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How to Choose the Right Book

Studies show that the best way to learn a language and to improve reading and writing skills is to read. Kind of a no-brainer, huh? Just like anything else, if you want to become a better reader, you need to practice. In my years of reaching out to reluctant readers, I have found that kids (and adults) who aren't confident in their abilities either avoid reading because it's difficult or they pick up a random book and "fake read.” Letting words slip in front of your eyes without letting them anywhere near your brain is an utter waste of time.

The trick to becoming a proficient reader is being able to identify the right book. Reading something that is way above your reading level is going to be confusing, frustrating, and NO FUN. And guess what else? You won’t learn a thing, except, perhaps, to hate reading more than you already do.

Unfortunately, if you are a student, sometimes you’re going to have to suck it up and read what your teachers tell you to read. That’s when you get extra help--either from your teacher, a private tutor, or your peers. Listening to an audio version might help you, especially if you tend to get stuck on unfamiliar words that you’re not sure how to pronounce. If you listen WHILE following along in the book, you’ll see and hear the story, which might help you comprehend. This is, after all, the point of reading in the first place.

Here is the good news. You can (and absolutely should) read books in your free time. Making the right choices about what to read can have an amazing impact on both your motivation and your ability to read well. I have some suggestions for finding a book that just might lead to a painless and even fun (gasp!) reading experience.

First, choose a book that is about a topic you find interesting. If you already know something about the topic, even better. Cover art is important in catching your eye and enticing you to pick up a book, but please, please, don’t judge a book solely by its cover (or its movie).

Here are the steps to choosing a great book:

1. Look at the cover. If it catches your eye and makes you want to know what the book is about, go to step two.
2. Read the summary on the back cover, or on the inside of the front cover for a hardcover book. Still interested? Go to step three.
3. Read the first full page. (Really read; don’t just let the words flow past your eyes.) Every time you see a word you don’t know, put up a finger.
4. Read a page near the middle of the book. Every time you see a word you don’t know, put up a finger.
5. If you put up four or five fingers on either page, the book is too hard. Two or three fingers is okay. The book might be somewhat challenging, but you should be able to read it on your own. Some challenge is fine and will stretch you to learn some new vocabulary.
6. Start reading. Be patient in the beginning while the author is introducing the setting and characters. Try to read at least 20 pages before giving up on a story that seems boring.

Good luck and happy reading!

P.S. If you’re lucky enough to know someone who reads a lot, ask for recommendations. It’s a quick way to find a good book and also gives you something to talk about!