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Five Tips to Encourage Reluctant Readers to Pick Up a Book


In an age of tablets, smartphones, and hundreds of television channels, it can be difficult to encourage kids to tear their eyes away from the screen and pick up a book. Despite the benefits of technology—helping people to quickly retrieve and disseminate information, as well as creating connections between people regardless of distance, for instance—it is just as important now to read books as it ever was.

Rather than allowing a child to passively watch as stories, ideas, and visuals are presented to him via websites and television, reading is active; a reader uses the information on the page to construct her own worlds, and must decipher themes, analyze characters, and pick apart story arcs on her own. As a result, regular readers have longer attention spans, better ability to process and comprehend information, and display more vibrant imaginations than non-readers. These skills are highly important, if not mandatory, in school settings. In essence, fostering better readers will foster better students.

Here are a few tips for encouraging your child to enjoy reading:

Establish reading as leisure.

All too often, kids see reading as something to be tolerated, not enjoyed. They come to associate it with work, when it should be associated with recreation and pleasure.

A great way to establish reading as a fun leisure activity is to model it yourself. Instead of turning on the television or surfing the Internet during your down time, pick up a novel (or newspaper, or biography). Let your child see you reading as a way to relax, and she is more likely to do so herself. Make family trips to the library a regular, fun event—help your child pick out books, pick some out for yourself, and wrap up the day with something like a trip to the ice cream shop or the park to sweeten the deal.

Most importantly, never use reading as a punishment. You can’t force a kid to enjoy books, and trying to do so when he has misbehaved is a surefire way to make sure he never will enjoy them.

By endorsing reading as a way to enjoy oneself, your child is more likely to pick up a book on his own time, without prompting or nagging from you.

Choose books based on your child’s interests.

A kid doesn’t need to dive into the classics in order to become a skilled, active reader. Handing her heavy tomes by Dickens and Tolstoy are likely to turn her off, because she cannot connect with the stories on a personal level.

Before giving your child more challenging texts, encourage him to find books that coincide with his interests. Stories about sports, biographies about personal heroes, encyclopedias about the types of artillery used during World War II—nearly all types of texts can capture your burgeoning reader’s interest. Let her get comfortable with pieces she can relate to before having her pick up Austen.

Cater to short attention spans.

Many students struggle with reading because they find it difficult to pay attention for long periods of time. Following a single plot line or character arc for hundreds of pages can prove daunting for beginning and even intermediate readers.

You do not necessarily have to provide shorter books to deal with this issue; you can work with a short attention span by providing your child texts that move more quickly. Collections of poems or short stories are a great start, for they provide fully developed pieces in relatively quick bursts. Many teachers have also found success by encouraging children to read books of monologues that are typically used by actors. In just one or two pages, the reader gets a complete persona to decipher—and still has to use his imagination to fill in the blanks.

After your child gets comfortable with short texts, you can start increasing the length of the texts. Move from monologues to short stories, from short stories to novellas, from novellas to novels. Soon, she will be able to keep her focus for longer periods of time.

Give graphic novels a try.

Don’t be fooled by the flashy colors and stylized adventures; graphic novels, or comic books, are excellent tools for encouraging reluctant readers and developing academic skills.

The benefits are extensive: The speech bubbles help model authentic dialogue, the writing helps students improve vocabulary skills, themes are varied and thought-provoking, and the text is in less intimidating, bite-sized pieces. The drawings, rather than detracting from the potential academic benefit, give great contextual clues to meaning—this helps kids better comprehend what is going on in the story and eases them into developing better reading comprehension skills.

By finding interesting, age-appropriate graphic novels, you can expose your child to a great gateway to other forms of literature.

Get involved.

It is extremely important to remain involved in your child’s reading experience after giving her the books. Ask questions about what’s going on in the story, why he likes or dislikes certain characters, how aspects of the texts can relate to her life, and what she thinks about the writing style. Maintaining open discussion about the books he reads will help you figure out how to better engage him, as well as help you make sure he is thinking critically about the texts.

Lorato Anderson is a private San Diego English tutor at TutorNerds, with a BA in Literature and Writing with a focus in education.


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One Comment

  1. Great tips, especially the one about graphic novels. Both my son and I love them.

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