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Alternate Materials:  Engaging the Reluctant Reader

 by Anne-Evan Williams, LGL Director of Educational Development

A teacher recently said to me, "The boys in my classroom just don't like to read."  This is a complaint that I've heard from many teachers, especially in the upper elementary grades.  But it's not just boys who are more and more interested in other activities, leaving reading behind.  With so many other activities engaging our children, can we as educators and parents make reading something all kids can enjoy?

Recently, the Library of Congress announced the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.  Jon Scieszka, author of The Stinky Cheese Man, is excited about his responsibility to "get kids jazzed about reading."  His goal is to reach the reluctant readers and offer suggestions to get those kids engaged in reading.

Among his suggestions, Scieszka advises allowing students to pick their own materials and not strictly limiting those materials to fiction.  This suggestion is one that I have often found to be a door opener for reluctant readers.  In my own middle-school reading classroom, I allowed students to read a wide variety of materials, including magazines.  Magazines tended to be a great equalizer in the world of reading classrooms.  Even the most reluctant reader could find a topic to interest him.  My hard core skateboarders, my athletes, even my computer nerds could find a topic to read about. 

Another reason I allowed reading magazines was that magazines offered support to my reluctant readers that novels didn't.  Once kids start reading chapter books, visual cues disappear.  Pictures aren't available to assist struggling readers.  In magazines, however, there are plenty of visual cues to help a struggling reader.

Another frustration I found with my middle schoolers was the constant need to compare the number of pages they could read in a sitting.  Struggling readers who were working on a novel could easily see how quickly they were falling behind, which often led them to give up more easily.  With magazines, students stopped comparing their reading speed.

When it comes down to it, whether our kids are reading "the classics" or Sports Illustrated for Kids shouldn't be our greatest concern.  Really, the question is whether they are reading at all.  And if we can find materials to engage them, they will!


reading instruction, reading materials, reluctant readers, struggling readers

  1. Matt Hurst
    Reply 10/19/10

    Check out Devious Devin.  It’s my “Wimpy Kid” style blog aimed to engage middle level reluctant readers.  Teaching materials to accompany the blogs still to come.

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