Getting children excited about reading!

For those struggling to get their kids into reading - This is a long post, but I successfully get 95% of my students to want to read non-stop within the first 2 months of school and I would like to share this with you. I kid you not, I have more of a problem with my students reading under their desks during other classes than trying to get them to read. I dunno about you, but I think that is actually a good problem to have! Parents, you can adapt what I am doing from my classroom to your home with ease.

It's a tricky business. Kids, typically, don't like reading for pleasure. Well, not at first that is. There are a few fundamental reasons for this.
1. They are forced to read. It isn't an option "you must read for 30 minutes each night because I said so and it's good for you," etc. When kids (especially pre-teens/teenagers) are told to do something, they immediately don't want to do it. There is a time and place to exercise authority but when your goal is to get the children to WANT to do something don't force it. This is not the time to cram literature down their throats. If you follow my method they will be feeding themselves one book after another shortly.
2. Not only are they forced to read, but they are forced to read whatever we adults deem "literature." Tom Sawyer, Great Expectations, etc.
3. Nobody ever reads WITH them. Nobody gets them excited about reading.
As a middle school teacher, yes I would love it if my students all read an hour every night from the get go. It would also be fabulous if my students would walk into class each morning ready to talk about the deep allegories within classic Edgar Allen Poe, or maybe the political intrigue within some of George Orwell's work. You know what? you CAN make that happen... but it won't work over night. First you need a hook.
Getting your kids to love reading for enjoyment is kind of like fishing. You need the right bait, and once you find it you will have them hooked. So how do you find the right bait? It takes a little bit of work.
First, find out what makes your child/student tick. Are the obsessed with sports? History? Do they love video games? What about cars? etc.
Next, and this is critical, you need to present them with reading and make it their choice to want to read it. I'm telling you right now, the old "go in your room and read for an hour" thing doesn't work. So how do we go about doing this. It's all about how excited YOU are.
For example, earlier this year I walk into my classroom with a stack of new books for the bookshelf in my room. I brought in a Halo novel (it's a novel based off a popular video game), a couple of cookbooks, some comic books and a few other different "fun" reading materials. Notice I left out titles such as "The Great Gatsby." Now once the class is settled in, I say really excitedly "Hey gang! I was just at Barnes and Noble doing some shopping for myself and found some awesome titles for our classroom. Who likes video games? (all the boys raise their hands). Oh awesome, then you gotta check this out - I found a book about Halo. (At this point I read the back of the book out loud I was going to read it at home but I have a few books I want to finish reading first. I could read a chapter or two out loud right now if you want... (It's English period and they don't want to do a writing assignment so it's a no brainer of course they will let me read to them). After reading it using inflection and letting the kids reenact the alien battle in the first few chapters I now ask if anyone wants to borrow it. About 15 hands shoot up into the air.
Now is when I tell the students that since so many kids want to check out the book, myself included since I didn't read it yet, we need to be courteous and try to be done with it in about two weeks or so that way the next kid can read it.
So now we effectively went from "you need to read for 30 minutes every night and log it on this sheet and have a parent sign it because I AM THE LAW AND YOU MUST OBEY MY COMMAND" - which never works - to having the kids ask to let them read. But wait, we aren't done here.
Next, while I have the kids pumped up about the sweet Halo book and battling aliens, etc., I bring up the point that not everybody likes the same types of books (introduce the other reading materials and pass them out).
"I have no problem getting books for our bookshelf, but I need to know what kind of books." Again, hands fly into the air. "Oh oh! NINJAS!" "What about books about knights or Roman battles?!" "What about war books?" "Books about animals!"
So now kids are ASKING FOR particular types of books. The plan is coming together perfectly. *Insert sinister teacher laugh here*
Now write these books genres and themes, etc., down on the board, with the names of the kids who suggested them. (When kids have their names written on the board, and it's for a positive reason as it should always be, the other students will want to participate as well for the recognition). You will want to write down the names of the kids who suggested the books as well for later.
Now, you have to strike while the iron is hot! DO NOT DELAY! Within the next day or two you need to do another Barnes and Noble run and pick up some books which the kids suggested.
Now when you walk into class the next day "Hey Brett, you said we should get some ninja books right? Well check these out:,,
Which one you want to read? Why don't you see if anyone wants to read the other ones or put them neatly on the bookshelf. Stephen, You said you wanted some war books? It's such a huge topic, I thought we could start with a book about the different weapons used in ancient battles. This book has pictures and explains how the different weapons were made, etc. (Open it in front of the class and watch the boys all go "woah" at the same time)
I keep doing this with the books I purchased, the kids are now super excited about reading them. After I give out all the new books I say something along the lines of "So... I had these plans written down here in my plan book to go over some stuff about expository writing (hold the green planner in the air), but it's up to you guys. I see you're all kind of excited about the new books we got... I wouldn't mind changing my plan book here if you wanted to dive into the books instead, or we can go ahead and start our rough drafts on this week's topic." Of course they want to start reading.
It's up to you to keep them intrigued. To buy more and more books that THEY WANT. Then and only then will you be able to get them to read something you choose with ease.
"So I have this really cool book about a guy that turns into a monster when he drinks a special potion. It's called "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." It's an older story and it has some difficult language in it, I really don't know if we are ready for it, it's actually a book for high-schoolers." The response will be a resounding "We can handle it! C'mon let's read it. Give us a chance."
And that's basically it. I invest probably 300 - 400 dollars a year in new books. I have the best maintained bookshelf since the kids police each other on maintenance since they have ownership in choosing the books, but that's a small price to pay to get the children to love to read!
Let me know how this works for you, or how you get your kids excited to read!


Jacob R.

6 years experience - Master's in Education - College Readiness Tutor

100+ hours
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