Sarah Barker, English teacher at Orchard School Bristol, shares some simple, effective ways to help get a reluctant reader excited about books.
Reluctant readers come in many forms. I teach students who can read well, but are reluctant to do so, and students who really want to be able to read, but struggle with it. Then there are the students who don’t want to read because it’s hard for them, and all the other students in between.
I often see poor reading comprehension cited as the reason for underperformance – not just in English, but across the curriculum. It can be hard to know where to start. The research seems to point in so many directions and there are lots of variables to consider.
1. Set aside time for daily reading
At my school, every morning, our tutors read to their tutor-groups. Students listen to a novel for 20 minutes and follow along in their own copies. Our librarian has noticed that students are taking out books at a rate not seen in previous years; students often ask for similar books to their morning read or books by the same author. We’ve also seen an improvement in the students’ vocabulary in their creative writing, and their understanding of narrative structure and progression has really improved too. Crucially, though, their appreciation of the author’s craft and their ability to read for meaning has really moved on; we see this in English lessons on a daily basis.
2. Listen to students read and discuss the text together
Reading is a personal experience and working with a teacher or other adult one-to-one to look at little details in the story or text can be transformative. The conversation could be centred around simple patterns in language (‘have you noticed how the author uses colours in this extract? How many other colours can you spot?’) or even just simple points of character construction. There is something very powerful about guiding a reader to start to notice patterns or pick out details independently. Educake has some lovely short passages with accompanying reading questions for a similar experience online.
3. Get talking about books
Although we shouldn’t judge books by their covers, I think that most of us do! It’s hard to know what a book is about, and sometimes the blurb doesn’t really give enough away to create that hook. Once a fortnight, I take three books from our school library to my KS3 lessons and I spend ten minutes telling the students about them. At the end of the lesson, students have the opportunity to take the books away with them, and I get them booked out on our library system. I have not yet had a week in which at least one student did not take away a book. The experience of listening to an adult enthuse about a novel can often be the catalyst for whether or not a young person wants to open up the book and try it for themselves.
4. Read the first few pages
Another approach, especially if you don’t have the time to read the novels first, is to just read the first few pages of a book or two. Some reluctant readers love being read to, and really do want to know what will happen next! Hearing their teacher read the first part of a story will bring the tale alive for them, and they don’t have to try to ‘get into the book’ themselves.
5. ‘Ah, but you haven’t read the part when he goes to the zoo yet’
Some students are quick to claim that a book is ‘boring’ when they have only read a few pages. I’ve been guilty of giving up early as a young person. As a teenager, it took me several attempts to get through The Catcher in the Rye! I just couldn’t fathom why anybody would recommend it. Then a very canny English teacher said to me, ‘ah, but you haven’t read the part when he goes to the zoo yet. You’ll like that part.’ I was so intrigued that I persevered, and by the time I got to the (relatively uneventful!) zoo part, I was hooked. I often do the same with my students; if a book is declared to be ‘boring’ then a little hint at something to come can work wonders.
Author Bio: Sarah Barker is an English teacher of 18 years. She grew up in Bristol, where she still lives and works. She is interested in supporting all students to become fully literate adults, and in widening the worlds of our young people through literature. She tweets at @mssfax and blogs at www.roundlearning.org