helping reluctant readers isn't as complicated as it might seem

6 ways to help reluctant readers become booklovers

A teacher-librarian shares her proven strategies to engage and captivate reluctant readers

Not everyone loves to read. Even in schools with strong reading cultures, some students just don’t feel the spark—yet.

Through helping reluctant readers find books that capture their imaginations, teachers and librarians can ignite a newfound enthusiasm for reading in students.

Here are six strategies for engaging hesitant students:

1. Hand it to them. Nothing beats putting books in the hands of reluctant readers—it’s the number one way to generate interest. But you must put the right books in the right hands. As part of our reader’s advisory services, we do lots of one-on-one conversations, learning what a student likes to do outside of school, or what movies, tv shows or video games they enjoy.

While some students love browsing the library for a great new read, others are intimidated by the sheer number of books and may be reluctant to ask for help. Those students likely won’t be motivated by learning how to use the catalog—and sometimes, it’s better to hand them a book by engaging authors like Nic Stone or Jason Reynolds.

2. Share your enthusiasm. An avid reader can sell a book to anybody. Encourage your own community of booklovers to share their reading finds with students. For example, create bulletin boards highlighting your students’ favorite books or even your own favorite reads. Doing so might help your students discover their next favorite book!

3. Teach them how to judge a book by its cover. Many students don’t know how to browse for books of interest. One of the most effective activities I do in my library is called “Five-Minute Mania”—a readers’ version of speed dating. I scatter brand-new books by diverse authors across the library tables and ask each student to pick up whatever one looks most interesting. They choose based solely on the cover—whether it’s the color, size, picture or typeface that attracts them. Students then spend one minute perusing the book’s front, spine and back cover. Next, they read the inside flaps of the dust jacket (including the author bio) and flip through pages. Finally, they take a test drive, reading as far as they can in three minutes. If that reading experience felt like the longest three minutes ever, the book’s a pass. If they hated to put it down, it’s a keeper.

I run the exercise four times, including one round in our digital library using OverDrive Education’s Sora reading app. Students browse the titles on their Chromebook devices. The process is the same as with paperback books, but this round offers the additional advantage of encouraging students to interact with our eBook reading app and learn how to use keyword searches and filters to find books.

4. Catch their eye. This may seem obvious, but displays matter. For example, make sure some of your paper books face out on your library shelves. While uninterested eyes will glaze over looking at a sea of spines, they’ll always stop at a boldly colored cover with an in-your-face font. We’re constantly on the lookout for new ideas for showcasing books—inspiration can come from a favorite retailer’s window displays or even from grocery stores.

Likewise, promote new releases or curated collections in your digital library. Sora, for example, lets us display the latest eBooks—we drop a new collection every Tuesday front and center on Sora’s Explore page. Although we always try to provide the latest bestselling hardcovers on our shelves, the digital library has the advantage of giving nearly instantaneous access to new releases.

5. Let them get graphic. Don’t discount the value of graphic novels and other non-traditional content. The main objective is to get reluctant readers interested, so it’s okay to let them choose illustrated novels, magazines or manga. True graphic novels are engaging on multiple levels, requiring the reader to conceptually connect pictures and words, scrutinize backgrounds and character dialogues and follow the flow of panels.

6. Embrace the quirks. While some students prefer traditional paperback books, other students also prefer the instant access and built-in tools that come with eBooks. For example, with Sora, our students can choose either a full-screen or side-by-side page layout, change their screen lighting, select a large or supportive dyslexic font, use built-in reading tools like highlighting and bookmarks and take advantage of other features (like alternative translations) unique to digital libraries. The point is to let students read in whatever manner makes their brains happy. They’ll read more and over time, developing the skills that help them derive the most value and pleasure from their reading hours.

Our libraries—both physical and digital—really do house books of interest for everyone. By being creative and persistent in facilitating great matches of books to readers, we can ignite the spark that ultimately turns a reluctant reader into an ardent booklover.

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