As a high school English teacher, one of the most rewarding challenges you may encounter is motivating reluctant readers. These are students who resist reading (whether because they lack interest or skill). However, with the right strategies and a bit of creativity, you can ignite their passion for books and literature. In this blog post, I’ll share 10 effective tips to motivate reluctant readers and make your English class a haven for literary enthusiasts.
Motivate Reluctant Readers Tip #1: Choose Engaging and Accessible Books
The first step in motivating reluctant readers is selecting books that are both engaging and accessible.
Look for texts that are age-appropriate, relevant to their interests, and not too intimidating in terms of length and complexity. “High-low” books (high-interest, low Lexile) are perfect for the reluctant reader.
Be sure not to choose books that are “babyish.” Your high schoolers don’t want to feel patronized while reading a book clearly meant for elementary or middle schoolers even if the reading level is right for them.
Pay attention to genres, themes, and authors that resonate with your students.
It’s difficult today to incorporate controversial themes into your classroom, but books that discuss these are likely to engage your reluctant readers. Also look for books with cliffhangers, lots of action, or mysteries.
Check out The Hate U Give or Allegedly for edgy novels sure to grab your readers’ attention. I have even more book recommendations for reluctant readers in this post.
Motivate Reluctant Readers Tip #2: Build a Reading Community
Create a supportive and inclusive classroom environment that encourages discussion and sharing.
Establish a reading community where students can recommend books to one another, discuss their favorite reads, and celebrate literary achievements together. This sense of belonging can be a powerful motivator.
A quick way to do this is to give students five minutes after independent reading to turn and talk to a neighbor about what they’ve read. You could also ask students for their recommendations at the end of the week.
Our school tried to expand a culture of reading beyond individual classrooms by inviting authors to come speak with students during an annual literary week.
The more ways you can get students to talk and think about books, the better!
Motivate Reluctant Readers Tip #3: Offer a Variety of Reading Materials
Diversify your classroom library with a wide range of reading materials, including graphic novels, magazines, short stories, and poetry. Providing different formats and genres can help reluctant readers find something that genuinely interests them.
I always told my students I didn’t care what they read during independent reading as long as they were reading from a dead tree (no e-books).
This meant they could bring in a newspaper or a magazine. They could even bring in a textbook and do reading for another class. As long as they read, I let them be.
Keep your classroom library stocked with graphic novels, memoirs, books of facts, and as many different genres as you can. For the truly reading averse, a short graphic novel or a book with illustrated information (like those Guinness World Record books) could be the perfect gateway to reading (and enjoying) more traditional texts.
Motivate Reluctant Readers Tip #4: Set Realistic Reading Goals
Set achievable reading goals for your students.
Start with shorter books and gradually increase the complexity and length as they gain confidence. Celebrate their progress, and ensure that the goals are tailored to each student’s reading level.
You might want to encourage students to track their reading so that they can see all they’ve accomplished at the end of the year. (Check out this fun reading passport for World Literature classes.)
Don’t require a certain number of pages or book reports. This will discourage students who struggle with reading and make them even more resistant.
Instead, ask students to chat about their books. Let them choose shorter texts or texts with lots of images. Then, gently encourage them to choose something a little more challenging next time. Allow them to build up confidence in their own reading ability by racking up quick successes.
Motivate Reluctant Readers Tip #5: Incorporate Technology
I don’t love letting students use technology during independent reading because it’s a nightmare to monitor. However, you should leverage technology during other parts of your class time.
Use audiobooks, e-books, or reading apps to cater to various learning styles. These tools can make reading more interactive and enjoyable for students.
I love using audiobooks when we read novels together as a class. Often, the professional readers are more engaging than I am (or my students if I can convince them to read aloud). Plus, it saves my voice and allows me to walk around the room.
Offer students PDF versions of the text if possible (perfect for searching for quotes when students are not great skimmers).
You can also install browser extensions that read websites aloud or have built-in dictionaries. (For these, I recommend talking to your special education teacher or tech support person. They probably already have program recommendations available in your district!)
Reading should not be hard for the sake of being hard. Give students technological tools to help them access all texts in your classroom.
Motivate Reluctant Readers Tip #6: Create a Book-Focused Classroom
Make your classroom a literary haven. When you set up your classroom at the beginning of the year, take your decoration inspiration from books.
Decorate your room with book-themed decorations, posters of famous authors, and inspiring quotes. You could create a bulletin board with rotating recommendations or author spotlights.
Most importantly, make sure you have an inviting and well-organized classroom library. If possible, create a reading nook or offer comfortable seating for readers to use.
A book-focused environment can serve as a constant reminder of the joys of reading.
Motivate Reluctant Readers Tip #7: Use Book Clubs and Reading Challenges
If you really want to motivate reluctant readers, encourage them to read and compete with their peers! Organizing book clubs or reading challenges can promote a sense of camaraderie and friendly competition among students.
For example, maybe you encourage students to try a new horror novel during the month of October or to check out a Black author for African American History Month.
If you have a homeroom or advisory, use the time to let students have their own book club. Students can form groups, choose a book to read, and use that time for their reading and discussions.
Encourage your students to set personal reading goals and provide incentives for meeting those goals. (Be sure to check in with your administrator. They may have money to support these incentives–don’t spend your own money!)
Motivate Reluctant Readers Tip #8: Connect Literature to Real Life
This one is so important for turning reluctant readers into reading enthusiasts.
So many of my students hated reading and English class because they just didn’t see the point. Why read fake stories about people that don’t exist?
You need to help reluctant readers see the real-world relevance of literature. This means connecting the themes and characters in the books to their own experiences, current events, or social issues. Doing this will make the reading material more relatable and engaging.
This is another reason to try incorporating some novels that deal with controversial topics or real events. For example, All American Boys discusses race, police brutality, and privilege. Persepolis discusses the Iranian Revolution, which you can connect to today’s climate in Iran easily.
Make sure students see that reading isn’t just “fake stuff.” Show them how it connects to our lives, teaches us, and informs us.
Motivate Reluctant Readers Tip #9: Empower Student Choice
Give students the freedom to choose their own reading materials, at least occasionally.
Allowing them to pick books based on their interests can boost their motivation and enthusiasm for reading.
I’m a big proponent of independent reading. Having an independent reading program in your class gives students this time for choice and freedom while cultivating a reading culture in your classroom.
You could also do a unit with literature circles that provide students with some choice. Or, you could do a unit in which students can pick any book.
We rarely become readers because of a book that we were assigned to read in high school. Make sure students have time to explore their own interests as readers.
Motivate Reluctant Readers Tip #10: Be a Reading Role Model
Finally, be a reading role model yourself.
Share your passion for books with your students, talk about your own reading experiences, and recommend books that you love.
I kept three books on the shelf of a chalkboard at all times: the last book I read, the book I was currently reading, and the next book I would be reading.
This led to many great conversations between my students and myself. They could also watch my progress and know that I did, in fact, enjoy reading.
I also began every session of independent reading with a book talk. I had a slideshow with a list of book recommendations and would talk through two each time. They were always books I had read and enjoyed although I tried to offer a variety of suggestions.
Your enthusiasm can be contagious and inspire reluctant readers.
Motivating reluctant readers in your high school English class is a noble endeavor that can transform students into lifelong book lovers. By implementing these 10 tips, you can create a classroom environment where reading is not just a task but a joyous adventure.
Remember, with patience, creativity, and a dash of enthusiasm, you can ignite the spark of literary passion in even the most reluctant of readers.
Are you ready to motivate reluctant readers and foster a love for literature in your classroom? Check out this post on starting your own independent reading program and this one on creating a classroom library to get the party started!