How to Get Reluctant Teen Readers to Actually Read
This is a guest post by Katherine Porzel, a high school English teacher. This post also xcontains affiliate links. If you click on the link and buy an item, I earn a small commission. This doesn’t cost you anything. Thanks for your support!
As an English teacher, it’d be a lie if I tried to say I didn’t like reading.
I love to read. Absolutely love it.
I’m that person that has a spare book in each bag she carries. That she pulls out the book in the doctor’s office while waiting for an appointment rather than getting on her phone. That has to be told by her students that Free Read Friday (our weekly SSR time) has long since ended, and we have to get back to learning.
However, it would also be a lie if I told you that I haven’t encountered apathetic teenage readers. Unfortunately, I see it on a daily basis. Many students don’t realize what they’re missing until they return to the magic that is reading. Reading has this awesome ability to transport us to a different time and space, and there is a disconnect somewhere between elementary school and high school where many students lose their love of reading. Reading has this awesome ability to transport us to a different time and space. Click To Tweet They forget that they don’t need to travel to go on vacation; rather, they can leave and fly and fight zombies all from their seat on the couch.
And perhaps the best part? It’s FREE.
So how do we, as adults, help them get there? Here are a few tidbits of wisdom that I’ve learned in my years as an English and Reading teacher that can help you and your student find the joy in reading once more.
1. Always start with interests and hobbies.
Sounds straightforward, right? Yet you’d be shocked how many people skip this step and begin just throwing out suggestions. I normally ask my student the last book they remember enjoying as a starting point and what they enjoyed about it. Even if it’s a far back as the Magic Treehouse series, it’s a start—it gives you a clue about what they like, and then be sure to look at their current hobbies and interests in order to drive your search. Goodreads is a great start for book suggestions and very user friendly.
2. Make sure the book is on their level.
When you read a summary of a book on a library catalog or even online on websites like Amazon, they will list the suggested age range for the reader. This will help determine if the book is too high or too low a reading level. If it’s too low, they could get bored. If it’s too high, your student may get frustrated and give up. The suggested ages also help determine content; some YA books have very mature topics and controversial issues, so if you are concerned about this, be sure to read the summary first.
3. Read the book with them.
Whenever I suggest a book to a student, I make sure I’ve read it and then can follow up with them about that book. As a teacher, it makes it that much worthwhile when a student comes running into my room to discuss the shocking ending to their book and that I can carry on that conversation. As a parent, this is a wonderful way to connect and get invested in the book with them—and it makes the book that much more meaningful, especially if it discusses a difficult topic.
4. Use your resources.
When I started teaching at my current school, my school librarian was the one who reminded me how awesome reading could be. Librarians are there to help and suggest books, and they clearly love reading (hello—their career is about it). You can also check out local and state resources for book suggestions. I am part of the Virginia Reader’s Choice panel, which selects books for young students from the primary to secondary level. You can find the lists for each year at https://www.vsra.org/vrc/. Every state has an organization like this, so be sure to look at your options!
5. If a book isn’t working, be willing to put it down.
This was a hard lesson to learn for me. I always wanted to finish a book I started, and was stupidly stubborn about it—that is, until I realized how much it made me dislike reading. I no longer wanted to pick up the book and I dreaded the experience. Remember: just because everyone else likes a book doesn’t mean you have to, too. The number of books for young readers these days is astounding, so don’t let yourself be limited!The number of books for young readers these days is astounding, so don’t let yourself be limited! Click To Tweet
6. Always have a book within reach.
The amount of time we lose during the day is astounding….and it could be filled with reading! Think about this: if you read during each commercial break of a one hour TV show, that’s roughly 15 to 20 minutes of reading. And how many times have you sat waiting at the dentist’s office, messing around on your phone? There are so many little moments that could be filled with reading. It’s easy to forget to read during the summer; however, if you establish routines early on, it’s much easier to keep with them—and enjoy them—for the entire summer into the next school year.
7. Establish a routine.
I personally always start my Sunday mornings off with a book and a cup of tea. It’s my little time to read, and sometimes I find myself reading into the afternoon. Isn’t that so much better than watching TV or playing on the phone?!
8. Remember that reading is a skill.
Oftentimes we forget that reading is something we need to develop, and that the students who avoid it are perhaps the ones who really need the practice. I tell my students it’s like playing a sport or an instrument; the more you practice it, the better you become.
Start small if you need to and move into the more difficult books as they hone their skills. Join a contest at a local library to read for prizes if they like competition. Start with audiobooks if they need help getting into the reading—Overdrive is a free app they can get on their phones to check out eBooks and audiobooks from local libraries for free. Remember that while it may start as challenging, once they get their mental movie rolling they won’t want to stop.
Now my favorite part…my suggestions for summer reading! Follow the links below to check out some of my favorite YA reads.
Unwind by Neal Shusterman.
Sci-Fi. An awesome, creepy, dystopian read that is the first in a series…and there is a movie in the works.
Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand.
Nonfiction. This book tells the incredible true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete and WWII hero who survived 47 days on a raft and years in Japanese POW camps. This is a spectacular book that gave me chills, and an absolutely phenomenal audiobook. There is also a movie version out, though while it is good, it does not do the book justice; however, if you have a more visual learner, this could be a good motivation to read. Here is the book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjfGxiE2UzI
Swim the Fly by Don Calame.
Realistic Fiction. Parents be warned! Prepare yourself for the mind of a teenage boy. The concept? Three best friends decide on one summertime goal: to see a naked girl. I found myself laughing aloud at certain points in the book while simultaneously cover my eyes. This is an easy, crude read but still made me cheer at the end.
My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier.
Realistic Fiction. This is a bit of a more mature, psychological read. Che’s family is always moving around to new places for work, and this time the family of four are on their way to New York. Che is always preoccupied with one thing—his sister Rosa, who he is convinced is a psychopath who is steps away from killing someone, and he’s the only one who can see it. His mission? To keep Rosa in line…but how can you watch someone for every minute of every day? This book left me reeling and had some of the best character development I’ve read in a quite a while.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys.
Historical Fiction. Here, I’ll let the author do the talking . . . http://rutasepetys.com/books/salt-to-the-sea/
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.
Realistic fiction. While this book may be easy to read, it’s challenging in content. The book focuses on a beautiful island where the Sinclair family, who are vaguely reminiscent of the Kennedy family, spend their summers. But something is not quite right on the island, and you’ll spend the whole book trying to figure out where everything went wrong.
The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau.
Science Fiction. This reminded me of the Hunger Games meets standardized testing—it’s a smart, gritty read.
Well, that’s all for now…hopefully this will be a good start for your reading adventures. There are always books to read, and shelves full of adventures…don’t forget to look for them!
Looking for more summer activities for your middle or high schooler? Check out Summer Slide Activities for Teens!
Katherine Porzel is a high school English teacher in Chesapeake, Virginia where she teaches ninth grade. She earned her Bachelor’s in English and Master’s in Teaching at James Madison University and is currently working on English graduate coursework at Old Dominion University. When she’s not frolicking with her three-legged dog and reading books, she serves as a member of the Virginia Reader’s Choice High School Panel. She is an avid Harry Potter fan and spends a great deal of free time in the library. If you need book suggestions, feel free to follow her on Instagram @themuggleteacher—she regularly posts what she is reading and her reviews.