Getting Your Teens to Actually Read - Room 213

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Getting Your Teens to Actually Read

This is a serious issue in secondary classrooms when the required reading is longer and can't be completed in class. There are not enough hours in the semester to get it all done as it is, and besides, kids read at such vastly different rates that some are finished long before others. It means that students just have to do some reading at home. But, we all know that creates another issue, because many will come unprepared to do the next day's work. It is a true conundrum.

Strategies to motivate kids to readI wish I could tell you that I had the secret. I don't. I struggle with the same issues every day. I do, however, have a few strategies that can help.

First of all, I start every semester with reading workshop. The best way to hook reluctant readers is to let them find a book that makes them want to read. And that's not necessarily To Kill a Mockingbird or Lord of the Flies. I still do a full class novel, but not until later in the semester, after the kids have had a chance to read books that they have chosen for themselves. My hope is that by then, they are more willing to read something that I've assigned, because they've learned to enjoy reading.

Another thing I need to do to ensure that my students actually read is spend some time on their favourite Internet sites. You know the ones I mean:  Sparknotes, Schmoop, E-notes. I've written about this before in my post about keeping kids off Sparksnotes, so you can read more detail there. Essentially, if I keep asking questions or using assessments that they can answer without reading, then I'm part of the problem. Text-Self and Text-Text questions are good for this. Find a poem or an article that relates to something in the text and have them show their knowledge of character or theme by making connections between the two. Or have them illustrate how a character is like them or someone they know. These things are a lot harder to "Google."

In reality, though, I ask my students very few questions about the texts they read. Instead, I teach them how to take notes and require them to come to class with notes made on the night's assigned reading. I tell them ahead of time what they should be looking for and have them "start a page" for each element. For example, if we're reading Mockingbird, they will write Atticus, Scout, Jem, etc. at the top of a page. On the page entitled "Atticus", they will take notes to track his character. They do the same with themes or motifs that I tell them to track as they read.

Strategies for critical thinking about textBut do I make sure they actually do this? During each class, the students will meet to
discuss what they believe to be significant about each section. At the beginning of each class, I do a quick check to see who has their notes done. Those who didn't do the homework can't participate in the group discussions. I either send them to the library or cafeteria to finish, or leave them at their desks to do so. Basically, they can't just sit in the group and benefit from everyone else's work; they need to do it themselves.  The first few times I do this, there will be a huge group of students who have to sit out. However, after they catch on that I mean business, the group quickly dwindles. It really works.

Aside from this note-taking strategy, I have a lot of critical thinking exercises I do with the students that require them to actually read and understand the text. In the picture to the right, students are doing a write-around exercise that requires them to discuss the purpose of a chapter and to build on each other's ideas. I also like them to choose a title for a chapter or section and give a rationale for why they chose it. Each of these requires a deeper understanding of the reading, one that is hard to fake. And, when students come to class knowing that you're going to give them work that requires that kind of understanding, they are much more likely to do the work.

Now, I'm no fool. I know that there are still kids who don't read and rely on the Internet or movies to do their thinking for them. But, you know what? There will always be those kids. Unfortunately, we won't get them all. I do find, though, that these strategies hook more of them into reading.

Do you have any tried and true tips for ensuring that your kids read? Please share in the comments!


  1. These are great ideas. Thanks for getting me thinking.

    1. Hi, Aretha! You're welcome. I hope you found something you can use with your kids.

  2. Thanks for posting your ideas. I am also working on this same idea, but with fourth and fifth graders. I don't want to be too heavy-handed with assignments and want to provide a structure for students to work through our whole class novels by getting them to discuss their own ideas about the story. Your posts have given me a lot to think about. Again, many thanks for sharing!

    1. You're welcome! It is hard to find the balance between keeping them accountable and not impeding the rhythm of their reading.

  3. I am learning so much just on your blog. One question is how do you keep the notes, and station papers organized? I teach 7th grade, they need organization help.

    1. So glad to hear that! I have a post about that, actually:

      Let me know if that's not what you meant!

  4. I love these tips! How do you make sure all/most students are engaged, whether verbally participating or merely paying attention, during whole class discussions?

  5. Thanks, Elyse. I find that if I use the strategies that I wrote about in this post, more of them do engage. Otherwise, I do a lot of wandering around as the kids work in groups or independently in order to assess who's participating/working and who isn't. A lot of information can come from the conferences I do too.

  6. Sometimes I have them do a quiz or an activity every day on the previous day's reading just to ensure that they get through the book themselves and then, for the rest of the year, we have a novel in common. I choose a short, high interest book. When I do this, it is often the only novel they have ever read completely on their own in their lives! But, it is a lot of work for the teacher.


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