Ideas and strategies to engage reluctant readers

Written by: Georgina Jonas | Published:
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Reluctant readers in their final years of primary education are in danger of entering adult life functionally illiterate – with all the risks that this brings. Georgina Jones looks at what parents can do and offers teachers some ideas for use in class

I hate reading! I don’t want to read now. I don’t like that book. These are complaints that are frequently heard by parents and teachers alike. And it is a problem because almost everything is made easier for a child at school when they can read fluently. Even maths becomes easier; “you haven’t read the question!” is often a perennial cry from the teacher.

So, how to encourage children to read? How to foster a love of reading?

Get the parents on your side

Make sure that the parents of the children you teach understand that getting their children to read is going to be a team effort; that you are part of the same team to do the best for their child.

Start early

Many parents buy books to enjoy with their toddlers. There are picture books, those that have simple storylines, and even ones that have flaps to open and noises to listen to. These are brilliant and children adore them.

Children who have had books read to them will be much more inclined to pick up one for themselves. Many parents read to their children as part of the bedtime routine but as soon as the children are able to put themselves to bed the habit tails off.

Children learn so much from being read to. As much as they love listening to the repetition of a well-loved book, the choice of something older and more exciting can stimulate the imagination, encourage the use of vocabulary and even help them understand grammar and the use of punctuation.

Ask the parents of the children you teach to choose a book that would be too hard for them to read by themselves. It will make it different, more exciting and will hopefully spur them on to improve their own reading skills. Remind them that just by reading a short chapter, or even half a chapter, a night can fire a lifelong love of reading.

They may say: “I haven’t got time to read every night. I have two other children to put to bed.” Fine. If it’s a one off and their child is desperate to find out how the story continues suggest that they read on by themselves and they’ll carry on the following evening.

They might also say: “I never have any time in the evenings. There is so much to get organised for the morning.” Suggest that they try audio books. There are some wonderful stories beautifully read by some fantastic actors and actresses and can be listened to in the car, during supper or later on in bed.

When they were little my boys used to love listening to Richmal Compton’s Just William stories, which quickly led on to longer adventure stories and then children’s classics. We used to listen at teatime, which had the huge advantage of anchoring them to the kitchen table for the duration of the meal.

Encourage your parents to discuss books

Stories are fun and if you have read them together you have something to talk about: Which bit did you like best? Did any of it make you laugh? Would you have preferred a different ending?

Each time you start reading or listening to an audio book, ask if the child can remember where the story has got to and recall what happened last time. It’s such a good exercise because not only will it help the child’s interest in the storyline, but also increase their anticipation for what will follow.

Advise parents to find a cosy place to read

There is a reason that many people like to curl up in a soft chair or to read in bed. It’s warm, it’s comfortable and it feels safe. It is the same reason that the first story-telling programme on the radio always started with: “Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.”

Tell your parents to lead, and read, by example

If there are books in the house, children will pick them up. Children copy adults and those who see adults reading will be much more likely to want to read themselves. Take books on holiday and find the time to read them.

Parents should be reminded to use the library

They have hundreds of books to suit all tastes and ages. They are laid out in such a way as to encourage children to pick them up, open them up and get stuck in. Steer the reluctant reader towards books that will make them laugh. Laughter really is the best medicine as having fun will increase the child’s appetite and willingness to read.

Try playing games

Pass the envelope game: This is huge fun and requires very little preparation. Choose a small group of reluctant or struggling readers. Seat them in a circle. Give them an envelope and ask them to pass it round, “Pass the Parcel” style until you say stop. The person holding the envelope must open it, read the instruction and act it out. The instruction can be as long or short as you like. Anything from “Smile” to “Stand up, turn around, hop three times on one leg and sit down again”. Repeat with as many envelopes as you want.

The magic word game: This is a game involving a series of written clues that will lead the child or group of children to the word that you want them to find. You write a clue on a small piece of paper. It can be as simple or as cryptic as you like. It might say: “This might help me to draw a straight line.” The children look for the box of rulers and there find the second clue. When they read the second clue they will know where to find the third clue. And so on until they find the last clue, which will ask them to return to you with “The Magic Word”. Again the game can be made as simple or as complicated as you want.

Word passing game: Choose a small group of reluctant or struggling readers. Seat them in a circle. Give a large piece of paper and a pencil to one child. Ask him or her to write one word which could start a sentence. Remind them to begin with a capital letter. When they have finished writing the word they must pass the paper and the pencil to the next person. That person must read the word already written and then write a second word to continue the sentence. And so on until the sentence is complete. The sentence can then be read out and a discussion can be had. Could changing one or more words make it better? You can then decide whether to continue with more sentences until it makes a story or to start another completely unrelated sentence.

  • Georgina Jonas is the author of The College Collection (Crown House Publishing, ISBN 9781785831072), a set of six books in a reading scheme designed to support and extend the acquisition of reading skills and the enjoyment of reading.

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