaf

Introduce Novels in Verse

In my experience as a teacher—kindergarten right up through GED students—and now as a school librarian, I’ve found that readers can be intimidated by the dense number of words on a page.

I love novels in verse, ‌but they work particularly well with hesitant readers because there is so much white space and because these books aren’t usually overwhelmingly long.

Donna Marie MerrittDonna Marie Merritt
Librarian and Author, Donna Marie Books

Make the Child an Expert Reader

One strategy that engages reluctant readers is to make them experts in reading. Through play and imaginative games, children can pretend that they are the teacher of a classroom, and they can read to their “students.”

They can also be an expert by reading to someone who does not read as well as they currently do, like a younger sibling or a pet. I have seen reluctant readers completely change into eager readers when reading to a dog!

Having a caregiver change roles with the child and asking that the child read a bedtime story to the adult can also add novelty. Having a child take the mantle of expertise takes some of the pressure off of being a “reader” and just being someone who is reading.

Trevor AllenTrevor Allen
School Librarian, Corlears School

Submit Your Answer

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