Ten Types of Books That Are Hooking My MOST Reluctant Readers by Wendy Gassaway
I teach reading to middle schoolers who read two or more years below grade level. I am a fierce believer in the power of reading workshop and choice, but I continue to struggle with a sizable minority of students who Won’t. Read. ANYTHING. I feel like I offer a wide range of material, and I’m willing to buy specific books for specific kids, but still, there are students who maintain that they hate to read, and who spend every day in my class either fake reading or just not-reading.
Luckily for them (although they might not see it that way) I am persistent. I just keep putting books in front of them, over and over and over. And as we enter the last third of the school year, I’ve started seeing reading engagement from more and more students. The key, of course, is that there isn’t a key. You just have to be willing to try a huge variety until you hit on something that works for THAT student.
Here are some general categories and specific titles that have caught the interest of my biggest book-resistors recently.
I picked up a couple of used copies and brought them in. I thought I was going to have to break up fistfights between kids who wanted them, so I went out and bought several more. Some kids work with one book for a long time, exploring different outcomes, while others bounce from book to book. Either way, some kids who have not truly read all year are actively reading these.
- Quick reads
One of my colleagues asked me if I’d like a large grocery sack full of comic books his kids had outgrown. I accepted gladly, and now I have a group of boys who gather round the comics basket and read steadily through the stack. Other times I’ll drop a handful of picture books next to someone who “forgot their book” or “has a headache” and ask them to tell me which one they think is best. Most kids will be willing to do me that favor, and they are often surprised at how tough it is to choose between several good books.
- The Circuit series
Last year, the seventh grade language arts classes read The Circuit together, and it was so successful they are doing it again right now. As students finish the book, they start coming by my room, asking for the sequels. All the ELA teachers, the school library, and I bought several copies of each, and they will be checked out continuously for the rest of the year.
- Books that acknowledge teen sex.
One girl read Forever, and she loved it so much that now all of her friends are reading it. I went ahead and got some more Judy Blume for them, and that’s gone over well. Another student, who has proudly Not Read all year, picked up a Bluford High book about a girl getting pregnant and finished it in four days. When she asked for “other books like that” I showed her the other books I have in that series as well as The First Part Last, which is the one she chose. I suspect the length of the book and the topic combined to get her engaged.
- Skeleton Creek series
I thought my students would really enjoy these, as they combine a scary mystery vibe with online videos. But maybe the covers and my booktalks weren’t very persuasive. FINALLY last week one student started reading the first one. Now he and his buddy are plowing through the series and loving it. Word of mouth will kick in from here.
Sometimes they want to read books I’ve read to the class already that year–both copies of Orbiting Jupiter are usually checked out from my classroom library. Other times they want to revisit books from earlier in their childhood, such as Captain Underpants or Elephant & Piggie. Years ago, I would have considered re-reading a form of cheating, but I’ve learned better. Re-reading is a natural stage in developing a reading life.
I have no idea what it is about these two in particular, out of all the mystery/thriller writers and graphic novelists that exist, but my students can’t get enough of either.
- Scary and Sad Stories online
This is another one I never would have allowed earlier in my career. Kids google “scary stories” or “sad stories” and read and read and read. Especially scary or sad stories get recommended to others. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all tripe. So what? They’re reading. They’re finding that words on a page can elicit strong emotions inside of them. They’re sharing their reading experience with others.
- Novels in verse
These can be a hard sell in some ways, just because “poetry” is not a reassuring word for kids who hate language arts. But once they’ve experienced it, many kids love these. Ellen Hopkins can be a good introduction, since her books are so dramatic. Love That Dog is another easy one to talk kids into, especially the kids who aren’t ready for Hopkins’ world. One of my second language learners has gotten absorbed in Inside Out and Back Again as well.
Very few kids are interested in ebooks, but most of them are willing to try audiobooks. Some prefer to read along while they listen, and some just want to listen. I use three library cards (mine, my daughter’s, and mine from another county) to check out audiobooks from the public library onto my students’ iPads, since I know they can’t lose the files, or even get me late fees.
By being flexible and accepting of all types of reading, I have more engaged students than I ever would otherwise. I’d love to hear what you’ve found to engage the least enthusiastic readers in your classes.
Wendy Falconer Gassaway has found her home in a middle school reading classroom after nearly two decades teaching ELD. She blogs about books at Falconer’s Library and has 827 books on her “to-read” list on Goodreads. She’s still getting the hang of Twitter, and can be reached at @WendyGassaway.