Practical Tips to Encourage Reading

This is the final post (#7) in the series “When Children–and Adults Too–Hate Reading”

Here are a whole selection of practical tips to convert reluctant or even “hating” readers to people who love reading. Pick a few that you think might work for you and your family and get started–today!

  • Listen to a story, then retell it to someone in your own words–and dictate it to someone who can write it down for you (or use a software voice dictation program) and then read it. Or just make up your own story, and dictate it (or write or type it, if you like) and then read it, and even illustrate and publish it.
  • Think about reading in different ways. Literal reading is just reading what is on the page (and retelling it just as it is). Inferential reading is like “reading between the lines” and trying to think about what else the writer is saying or what the underlying message is, besides the actual words. Comprehension is “thinking about it”, deciding if you agree or not and why, and figuring out how you can apply it or compare it to your own life. When you’re reading with your children, use all these methods as you read to your child and/or listen to them read, and then discuss the reading at these different levels.
  • After reading (or listening, or watching a show, or playing a game, or just thinking about or discussing something), read and research to find out answers to questions you have about the topic.
  • Try different read-aloud methods: simple reading aloud, taking turns; echo reading (you read a short section aloud, then the child reads after you); unison reading (read aloud together); reader’s theatre (especially useful in stories with dialogue: each reader takes the part of a different character and reads the section like a live theatre production; one person can be the “narrator” for the non-dialogue parts. Reading short plays can also be fun like this).
  • When you’re traveling somewhere new, use “Google Map” (or an ordinary paper map) to get directions, and be the co-pilot or navigator, reading and giving the directions to the driver.
  • Read and follow instructions for making things, putting things together, repairing things, etc.
  • Some children (and adults!) find charts and graphs very interesting. Math and science books and materials are packed with these. Use them as a motivation to further reading.
  • Some early-reader books have a “children’s line” at the top of the page with simple reading, and a more detailed part at the bottom for a more advanced reader to read. When early readers hear the “adult” parts, they pick up more and more words and are soon able to read both parts. Then they can read the “adult” parts to younger siblings and help them read the “child” parts.
  • Hire an experienced tutor to teach reading skills to your child–or to teach you how to teach reading skills to your child. Also get to know your child’s teacher, ask for advice on what you can do at home, and if possible, sit in on a few reading lessons in your child’s classroom to pick up ideas. Learn about whole reading, phonics, and other approaches to reading, and experiment to see what works for your child (and you).
  • Lots and lots and lots of family discussion around the dinner table! For a lot of families, this is a “lost art” but it really is one you need to find and use! Discuss all kinds of topics of interest to each family member–and then if questions come up, run to the bookshelf or the internet, and search for answers. Of course, include everyone in the search. These kinds of discussions not only create readers, but they also are a perfect way to create people who are thoughtful, adventurous, life-long learners who want to seek out knowledge and travel the world and the universe, whether in “real” ways or from the comfort of their favourite reading chair!
  • Biographies of people that are of interest to your children can be a great way to encourage reading. Let the children initially choose their own characters/people, but as time goes by, you can read biographies of people you’d like your children to know about, and as they see you reading, and hear you read aloud choice bits and pieces from the book (or magazine article or blog post or whatever), they’re likely to want to dig in and read more themselves.
  • Create stories together (sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph), record them, and then read them. Illustrate and share/publish, too!
  • Allow hesitant readers to read a selection silently (or aloud to themselves) first, then read it aloud to one other person they feel comfortable with, and then to a small group. Practice makes perfect, and this method allows them to learn to read aloud without worrying about being embarrassed by their mistakes.
  • After reading together, have interesting discussions about what was read. Especially compare the reading to your child’s own life experiences and knowledge. Make it personal and real. If the child has learned how to do something, and would like to try it, if possible find a way to make that happen.
  • Listen to taped stories and novels, while reading along. A great way to learn new vocabulary and learn to read with expression.
  • Also watch movies or play video games that have been made from the story. (Or vice versa). Discuss how the book/story and movie compare. What is similar? Different? Which is better–the book or the movie? Which came first? Why is one better than the other? What has been left out or added? Why do you think that was done?
  • When planning for your next family vacation, order brochures from Chambers of Commerce or government or other tourism groups in the area you plan to visit. Encourage your children (or non-reading adults) to look at and read the brochures, and plan the vacation together. Encourage them to find out more on websites, or from books and materials at the library or documentaries or videos. When you go on the vacation, take along the brochures and along the way pick up more brochures, postcards, receipts, tickets, etc., and take photos. Take along scrapbooks, and have the children make their own records of the vacation, cutting out and glueing from the brochures and other items, and writing in family activities and events. Encourage the children, on return, to share their stories with grandparents, other relatives, friends, and classmates, reading aloud to them, answering questions, etc. Remember, reading and writing and speaking and listening are like peas and carrots and corn and beans–they all go together.
  • Involve your children in activities that involve reading–clubs and lessons, church/temple, Sunday School, choir, singing lessons, sports in which the coach includes “blackboard time,” and so on.
  • Poetry is often a great way to interest children who are reluctant readers. Start with fun and simple poems like nursery rhymes and limericks. At first, stick to poetry that tells a simple story. For some children, the rhyme and rhythm and quick, short stories really make reading fun and easy. Encourage them to memorize short pieces, and then, even if they can’t read all the words, they can still “read” them to younger children or other audiences. If they have trouble memorizing, choose ones with tunes to sing or chant, like “Three Blind Mice” or “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Sunday-school songs and campfire songs (such as are sung at groups like Scouts and Guides) are also a great way for children to learn to read (and memorize), and for active children, choose ones that have “actions” (My kids and grandkids have all loved “Only a boy named David, only a little sling…” and “The wise man build his house upon a rock”).
  • Reading time with special adults in a child’s life, such as grandparents, or aunts or uncles, or even a “big teenage cousin” or favourite neighbour can be very motivating. It makes reading a “treat.”
  • Encourage hesitant readers to read aloud initially to a pet or a stuffy (or a human they really trust). Then to younger siblings or friends who admire a “big kid who can already read” even if the reading isn’t totally fluent. Then to parents and other trustworthy adults. And finally to reading groups in school, etc. If your child is really terrified of “group reading” in the classroom, have a discussion with your child’s teacher, explain what you are doing at home, and ask the teacher to allow your child to just listen until he or she is ready to read aloud in the class. If the teacher insists that some classroom read-aloud MUST be done, ask if your child can read to their best friend in the class, or to the teacher or teacher assistant, or a kindly adult volunteer in a quiet corner, or perhaps in the library or an office space. Also see if the child can take part in “One to One Reading” or other similar programs with trained volunteers–these can be wonderful confidence and skill builders.
  • When the child starts getting “antsy” while reading, change activities. Perhaps play a game of “hangman” or a flashcard game with “sight word” cards. Stop reading words, and look at and discuss pictures.
  • Prepare the child for reading by looking at and discussing front and back covers of the book, reading about the author, looking at the pictures in the book, thinking about what might “happen next” and so on. You might also look through the book yourself, ahead of time, and pick out words you know your child will struggle with, and introduce them before the reading. And of course, always find ways for the child to relate the story or subject matter to his/her own life experiences, knowledge, and interests.
  • Talk about “What I want to do when I grow up” with your child. Get books from the library that talk about that job, or even better, arrange for someone you know who does that job to talk to your child about it (and even allow the child to job-shadow for half an hour or so, if possible). Discuss (and let the child “see”) how important reading is to the job(s) and/or future educational opportunities your child is interested in.
  • Think “outside the box” when searching for reading materials your child might enjoy. Christmas catalogues are almost always of interest! Comics, how-tos, brochures from hockey games or other activities can be of great interest to many children who otherwise seem to “hate reading.” Gradually expand their reading materials, following their interests and passions into a broad variety of subject areas. For example, a child who loves the “chemistry kit” they got for a birthday gift (or the baking soda and vinegar experiment in science), can expand their related interests into mathematics, broader chemistry, biology, cooking and baking, history and cultures, technology, geography, and on and on. And of course novels that involve chemistry in some way!
  • Play table games, like Monopoly, that require reading. (And for kids who dislike math, play table games like Snakes and Ladders or Tile Rummy that require counting).
  • Help your child find a penpal (or 2 or 3) from different places. Kids who won’t read much else are eager to read letters from others their age who live in different places and have different kinds of lives. Also encourage grandparents and others to write letters to the grandkids. Note: There is something especially wonderful about snail mail; just remind adults to write in manuscript rather than cursive to children who haven’t yet learned cursive. Oh! On the topic of snail mail, encourage your children to send away for written materials like brochures, etc. Snail mail is so exciting for children who get very little of it! And encourage them to enter stories or drawings to children’s magazines that have those spaces; some local newspapers also have children’s spaces, and some schools “publish” writing and illustrations by the students. Children get so excited when they see their work in print (even in a simple newsletter) and are apt to want to read what the other children wrote … and then look beyond to see what else is in there.
  • For homeschoolers, get involved with your local homeschool support groups. Give your children opportunities to see other children reading, and do activities and lessons together that involve reading. Learn from each other.
  • Have books and other reading materials all over your home, in locations that are at eye level for your children–bedside tables, child-sized bookcases in play areas, a bookcase outdoors in the playhouse or tree fort, in the back seat of the car … and in places where distractions lie! Place really interesting reading materials on top of or beside the TV, computer, etc.! Distract the kids (and adults) from the electronics by providing awesome reading instead.

Do you have tips or anecdotes related to encouraging non-readers to become avid readers? We’d love to have you share them in the comments! Thank you!

Check out all the posts in this series, “When Children–and Adults Too–Hate Reading”:

Model Reading and Read Aloud
Distractions and Health Issues
Negative Influences and Reading as a Chore
Poor Methods of Teaching Reading
Lack of Reading Materials and Negative Attitudes
Dyslexia and Other Learning Differences
Practical Tips to Encourage Reading

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