Reaching  Reluctant Readers

We were born to speak, not to read. Speaking is instinctive and reading isn’t. Just imagine how children learn to speak through exposure. First comes cooing, then babbling and before you know it you’re watching what you say so they don’t repeat it. However children learn to read through intentional instruction (i.e., direct teaching of phonemic awareness, decoding, and comprehension). First comes the introduction of 26 letters and then the association of their 44 different sounds. This can easily be one of the most difficult skills to develop let alone teach. Here are a few ways to reach reluctant readers who may or may not be diagnosed as dyslexic.

First, you should always model the reading behaviors that you want to garner. You are the ultimate story teller. Therefore, tell your story by dissecting what you’ve recently read, discussing specific excerpts to gain various perspectives, sharing silly or sentimental experiences to foster positive associations and creating cliff hangers to leave your learners wanting to know more about the plot twist. One trick I’ve used is to imagine something that excites me to the core as I describe a reading selection because there is nothing more contagious than passion. When your learners hear what makes your fire burn their flames will ignite.

Second, you should NEVER stigmatize reading. Reading isn’t just for school or it isn’t  just for bedtime. Mix it up by doing a spontaneous reading throughout the day, having your child read recipes while you cook or designing book baskets for lengthy car rides or bathroom trips. Spice up the selection by choosing comics, graphic novels or audio books about specific characters they love and/or can identify with or subjects that hold their interest. One trick I’ve learned is to subscribe to a periodical that your child finds fascinating so they are the first to get all the latest magazines and exclusive reading selections. Yes, these all count as reading!

Third, get your head out of the books and into the clouds. The sky is the limit when it comes to planning activities around readings. Our learners need to see the world they will inhabit. The active engagement of the learning process is captured through activities and experiences that bring meaning to the readings.  One trick I’ve learned is to gather insight from other success stories. You can easily access sites like Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers where a reservoir of tried and true reading activities exist. There you can generate how you will make reading social and exciting for your learners. This is bigger than just teaching reading. It’s more about teaching how to love learning!

Finally, punishing our reluctant learners by making them read just won’t EVER work. This creates a negative stigma; they then associate reading with ‘doing something wrong’. In fact, it may have caused their reluctance. You’ve seen adults who exclaim their disdain for reading but I could bet it’s because they felt penalized or downcast when they were developing reading skills. So don’t replace tablets with books or worksheets, use their preferred means of engagement to build upon the flame you ignited. It’s not about where they ought to be but about meeting them where they are. Remember your passion for reading can infect, so spread it!


Jeannette Washington, M.Ed. is the founder of Bearly Articulating and holds a specialized Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Dyslexia and other Language Based Learning Disorders. This former speech-language pathologist has a natural ability to appreciate and inspire exceptional learners. Her fiery passion for pushing boundaries and defying limits ensures that all exceptional learners have access to the opportunities that will allow them to reach their potential. Converse with her in her Facebook group Debunking Dyslexia.