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October 1, 2016
Vol. 58
No. 10

Road Tested / Four Ways to Turn Teens onto Reading

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It is well documented that students who read more, achieve more—not only in reading, but also in all tasks and challenges in their school routine. Daily exposure to reading opens the door to new vocabulary, a deeper well of background knowledge, and professional writing styles that can be absorbed and stored in a student's memory. Most of the reading teens do outside the classroom, however, is limited to 140 characters in a tweet or an emoji-filled text message. The disturbing reality is that interest in reading declines as students get older, and fewer teens are reading for pleasure than they did 30 years ago.
A plethora of strategies can combat these trends. The key to inspiring teens to want to read is providing them with opportunities to find materials that speak to their unique personalities.

1. Set Aside Time for Self-Selected Monitored Reading

Much of the school reading we require students to complete is chosen for them—whether textbooks, articles, classic novels, or data tables. This is why I am such an advocate of monitored reading. Each week, my students select a book from my classroom library, the school or public library, or home to read in class for 30–60 minutes.
This is their time to feel empowered to choose what they will read and how they will examine it. I provide them with a log to record their reading habits and a choice board of activities to complete as they finish their book (e.g., create a "movie" poster promoting the text). Finally, I confer with them one-on-one each month to track their progress and suggest future titles.

2. Try a Reading Challenge

Students are inherently competitive in sports, clubs, and other activities. I lead a reading challenge each year, inviting students who finish 25 books to a special lunch or ice cream social to celebrate.
When students reach a new benchmark, they must demonstrate their understanding through a book review that we post on the wall near my classroom library. The assignment helps students express their opinions about the text and share book recommendations with peers.

3. Use High-Interest Read-Alouds and Book Previews

Many students claim that they do not read at home because they have never found a book that interests them. This is why we need to introduce them to new and exciting texts from a wide variety of genres. On some occasions, I read the first chapter of a new book aloud. This introduces them to the text and strengthens their listening skills as I model dramatic reading with tone and expressions. Or I read all the way to a cliff-hanger in a passage and then leave it up to students to pick up the book on their own to see what happens next.
Another great hook is a book preview. Sometimes publishers, such as Scholastic, craft enticing video previews for their books, or students post amateur previews on YouTube. One of the choice board activities I offer during monitored reading is for students to produce their own video preview to show in class. Students love seeing their friends perform and narrate exciting trailers.

4. Promote a Culture of Schoolwide Literacy

It takes a village to promote a love of reading in students. Our fellow teachers, counselors, administrators, and media specialists can be allies in drumming up reading interest. In my middle school, teachers pose for "Read" posters, we celebrate Banned Book Week, and we promote International Reading Day with prizes and fun activities.
Other options include inviting a local author to your school or holding a book drive where students can choose free books to take home (donated books could also be given away as part of a reward program for good behavior). In classrooms, I would encourage scheduling guest readers. Invite another teacher to read an excerpt from a favorite book. Students love to see someone (other than their English teacher) being enthusiastic about reading.

Bring Students Back to the Text


Would you like to write for the next "Road Tested" column? Visit for submission details.

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