Here's How I Unlock the Reader in Every Student

As an English Language Arts teacher at the secondary level, I spend a vast majority of my class time on activities related to reading - reading texts, talking about what we have read, writing about what we have read, and creating various projects somehow based on an analysis of what we have read. If and when a student doesn't READ, it poses a pretty big problem for their understanding of class material and for my efficacy as a teacher.

So, how do we get all students to read?

Read-alouds (or the dreaded popcorn reading) in class will ensure that all students have the potential to hear and follow along with a text, but that only works if students choose to listen. Plus, it is suuuuuuuper boring for the teacher, if we are being honest.

Assigning reading with a quiz or test to follow will motivate many to read, but certainly not all. Some students are frankly just fine failing a reading quiz or two (or four).

If you ask your students what their major gripes are with reading, you will most often get these two responses - it is boring and it takes too long. And your students might not be wrong.

Let's break these down, shall we?

Reading is boring.

Well, yeah... especially if you are disinterested in what you read... Students most often find reading "boring" because what they are reading doesn't grip their attention like the media they are accustomed to consuming. Reading a story makes us work for understanding and create pictures in our mind of what is happening, while tech-based entertainment does most of this work for us, making it much more immediately engaging for far less effort.

Reading takes too long.

This is the answer I get most often when I ask students why they avoid reading during their own time. Essentially, they could potentially see themselves as readers, but the fact that reading is an activity during which multitasking is virtually impossible, they find that the amount of time it takes to read something deters their efforts.


Here are some ways that I solve these problems in my classroom in order to unleash the readers locked within even the most reluctant students:


Audiobooks to Get Them Started

Audio recordings of books and short stories are more widely available than we may think, and they are a fantastic resource for hooking reader interest in a text. One way I have used this strategy in my classroom is as a part of the introductory lesson for a class novel study. We read the first chapter together in class with the audio recording playing over the classroom speaker. Since the first chapter of a novel is often the most difficult to read because all of the information presented is brand new, I find that audiobooks bring the text to life and start everyone off on the same foot.

Another way I have used audiobooks to engage interest is through the First Chapter Friday activity we do each week - learn more in this post.

Watch a Little, Then Read

If there is a film version of the story you are reading, a great way to hook student interest is to engage them with a medium with which they are more comfortable. Start with just the first few scenes, enough to get them a chapter or two into the story, then either have them read what they've just watched and keep going, or have them just pick up the book where the film left off.

Skip a Chapter and Play Detective

Some chapters are just better than others, and that's that. Find a chapter that is extremely eventful or full of action, and try skipping the chapter before it. Students can work together to try and piece together the story and figure out how the characters got to where they are when all of the action begins.


Audiobooks for the Long Haul

Audiobooks don't have to stop at engaging students in a story! In fact, they are GREAT for supporting struggling readers to build up their comprehension and increase speed. When a student can listen along as they read, and adjust the speed of the recording to suit their own needs, they begin to pick up the style and voice of an author, just like their more advanced classmates. This, in turn, increases comprehension and builds the prediction and inference skills our struggling readers often lack.

Preview the Story

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - students should use tools like SparkNotes to help them better understand a text, and teachers should encourage this full-force! Reading (or watching) a summary as part of a pre-reading strategy allows students to know what to look for, alleviating anxiety that comes with the pressure of reading something new. Students don't have to worry that they will miss something in the story, and can therefore focus better on the task at hand, if they already have an idea of what is coming their way!

Another way to preview a story is to give students multiple versions of the same story. Giving students more than one version of a story gives them the opportunity to recognize characters and plot points as they develop. For example, when my 9th grade English classes began our short story unit, our first text was "The Lady or the Tiger," by Frank Stockton. After some internet searching, I found a version of the story that was written in a contemporary vernacular, and was therefore a much easier text to read than the original. We read it in class, talked about the plot a bit, and did a bit of analysis discussion. The next day, I gave student the original version of the story and allowed time for them to read and annotate this version. The analysis conversation we had was far deeper than the first one, due greatly to the depth of language in the original writing, and the entire class was engaged and understanding the discussion. Because the students already had an understanding of the plot, they were able to take note of and dive into the deeper meanings behind the figurative language with much more ease!

Another way I have used multiple versions of a story is with fairy tales, namely Cinderella. Since most world cultures have a "Cinderella story," allowing students to study different texts that all tell a similar story in different ways can build reading fluency, as well as analytical skills.

There you have it - my tried-and-true tricks and tips for encouraging ALL students to develop their reading skills in order to actually READ! By addressing their two major reasons for not reading, I help build and practice the skills necessary to find success reading. I figure, even if they don't necessarily enjoy reading, at least they might hate it less!

What are your top tips for unlocking the reader within students? Please share in the comments below!

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