Posts Tagged ‘motivating reluctant readers’

Why and How to Motivate a Reluctant Reader (2 of 2)

August 12, 2010

Today’s guest post is by Julie Niles Petersen of “TWRC” stands for Think, Wonder, Reflect, and Connect.  At Julie blogs about the intricacies of teaching reading.  Her blog is extremely informative and she provides a ton of resources that are helpful to educators and parents, alike.  After having only known Julie for several months on Twitter, I had the pleasure of meeting her IRL at the International Reading Association’s Annual Convention in Chicago this year.  What fun we had!  In addition to the TWRCtank, Julie can be found on Facebook and on Twitter (@twrctankcom), where she is a valuable source of reading information and part of my PLN (Personal Learning Network).  When I asked her to provide me with a guest post for The Literacy Toolbox this month, she came through in spades when she wrote this fantastic article, filled with numerous resources, explaining why and how to motivate readers.

I think children who do not struggle with decoding the words can find reading boring for many reasons. Here are three of them:

  1. They have not found the right book. The right book would be one that interests them for some reason. Some reasons may be they like the topic, author, genre, or need to find an answer to a problem. Reading about things of no interest is boring.
  2. Their limited word and world knowledge makes many texts too difficult to understand because they cannot connect the dots (i.e. the necessary inferences required to understand). Reading without comprehension is boring!
  3. They are so used to reading not making sense, that they do not put much energy into making it make sense. Without TWRCing (thinking, wondering, reflecting, and making connections) while you read, reading is boring.

Suggestions for Children Who Do Not Struggle with Decoding, But Think Reading Is Boring

  • Be sure to TWRC with your children as much as possible and not just when you are reading.(“TWRC” rhymes with “work” and stands for think, wonder, reflect, and connect.) The more you model good TWRCs, the more your child will see how dots are connected. Further, great TWRCs lead to great thinking and more engagement.
  • Help your children improve their vocabulary. This topic is beyond the scope of this blog. However, if you look on the right-hand side of my blog and scroll down, you will find the heading, “External Link Categories.” Then, you can find some more information about vocabulary under the subheading, “Vocabulary.” A sure way to help improve their vocabulary is by discussing the meanings of unfamiliar books while you read aloud to your child. As mentioned in part one of this post, be sure your children have student-friendly dictionaries close to them when they read.
  • Ask your children, “If you could be an expert at anything, what would it be?” I heard somewhere that if you study a topic for 10-15 minutes each day, it will help you become an expert. I have read about teaching reading for more than 10 – 15 minutes almost every day since I began the master’s program in reading. Although I wouldn’t really call myself an expert, I feel confident in talking with those who are (and I really enjoy it, too!)My point? The drive to become an expert on something is pure self-motivation. If your children want to be experts on dinosaurs, ask teachers, librarians, and those who work in bookstores to help you find a lot of reading material on dinosaurs. Look for great websites and blogs on the topic, too. Be sure to keep abreast with what your children learn and celebrate their new-found knowledge. Let them know when they start teaching you things, too! You may also want to introduce them to friends and family by something like, “This is my son, Bob. He is/is becoming an expert on dinosaurs.” That should invite conversation about what he reads, associating more positive feelings with reading.Here are two great quotations that are somewhat related to self-teaching:

    The true university these days is a collection of books. ~Thomas Carlyle

    If we encounter a man of great intellect, we should ask him what books he reads. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

    You may also want to check out these links: Self-Education Resource List and 100 Amazing How-To Sites to Teach Yourself Anything.

  • Let your child watch book trailers and listen to booktalks in order to discover good books.Book trailers and booktalks are similar to movie trailers and friendly recommendations because they try to entice you to check out the product. Think about it. How do you decide what movie you want to see? Are you more likely to go to the movie theater without knowing what you want to watch, or knowing what you want to watch? I would guess most people go to the theater knowing exactly what they want to watch and that they learned about it from a movie trailer or a friend’s recommendation. Thinking about reluctant readers, I would guess that many who do not have difficulty reading, are reluctant simply because they are not aware of good books. I know I was saddened by how many great books were unfamiliar to the struggling readers with whom I worked. My point here? We need to be sure reluctant readers know about good books–especially those that would be of interest to them.I first discovered book trailers from @KeithSchoch on Twitter when he shared this great post,“Coming Attractions: Book Trailers.” Since he shares so many good resources, I will not share any more. Let me just say that after reading his post, I thought, “Wow! Whoever began creating book trailers was a genius! They should benefit reluctant readers tremendously!”M. Dahms, another person I follow on Twitter, is passionate about booktalks, as am I, and she shared this post full of booktalk resources, “Reader’s Workshop Links: Booktalks.” Again, since she shared so many links I will not share anymore.I first learned about booktalks by Linda Gambrell at an International Reading Association convention. I am not sure why I hadn’t thought about giving them before, but I hadn’t. Instead of calling them booktalks, she calls them, “book blessings.” She mentioned that once you “blessed” a book, it usually flew off the bookshelf before the end of the day. I returned to the classroom and tried it out. She was right–they flew off the shelves.

    If you are a teacher, I beg you to give booktalks in your classroom as often as possible. In addition, set aside some time for your students to give booktalks. The books my students “blessed” also became hot-ticket items.

  • Find some great book review blogs and read them thinking about your child’s abilities and interests. If you do a Google search of “book review blogs” or “children’s book review blogs,”you will find many from which you can choose.
  • Be sure to ask your librarian for recommendations. A knowledgeable librarian who knows your child’s interests and reading level is invaluable. (Teachers, this includes you, too!) I thought I knew a lot about what books were popular with students until I spoke with one librarian in particular, Barbara. Not only did she pay attention to what books were checked out the most frequently, but she considered it her mission to keep up with all the new books being published that she thought would be popular with our students. She was a real powerhouse of knowledge and the books she recommended for my struggling readers were always a big hit. I also really enjoyed reading what she recommended.
  • Here are some websites that should help you find great books your children will enjoy:
    1. This site also helped me learn about books that are popular with children. It is a fabulous website for students, parents, teachers, and librarians! Be sure to check out their about page which lists other websites in their network, such
    2. The Series Binder. According to the site, it was “Created by the Webster Public Library Children’s department staff members, and maintained by users from all over the globe in order to help librarians, teachers, parents, and kids find the chronological and publication order of series books. The Children’s Series Binder seeks to create a comprehensive listing of series books for children ranging from toddlers to tweens.”After going to the Webster Public Library, I went to the “Parent’s Corner” page and then to,the “Books, Books, Books” page and I found a book search tool called NoveList. Although the website says, “NoveList will let you search for books by subject, grade level, and even number of pages,” I found so much more. The website also says that NoveList can only be used from computers at the library. It seemed to work just fine for me.
    3. This website was created by the very funny author, Jon Scieszka.According to the website, its mission is “to help boys become self-motivated, lifelong readers.” It is a great website with a great mission! Jon is on Twitter.
    4.’s Find a Book Feature. According to the website, you “Enter your Lexile measure, select your interests, and find books you’d like to read! Whether you’re reading for school or for pleasure, you can use this site to build a custom reading list on the subjects that interest you the most.” You actually do not need to know your child’ Lexile (a number that indicates an approximate reading level). You can search by your grade level (K-12). Even better, you can indicate whether your child finds grade level material, difficult, challenging, or easy.
    5. Reading Is Fundamental’s Book Search Feature. This is what the website says, “Whether you’re looking for a book for yourself or for children, you’ve come to the right place. Browse our booklists, or use the tool below to search our book database by title, author, category, age level, or keyword.”
    6. Mid-Continent Public Library’s Reading Advisory. Some of the things you can do on this website are: 1) Search their databases for movies based on books, 2) Search their databases for series books for kids and teens, 3) Read lists of award winning titles for kids, teens, and adults, 4) Read suggested reading lists for kids, teens, and adults, and 4) Discover useful links from other libraries.
    7. Scholastic’s Teacher Book Wizard Although this is designed for teachers, I think it could also be very helpful to parents. There is so much you can do here. Luckily, they have a video tour.
    8. The International Reading Associations’ Book Choices Lists According to the website, “Each year, thousands of children, young adults, teachers, and librarians around the United States select their favorite recently published books for the “Choices” reading lists.” The lists are annotated, meaning they give you a brief summary of the book. You can find the lists for the current year’s choices, as well as lists from previous years.
    9. StorySnoops. This website was recently started by four moms in California. Here is their description of how it works, “Created by moms, StorySnoops offers children’s book reviews from a parent’s perspective. Want to find fiction that interests your 9-18 year old? Curious about its content? Find it on our site and we’ll give you the scoop! We read it so you know what’s in it.” Some things I particularly like about this site are, 1) You can search by the gender of the main character–boys often do not like reading books where the main characters are girls, 2) You can search by suggested reading (ex. Books about Kids like Yours, Noteworthy Books, Our Absolute Faves, Thought-Provoking Books, etc.) and 3) Content Type (ex. Tolerance, Body Image, Teen Issues, Death, Race Ethnicity, and Prejudice, etc.)
    10. What Should I Read Next? According to the website, “Enter a book you like and the site will analyse our database of real readers’ favorite books (nearly 70,000 different titles so far, and more than a million reader recommendations) to suggest what you could read next. (You can register on the results page and build your own favorites list.)”
    11. The Book Seer. Enter the title and author of a book you liked and it will give you book recommendations from Amazon and LibraryThing.

    Finally, here are some books you might like to read to learn more about great read alouds and helping your children find books that will keep their interest:

    You can find part one of this post here.

    How do you encourage reluctant readers?

Why and How to Motivate a Reluctant Reader

August 5, 2010

Today’s guest post is by Julie Niles Petersen of “TWRC” stands for Think, Wonder, Reflect, and Connect.  At Julie blogs about the intricacies of teaching reading.  Her blog is extremely informative and she provides a ton of resources that are helpful to educators and parents, alike.  After having only known Julie for several months on Twitter, I had the pleasure of meeting her IRL at the International Reading Association’s Annual Convention in Chicago this year.  What fun we had!  In addition to the TWRCtank, Julie can be found on Facebook and on Twitter (@twrctankcom), where she is a valuable source of reading information and part of my PLN (Personal Learning Network).  When I asked her to provide me with a guest post for The Literacy Toolbox this month, she came through in spades when she wrote this fantastic article, filled with numerous resources, explaining why and how to motivate readers.

Children are usually reluctant to read for two reasons. 1) They struggle with one or more aspects of reading, or 2) because they find it boring. Often, it is a combination of the two. After receiving my reading specialist credential, I began working exclusively with struggling readers. As you would guess, they did not like to read. Getting them motivated to read (and building their reading stamina) was of the utmost importance to me. Why? Because not reading hurts them in many ways. Here are two of the most important:

  1. Their vocabulary does not grow as fast or as large as it does for their peers who read. Most of the words we know, we learned by reading. If we do not read much, we will not know many words. Why is that important? Well, the size of a child’s vocabulary is closely linked to reading comprehension and overall academic success. Students with the largest vocabularies do the best on academic tests, get into the best schools, are able to more clearly express their thoughts, and usually make the most money. The size of our vocabulary also influences how others perceive us.

Click here to go to the University of Oregon’s Center on Teaching and Learning to see some great charts and a summary of some important vocabulary research. Personally, I wish all parents knew this information. If they did, I think many more children would be read to and talked with in the home. For more on the importance of talk in the home, click here.

  1. Their knowledge of the world (or background knowledge) is not as large and varied as it is for their peers who read. The more we read, the more we understand the world around us. Why is that important? Well, people and authors do not tell us everything; we must make inferences in order to figure out the missing parts. An inference is when we come to a logical conclusion by connecting our background knowledge with what we hear or read.

For instance, if I told you that I saw my neighbor clutch his left arm and fall to the floor. Most of you will infer that he was having a heart attack because you have background knowledge of heart attack symptoms. Without this knowledge, you would have been left wondering why he fell.  Normally, I am a huge fan of wonder because I believe it leads to deeper thinking and better connections. However, I worry about the struggling readers who have very limited world knowledge. I am sure they are left wondering without a way to connect the dots so often that they truly believe reading does not make sense. Unfortunately, they do not realize that their reading is not making sense because of their limited world knowledge.

Think about political jokes for a second. If you do not have much political knowledge, you will not get the punch line because you cannot connect the dots. Imagine having to listen to political jokes every day knowing you will rarely understood the punch line. Would you be reluctant to listen? I think so.

Reading comprehension requires a large vocabulary, wide and varied world knowledge, and good inference skills. As the famous slogan goes, “The more we read, the more we know.” And the more we know, the better inferences we can make (and the more laughter we will have in our lives.)

For an even clearer understanding of the importance of background knowledge, watch this fabulous ten minute video, “Teaching Content Is Teaching Reading” by Daniel Willingham at

Suggestions for Struggling Readers

Since going into all the reasons a child struggles with reading is beyond the scope of this post, let me offer you some suggestions to help motivate struggling readers in general.

  • Let them read audio books. Struggling readers are often embarrassed by the fact that they cannot understand the same books their peers read. Giving them audio books help them do so–especially when their main difficulty lies in decoding rather than vocabulary, background knowledge, or ability to reason. You can purchase audio books, but you can also get them free from public libraries. Personally, I loved listening to audio books as I commuted to and from work. Sure, I was not technically reading them, but I was building up my vocabulary and background knowledge as I listened. If I had been carefully looking at the words in the book as it was read aloud to me, I also would have been helping my decoding skills. In case you are wondering… my struggling students loved audio books.
  • Closed captioning. Use the closed captioning feature on your television. (It is usually on in my house.) Because of how our brains are wired, we are almost forced to look at the words as they scroll across the screen. My husband is a second language learner and I think it helps him more than he admits. (He grumbled a lot when I began doing this, but I have not heard him grumble about it for a long time.) Although I am not a second language learner, I have been surrounded by people with limited vocabularies my entire life. I read a lot growing up, but I did not hear many people use the rarer words I learned by reading. Thus, I have many words in my reading vocabulary that are not in my speaking vocabulary. I love it when a word comes across the screen that makes me think, “Oh! So, that’s how you pronounce that!” Further, it is fun to spot words on the screen that do not match what the actors say. I imagine children would get a kick out of that, too. Another great thing about closed captioning is that it also includes words that the actors do not say, but that add to the feeling of the moment, such as “ominous music plays.” If you are a hearing person while reading that, you should easily be able to figure out the meaning of that rare word.

One more thing about closed captioning… students in Finland often score the highest on international reading tests. Researchers attribute some of their success to the fact that Finland does not produce many of their own television shows; they import them from other countries and use Finnish subtitles. So, Finnish children who watch a lot of television also get a lot of reading practice at the same time.

  • Read aloud to them. Read aloud to your children and do not stop once they can read on their own. Like audio books, you can read aloud books at a higher level than your children can read on their own. If you stop and discuss challenging vocabulary with them, you will help build their vocabulary. Further, you can help them build background knowledge by discussing difficult concepts as they arise. If you have difficulty reading aloud, find a designated reader–perhaps an older sibling, a neighbor, or another relative. There are websites where you can find people reading aloud popular children’s books. I have listed several of them in the sidebars on the right-hand side of my blog. Scroll down until you see, “External Link Categories” and then to, “Online Reading Material for Kids.”

One of my favorite tips about reading aloud to your children comes from Jim Trelease. I was fortunate to hear him speak on two separate occasions. He recommends that parents read to their children as they do the dishes. Isn’t that great? The chores will get done while your child is improving their vocabulary and background knowledge. Further, a great book makes for great discussion. Great discussion creates interest and leads to positive feelings. Positive feelings lead to intrinsic motivation (wanting to do it for the sake of doing it, not for any type of reward.) It is definitely a win-win situation, don’t you think?

A final point is to be sure and ask your child, “What do you wonder after hearing this?” Kids start out in life full of wonder, but schools repeatedly make them believe there is only one correct answer to everything. Thus, children begin to lose their sense of wonder, or they wonder so often as I previously mentioned, that they no longer find joy in doing so. When your children share a wonder, think it through with them. Help them learn to connect the dots.

Celebrate wonders that cannot really be answered (ex. Why did slavery exist?) because they lead to deeper thinking and reflection. Discuss possibilities. Talk about whether ideas are probable or improbable. Show them how to find more information that will lead to better thinking. Deeper thinking and reflection leads to better understanding. It also leads to more engagement and an excitement about continuing to read and learn.

  • Have plenty of reading material in the home–including fiction books, informational books, magazines, graphic novels, comic books, and a good student-friendly dictionary, such as a Longman or Collins COBUILD dictionaries. The more we read, the better we get–especially when what we read is at our independent level and of interest to us. Keep reading material scattered throughout the house, but especially in the bathroom and near the kitchen table. A lot of reading goes on in both places when we are alone. (That is another Jim Trelease gem.) Keep reading material in your car and be sure to bring it into places where you know you will have to wait, such as the doctor’s office. If you cannot afford to buy reading material, get it from the library. Even if you can afford it, go to the library. Great librarians keep on top of all that is popular with children and they are experts at matching books with a child’s interest and reading ability. If you can afford to purchase books, be sure to take your child to the bookstore and let them decide what to purchase (with your guidance of course). Being able to check out books from the library is great, but having your very own book that you can write your name in is even better.

Note: A recent study shows that the amount of books in the home makes a huge difference in a child’s academic career. Click here to read more.

  • Help them find some favorite book series, genres, and authors. Let’s think of book series as television sitcoms for a minute. Imagine never having watched “Friends” and then watching an episode from the middle of its run. Do you think you would get as much out of that episode as someone who had watched the show from the beginning of its run? No, you would not because you do not know the characters, their history, their inside jokes, etc. The more familiar you are with the characters and their history, the easier it is to understand their motivations and actions. This is the main reason I often recommend popular book series to struggling readers.

Familiarity with genres also helps comprehension. Genres are a way to categorize different things. There are television genres (ex. cartoons, sitcoms, dramas, reality TV, soap operas, talk shows, etc.); movie genres (ex. romantic comedies, documentaries, musicals, westerns, thrillers, etc.); musical genres (ex. rock-n-roll, country, reggae, hip-hop, classical, etc.); and literary genres (ex. poetry, fantasy, mystery, biographies, science fiction, etc.) After repeated experiences within a genre, your familiarity with them helps you understand future encounters because you know what to expect.

Good readers often have a favorite literary genre. Struggling readers often do not. Usually, they do not even understand the genre concept. Relating literary genres to television, movie, and musical genres helps greatly because most have a favorite in each–especially in music.

Although it is important to have a favorite genre, it is best to read from more than one. Why? Because reading from multiple genres helps widen and vary our world knowledge. Our goal is to get reluctant readers familiar with the similarities and differences within each genre and to make sure they sample them all. How can they know if they like something if they never try it?

The same goes for authors. Good readers tend to have favorite ones. Struggling ones do not. Why is it important for students to have a favorite author? One reason is that when we really like the way authors write, we look forward to reading more of their work. In other words, we are motivated to read more.

I will share some resources at the bottom of part two that should help you find the perfect book for your child. You can search most of them by series, genres, topics, authors, and/or reading abilities.

  • Poetry. Funny poetry is enjoyable by just about everyone. I have not yet met a reluctant reader who did not love funny poems. Here is a blog post I wrote that has recommendations for poetry anthologies, resources, and websites. Consider having a family poetry night where all family members read aloud a poem of their choosing. Often when we know we will perform in front of others, we do a lot of practicing so that we will be at our best. Reluctant readers could use a lot of practice with a piece of text they like. Perhaps you might even want to videotape them. Now that would make for some great home movies, don’t you think?

How do you encourage reluctant struggling readers?

To be continued. . .

Motivating Reluctant Readers with Informational Texts

May 27, 2010

When asked what motivates them to read expository (nonfiction) text, children placed emphasis on three areas:  knowledge gained, personal interests, and choice (Edmunds and Bauserman, 2006).

Informational texts tend to be a great motivator for reluctant readers for the three reasons found in the study above.  Children gain knowledge when they choose to read about topics that interest them. The following informational texts are great for reluctant readers:


Magazines are great for reluctant readers because they provide short articles that engage readers, but aren’t too long to intimidate readers.  Here are a few I would recommend:

Time for Kids

The children’s edition of Time Magazine, this periodical is bright and colorful and full of engaging current events for children.

National Geographic Kids

The children’s edition of National Geographic, this periodical is also bright and colorful and full of engaging science and social studies topics.

Ranger Rick

Published by the National Wildlife Federation, this periodical provides informative articles about animals and nature.

Sports Illustrated Kids (1-year)

The children’s edition of Sports Illustrated, this periodical is perfect for the sports lover in your life!

Trade Books

Often short texts that concentrate on one topic.  Historically based picture books are great motivating informational texts for reluctant readers.

Jean Fritz books (great for older readers who want to learn about the period of The Revolutionary War)

Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?

Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George?

Picture Books

Henry’s Freedom Box (Caldecott Honor Book)

A Picture Book of Christopher Columbus (Picture Book Biography)

Resource:  Edmunds, K.M., & Bauserman, K.L. (2006, February). What Teachers Can Learn About Reading Motivation Through Conversations With Children. The Reading Teacher, 59(5), 414–424

©2010 by Dawn Little for Literacy Toolbox. All Rights Reserved.  All Amazon links are affiliatelinks and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.

Book Buddies: Pairing Fiction and Informational Texts to Motivate Readers

May 19, 2010

One way to motivate readers is to provide children with informational texts that match a fiction book they may enjoy reading.  Or vice versa.  Mary Pope Osborne provides informational guides that correspond with her fiction books in her series of Magic Tree House Books (Magic Tree House Boxed Set, Books 1-4: Dinosaurs Before Dark, The Knight at Dawn, Mummies in the Morning, and Pirates Past Noon), perfect for early readers.  At the preschool age, especially, we tend to read more fiction to our children.  Yet, children tend to crave basic information about topics as well.  I like to pair fiction reading with informational reading.  By reading aloud a fiction book and following up with an informational read aloud, parents can meet both needs of their child.  Sometimes, you may want to read the informational text first to build background knowledge of the topic.  To extend the learning beyond reading, I often pair a craft or activity that complements the topic we are reading about.

“Book Buddies” with corresponding activities:

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats and The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder by Mark Cassino

Activity:  Put plastic doll feet in black paint and place on white paper to make footprints in the snow

Smash! Crash! (Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown) by Jon Scieszka and Big Book of Trucks by Caroline Bingham

Activity: Take small toy trucks and run the wheels through paint.  Place the wheels all over a sheet of paper for a “Things that Go” piece of artwork.  Try to find cars and trucks with different treads.

My Garden by Kevin Henkes and Let’s Go Gardening: A Young Person’s Guide to the Garden by Ursula Kruger

Activity:  Place soil inside a large plastic, see through bag.  Place seeds in the soil and spray water inside the bag.  Tape the bag to a window that receives sun.  Monitor the new plant that grows.   

Would you like to purchase pre-made Book Buddy Bags?  Each bag comes with a fiction and nonfiction text, a hands-on activity and a resource guide for parents.  Book Buddy Bags are perfect for gifts, homeschool activities, and travel!

Do you have innovative ways to encourage kids (specifically reluctant readers) to read?  I would love to hear them!

©2010 by Dawn Little for Literacy Toolbox. All Rights Reserved.  All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.