Motivating Reluctant Readers

Tips for the classroom and beyond

Every teacher wants to share with their students the love for learning and passion for reading that they themselves have. However, many students come to us with either negative views of reading, or past experiences that have soured them to this vital aspect of education. Motivating reluctant readers is a struggle every teacher is faced with. Finding ways to get these students to buy into and connect with the material can be a challenging and often daunting task. At times it feels as though we have tried everything we can think of to no avail. Study after study has shown the importance of reading comprehension and ability on future success. So, what can we do to try and motivate these reluctant readers and bring them back into the classroom fold?
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10 Essential Tips to Help Teachers Motivate Struggling Readers

1.) Sustained Silent Reading Programs (SSR)

One of the most highly researched and backed methods for increasing the reading motivation of students is the use of in school silent reading programs or SSRs. Students are given class time each week to silently read a book of their choice. These reading programs have proven to not only help students motivation, but teachers focus as well (Collins, 19. One key to their findings success though was to make sure that students were allowed to choose their own readings and were provided with numerous options at their reading level.

2.) Incorporate Technology

We are living in a digital world. Reading to many of our students looks very different than what it looked like to us at their age. Embracing this and incorporating technology into their reading opportunities has been proven to increase student's outlook and interest in regards to reading (Kramarski & Feldman, 2000). In their 2000 study Kramarski & Feldman found that students that were in a class that allowed reading with technology scored higher on reading motivation surveys, and their overall enjoyment of the class in general. Apps such as Aesop's Quest or News-O-Matic for School are great ways to use technology and bring reluctant readers into the reading process.

3.) Reading Buddy Programs

Often readers lack of motivation can be traced back to their feelings of inadequacy towards their reading ability. One way to make them feel better about their reading ability and get them interested in reading is to have them help and read to younger students. The flip side is also true. Bringing in older students to read to and help your students gets them interested in reading as well and increases their reading motivation. In their study on mentoring programs Paterson and Elliott found amazing results in regards to overall student achievement and motivation through these tutor programs (2006). Find a teacher in your school in a higher grade level and both your students will reap the rewards.

4.) Book Clubs

One of the best things about reading a great book is being able to share your enjoyment with someone else. This is as true for kids as it is for us. Book clubs have been proven to have amazing success with elementary students reading motivation (Smoldt, 2001). Having students read the same book as others and share their ideas, questions, and predictions, is an amazing way to help them buy into and enjoy the reading process.

5.) Magazines & Series

Magazines, with their short amount of content, visually appealing images and layouts, and monthly new additions can bring in students with their novelty and ease of use (Gabriel, Allington, & Billen, 2012). Magazines like National Geographic for Kids, or Sports Illustrated for Kids are great magazines to incorporate into your classroom library. Similarly books in a series such as the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants, or even the Harry Potter books all raise student motivation because they hook them in with repeated well known characters who they become invested in and a plot that stays consistent and easy to follow from book to book making it easier on struggling readers.

6.) Sing it Out!

"Regular repeated singing and reading of songs by struggling...readers over a nine-week period resulted in significantly greater progress in reading achievement (seven months gain on average) than a comparison group of students in an alternative intervention" (Iwasaki, Rasinski, Yildirim, & Zimmerman, 2013). While this study focused primarily on middle school students it is easy to see how the fun of singing could easily draw in even the most reluctant elementary student and help them work on their reading ability.

7.) Bring in Some Furry Friends

Sometimes students are afraid to read aloud in front of others for fear of making mistakes or being harshly judged. One group they are not afraid to read to or in front of are pets. "In one study of third graders in a public school setting, reading fluency improved by 12%. In a second study, home schooled children visited the university’s campus weekly with their parents over a 10-week period. During each visit, the children read to a dog for 15–20 minutes. The children’s reading fluency improved by 30%, and 75% of the parents reported that their children read aloud more frequently and with greater confidence after the study was completed" (Lane & Zavada, 2013).

8.) Book Talks

One issue standing in the way of student motivation towards reading is that they just haven't found the right book yet to truly show them the joy of reading. Most of us can think of that first book that we couldn't put down and really made us love reading. "Curiosity is acknowledged to be a driving force in motivation. The children in our study were curious about and more motivated to read books that were familiar” (Gambrell, 1996, 22). Having book talks with your students where you highlight different books that might interest them providing background on the characters and story provides them with an opportunity to get to know these books and makes sure they are picking books that they are more likely to be interested in.

9.) Make it Hands-On

Linking reading with hands-on activities generates interest and intrinsic motivation towards future readings on the topic covered (Guthrie, Wigfield, et. al, 2006). "Hands-on activities consisted of a range of interactions in which students used manipulatives, role-played, or engaged in projects such as growing seedlings in science or making television commercials in Spanish" (Guthrie, Wigfield, et. al, 2006). These types of activities in combination with readings about the information being covered not only increased student motivation, but also student achievement in the areas being addressed.

10.) Competition

Kids love competing. Take advantage of this natural drive by applying it to reading. Activities like "The Great Poetry Race" in which students are assigned a poem and compete by having to read it aloud to as many people as possible, have been shown to both increase fluency as well as reading motivation (Pitcher, 2009). Other such competitive reading activities such as "Book Bowl" or "Battle of the Books" where students compete as school or grade level teams against others have also been linked to increased reading motivation.

You Can't Do It Alone. Ways Parenats Can Help Contribute to Student Reading Success

1.) One of the best ways for parents to help ensure their students have a love of reading is to make sure their students are reading at home. Similar to the importance of making sure to provide silent reading time in the classroom it is equally important that students be provided with silent reading time at home. Set aside a time each night for reading, and make sure that at least a couple of these is students reading on their own.

2.) A great way to help make this silent reading time a success is to have parents provide their kids with fun, interesting, child specific reading materials. As mentioned above, magazines and books in a series are great ways to capture kids interests. Have parents sit down with their kids and get them a subscription to a magazine that interests them, or take them to the library to find a book series that catches their child's attention. This way their is always something new and interesting for them to read at home.

3.) We've talked about the tremendous value of students having reading mentors, older students who come into class and read to them, and the huge amount of growth this has produced in their reading ability and motivation. This same concepts is equally as true when parents become their child's reading buddy. With the time that is set aside for students to read each night, make sure that some of those nights it is parents that read to their children. These reading interactions will pay huge dividends in their child's views on reading.

4.) Just as it is a struggle for some teachers to embrace to use of technology in reading it can be equally difficult (and equally important) for parents to see the useful role technology can play in motivating their children to read. If parents allow their children to access the same or similar reading apps mentioned above at home (and make sure they are being accurately used) reading technology in the home can be just as motivational and helpful as using technology to help students reading motivation in the classroom.

5.) As teachers we realize the importance of modeling good reading habits to our students. It can be just as important, if not more for parents to model these same positive behaviors. Having a parent talk to their child about books they loved as a kid can be way more influential than any book talk a teacher gives to students. Knowing that your mom or dad loved a book and hearing them get excited as they talk about it is bound to capture a child's imagination and interest.

Webliography (websites to help with the process)

  • Reading Rockets is a great website for all kinds of teacher resources and materials. They have a special section dedicated to all different kinds of literacy apps to help children build on different areas of reading depending on need and interest. This cite would be a great tool for finding specific apps for the differing needs of your diverse students to help connect them with the technology they need/that would interest them.

  • Of all of the different strategies that were found to help with students reading motivation the one that was the newest to me or that I knew the least about was the canine assisted reading program. While available in 42 states this was something that I was previously unaware of. Thankfully Intermountain Therapy Animals has an entire cite dedicated to informing the public on this very subject and helping connect schools with trained reading assistance dogs.

  • Finding quality books for your students to read can be a long and tedious process, so too can finding quality children's magazines. Luckily Babble has created a list of the top 18 magazines for children. This list will help give ideas about quality magazines and if they would match the interests of children in your class. It's easy to use and provides detailed write ups of each magazine so you know what you're signing up for.

Bibliography/Recommended Readings

  • One additional reading that may be helpful when looking at motivating struggling readers is Motivating Students to Learn by Jere Brophy (2010). In a book aimed at teachers Brophy provides numerous classroom strategies and principals to help motivating all types of students in our diverse classrooms. The book highlights ideas specifically for those students who have been previously turned off by reading due to poor performance or low ability level.

Brophy, J. (2010). Motivating Students to Learn (3rd ed.). NY: Routledge.

  • Another book that would be beneficial for learning about how to help motivate students in regards to reading would be Developing Engaged Readers in School and Home Communities by Baker, Afflerbach, and Reinking (2012). One of the things that caught my attention about this book is how it identifies working on students motivation at both school and at home, which I think is a vital part that gets left out of most books and would be extremely beneficial for teachers to be aware of.

Baker, L., Afflerbach, P., Reinking, D. (2012). Developing Engaged Readers in School and Home Communities. NY: Routledge.

  • Lastly, Empowering Students With Technology by Alan November (2010), is best seller that looks at how technology can be used in the classroom to help engage and motivate students. The use of technology is still something that many teachers struggle with, and this book can help show not only the benefits of technology, but how to best implement technology to reap these benefits.

November, A. (2010). Empowering Students With Technology (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.


Cuevas, J. A., Russel, R. L., & Irving, M. A. (2012). An examination of the effect of customized reading modules on diverse secondary students' reading comprehension and motivation. Educational Technology Research & Development, 60(3), 445-467

Gabriel, R., Allington, R., & Billen, M. (2012). Middle Schoolers and Magazines: What Teachers Can Learn from Students’ Leisure Reading Habits. Clearing House, 85(5), 186-191.

Gambrell, L. B. (1996). Creating classroom cultures that foster reading motivation. The Reading Teacher, 50(1), 14-25.

Guthrie, J. T., Wigfield, A., Humenick, N. M., Perencevich, K. C., Taboada, A., & Barbosa, P. (2006). Influences of Stimulating Tasks on Reading Motivation and Comprehension. Journal Of Educational Research, 99(4), 232-245.

Iwasaki, B., Rasinski, T., Yildirim, K., & Zimmerman, B. S. (2013). Let's Bring Back the Magic of Song for Teaching Reading. Reading Teacher,67(2), 137-141.

Kramarski, B., & Feldman, Y. (2000). Internet in the Classroom: Effects on Reading Comprehension, Motivation and Metacognitive Awareness. Educational Media International, 37(3), 149-155.

Lane, H. B., & Zavada, S. D. (2013). When Reading Gets Ruff: Canine-Assisted Reading Programs. Reading Teacher, 67(2), 87-95.

Paterson, P. O., & Elliott, L. N. (2006). Struggling reader to struggling reader: High school students' responses to a cross-age tutoring program. Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 49(5), 378-389.

Pitcher, S.M. (2009). The Great Poetry Race. Reading Teacher, 62(7), 613-616.

Smoldt, A. (2001). Book Club: Motivating young readers. Reading Today, 19(3), 10.