Thursday, August 28, 2008

Get ‘Em Reading: Strategies for Reluctant Readers

My fourth-grade daughter tested above grade level on reading tests.

Then why was I pulling my hair out trying to get her to open a book at home? Any attempt to push an easy chapter book into her hands was met with a brick wall of resistance. I knew that if she didn’t learn to read, and enjoy reading, she’d have a harder time in school, college, and life.

Thanks to some detective work on my part plus some advice by an educator friend, my daughter has finally become what I’d hoped she would: a reader. Some of the same strategies have proven useful with my other children as well.

With school in session again, keep some of these tips in mind when trying to get your reluctant reader’s nose into a book.

Take away the Intimidation
My daughter could read a stack of fifteen picture books without batting an eye but shied away from a 60-page Magic Treehouse book. The greater length, smaller text, and lack of illustrations were scary.

We checked out an audio book from the library and got her the same book in hard copy. She followed along in the book as the CD played. She was still reading, but it was no longer scary because someone else was doing some of the work. After reading a few books this way, her confidence level shot up.

Have Them Listen
Read aloud to your children—even the older ones. In the car, listen to audio books. Comprehending storylines and texts is just as important as being able to decipher words on a page. Learning those skills through hearing can have a big impact on how well a child reads independently.

Back up a Bit
Many kids who think they’re poor readers have really just been given books that are above their level. Of course they’re going to get frustrated. Bad reading experiences can turn kids off reading like nothing else can.

Back up a couple of reading levels and try again. Find a book where your child can read 90% of the words on each page with ease. Once they see that yes, they can do this, confidence grows, and they’ll gradually move through harder levels.

Tell them about books you didn’t like or didn’t finish. They’ll be glad to find out that even “good” readers abandon books.

Hook Them
There’s no use fighting the fact that kids today expect to be entertained. With fast-paced media surrounding them on all sides, they get bored easily. You might as well use the fact to your advantage: hook them with books that pique their interest.

The first chapter book my son read cover to cover was Captain Underpants. Not high-brow literature, but he laughed and giggled and read. He was hooked, first on the entire series (we ended up having to buy the set a second time because the first ones were so well-loved), but soon he was on to other books.

In the drug world, cigarettes and marijuana are considered “gateway” drugs because they often lead to using harder substances. Flip that concept on its head. You want your kids hooked on reading, right?

Giving them Little Women, Treasure Island, or some other great classic when they aren’t ready for it might turn them off reading altogether.

But . . . if you can hook them with a “gateway” book, they might find their way to others down the road. Captain Underpants, with its silly jokes and goofy characters, was my son’s gateway book. From there he worked up to adventure books for young boys and within a few years was reading all kinds of things, including complex adventure books for teen boys.

Some children get hooked by reading non-fiction magazines and books on a topic they're interested in, whether it's sports, science, or a hobby.

Read Together
Take turns reading aloud. You read one page, and then your child reads the next. You’ll know whether the book is on, above, or below your child’s reading level. You’ll be able to see your child’s strengths and weaknesses. You can stop to recap, predict, and ask comprehension questions. And, of course, it’s a great way to bond over a good story.

Visit the Optometrist
After trying several of these techniques, my daughter improved in her reading, but she was still reluctant to crack open a book on her own. That’s when I started paying closer attention to her complaints of headaches in her forehead.

A visit to the eye doctor showed that while she had 20/20 vision, she had significant astigmatism in both eyes, making her muscles work harder to focus on small things like text. That resulted in headaches.

In other words, she didn’t like reading because it was physically painful. She got a pair of cute reading glasses, and the very next week, I caught her curled up on her bed with a chapter book. I almost cried.

Learning to read will impact a child’s life in ways that no other skill ever will, empowering them with basic life skills. If your child is a reluctant reader, don’t give up. Keep trying. Play detective. The rewards are well worth it.

Return to the Neighborhood.

1 comment:

max said...


I grew up as a reluctant reader. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for boys 8 and up, that kids hate to put down. My web site is at and my Books for Boys blog is at I also have a short story in a new book called LAY UPS and LONG SHOTS, published by Darby Creek Publishing. I'm also featured in an article in the 2009 edition of Children's Wrtier Guide.

My other books are all ranked by Accelerated Reader

Max Elliot Anderson