Monthly Archives: September 2015

7 Strategies for Motivating Disengaged Readers

1) Use reading interest inventories.  The information you receive will help you connect students to the right books and students will be happy that you know their interests. Create your own inventory or Google “Reading Interest Inventories” to find samples.  Keep the form simple as reluctant readers are often reluctant writers and will resist filling out a long form.

2) Give students choices in their reading.   In her article, Creating a Classroom Where Readers Flourish, Donalyn Miller writes, “I find it interesting that we often bemoan the fact that children will not read and then pass judgment on the books they do choose to read” (Miller, 2012, p. 92). To motivate readers, allow them to make choices in their reading and let them read books even though you may feel they are not quality literature.  If the books students choose are the appropriate reading levels (or are even if they are slightly too easy (great for building fluency) or are a bit too difficult (good for challenging themselves))  allow them to read them.

Kids who spend time reading become better readers, but nothing kills their motivation like hearing that their book is not a real book or that they should be reading something else.

If their book isn’t the appropriate level, create a teachable moment.  Ask the student why he chose the book and use that information while you help him look for a different one.  It’s important to look with him because he may not understand how to choose a book at his level even though you have taught him before.

3) Gather some books from your classroom library, choose one of them, and share a few interesting details with students. Tell them how much you enjoyed reading the book or say something like “If you are looking for a mystery, this book is for you!” and then ask, “Who wants it?”  Wait for their hands to shoot into the air as they say “I do, I do!”  On the odd chance that no one wants the book, display it on a bookshelf for someone who changes their mind, and start talking about another book.  Giving a tiny book preview enthusiastically will spark students’ interest in reading.

4) You are the perfect model for your students so read aloud to your students every day.  Reading will be more important to them if it is important to you.

5) Find out why students don’t like to read.  This is key.  So many times we get stuck on the fact that students don’t like to read and forget to investigate why they don’t.  Try to target your most disengaged readers and find out their motivations for staying away from books.  I have been amazed at the things students have told me about their reading lives when I have asked them.  See the list below for a few reasons students avoid reading and then try one of the solutions.

6) Start small.  Choose one or two disengaged readers and focus on getting them hooked on a book.  It is amazing how much better the day goes when you don’t have to look up during silent reading and see the same two students goofing around, trying to distract others from reading.

7) Don’t give up.  You may get a student engaged one day and find he’s back to his old ways the next.  It has taken him a long time to hone the skill of avoiding reading and it will take him time to develop a new skill.  Encourage him by praising him whenever you see him doing anything positive regarding reading.  Find a new book with him when he has lost interest in his book.

Please leave inquiries (by clicking on the “Leave a reply” box found under the title of this post) if you have students who don’t fit any categories below or if you have questions about how to engage specific readers.  I am happy to try to problem solve with you!  (Be sure not to refer to any students by their actual names.)

Reasons Students Don’t read

Possible Solutions

They do not visualize while they read, so reading is just saying words.

While we have all taught the skill of visualizing, many students have not practiced it enough or don’t understand how to visualize, so they are running their eyes over words and reading them like robots.  Reteach the skill of visualizing telling students that reading should be like watching a movie in their heads.  Give them lots of time to practice this skill.

They have not made enough meaning with text to find reading valuable.

State and model the purpose for reading in every lesson.  There are many reasons to read such as being entertained, learning a skill, gathering information, becoming a better writer, etc.  Teach students why we read.
Be sure to give them a purpose for reading so they will connect that purpose to the information they receive while reading.

They don’t have enough skills to decode text.

Practice reading books at their level.  Reading with a buddy, choral reading, and reading with a volunteer are all good starting points.  Most importantly, students need to have access to books that are easy enough to read and be able to read them without a lot of peers listening to them.  (Embarrassment keeps kids from reading every day!)

They are not interested in the typical topics found in books at their reading levels.

Look for some low vocabulary, high interest books.  If you don’t have access to any in your school, check the local library.
Model reading books of all lengths and levels. Sometimes there are big lessons in simple books and by reading them you will give students permission to read them, too.

The majority of books available are not culturally relevant to them.

Kids want to read about people like them.  Ask your librarian to help you find books that are culturally relevant to your kids and be sure you are reading aloud books about students of different cultures.

They have not discovered their favorite genres.

 Introduce books from a variety of genres once a week.  Share a few facts from a nonfiction book or a few juicy details from several different types of fiction books such as graphic novels, science fiction, and historical fiction.  Make students aware of different genres so they realize there are many options for them to choose.

They do not speak English well enough to read it fluently yet.

Whenever possible, let students read in their native language first.  They will transfer skills learned from one language to the other.
If they cannot read in another language or if books are not available, help students build fluency by having them read books with short sentences or having them practice reading short phrases frequently found in books.  Click here for some fluency activities:    I have used all of these activities in the past but I don’t time the kids with a stopwatch.  I encourage them to read the phrases at a decent pace after we have practiced a lot. No stopwatches or timers. Nothing makes a nervous reader more nervous that a ticking clock and a glaring teacher.  🙂

They have had numerous negative experiences with text.

Praise students at every opportunity.  Until they learn that reading can be fun and they feel some success,  they will not be motivated to try to read.  (This is why I don’t roller skate! Repeated negative experiences + no fun + no success = Julie will not roller skate.) 🙂
 Be certain to offer a variety of books that match students interests and are at low reading levels.  Pairing students with buddies or having them read with volunteers is helpful.

I welcome your questions. 🙂


Miller, D.  (2012).  Creating a classroom where readers flourish.  The Reading Teacher 66(2), 88-92.


It’s Complicated

Most people would like their lives to be simpler.  While I echo that sentiment, I also confess that more than once I have caught myself making life more complicated.  Maybe you have unintentionally done the same if, like me, you have perfectionistic tendencies, compare yourself to others, try to be the best teacher you can, or are addicted to being busy.   I do all of those things, but never was my addiction to busyness as obvious as the spring break when I visited a friend in another state.  When we weren’t shopping, eating or talking, there were a few 30 second lulls in our conversation that left us feeling like we were missing out on something.  Without our crazy school day schedules, we were unknowingly craving chaos.  On the second or third pause in our chat we looked at each other and said, “We need to make something!”   My friend quickly remembered a magazine clipping she had set aside for a rainy day and ran to grab it.  My adrenaline surged as I wondered what idea she had recalled but I waited patiently despite my quickening heartbeat.  Soon she emerged from her room with a page she had torn out of a home decorating magazine.

“What if we each make . . . one of THESE?” she asked, unveiling a picture and directions for creating our very own scented apple wreaths.

“Yes!” I said.  “Our homes will smell like there are always apple pies baking!”

That was all it took to convince us that we should fashion coils of apple slices into wreaths to hang in our kitchens.  In a jiffy we were off to the store to purchase apples, spices, gauge wire, and several yards of ribbon.  After the trip through the produce and baking aisles, and a quick run to the hardware section, we ran over to the fabric department.  We studied the ribbon assortment carefully as there were so many choices, and because when friends are (on vacation) making scented apple wreaths, they do not want to heedlessly choose the wrong ribbon to adorn them.

We got home about two hours later and started carefully coring a huge pile of apples being certain not to accidentally cut in the wrong direction and create unusable slices.  The next step was easy; soak the slices in lemon juice.  Then lay them on a cookie sheet, sprinkle them with spices, and bake them for six hours.  “Six whole hours?” we chorused in surprise.  Yes, we confirmed it.  The directions read, “six whole hours.”

While placing the slices on the available cookie sheets, we started to wonder how we were going to cook all of the wedges without staying up around the clock or working in separate shifts.  We had no choice but to use the two cookie sheets and place the rest of the slices on pie pans, cake pans, and every other oven-safe flat surface we could find in her cabinets.  (God bless her husband who, upon arriving home from an afternoon outing, remarked that the kitchen looked “really different” covered in brown fruit, and who was forced to eat fast food for dinner that evening as the oven was full.)

Space was beginning to become an issue as the kitchen was just big enough for two people to stand in at the same time.  But, by moving around the kitchen in specific movements (like synchronized swimmers) we managed to lay the slices out to dry without knocking into each other.  The next problem was how to fit all of the pans into the tiny oven at once.   There was no way that was going to happen, so eventually we worked out an hourly rotating schedule with us pulling pans from the oven to switch them with other pans that were air drying all over the kitchen.

Six hours later, not a single slice was dry.  And none were dry an hour after that either!  But since it was 11 p.m., we turned off the oven, took out the pans, and put them on the stove top, the kitchen shelves, and atop the refrigerator to continue “drying” through the night.  We looked at each other; our hair mussed from hours of shopping, slicing, soaking, and switching pans, and thought “What have we done?”  Neither of us said it at the time, but I’m sure that was the moment we realized that buying two apple scented candles would have been much easier and we could have relaxed for the evening as well!

The next morning we arose early (and bleary-eyed) in anticipation of finishing our wreaths, only to find that the apples (you guessed it) still weren’t dry! How could this be?  We needed to begin the threading process soon in order to finish them!  I had to fly home the next day.  We eventually threaded the damp pieces together because I had to leave and somehow I got the (somewhat soggy) wreath home in one piece.  However, once dried it was clear I had not used enough apple slices and my wreath didn’t look very good hanging on the wall.  Eventually, it even grew some mold!

I love this memory of making wreaths with my dear friend and I learned an important lesson in the process.  Sometimes, people jump into things not realizing the complications that will ensue.  With the best of intentions, we sign up to be on too many committees not realizing the extra work and stress will make us unbearable to live with, or we single-handedly try to plan a magnificent class project (or field trip or production) that would normally require three full-time planners and we get sick by the time of the event because we are run down, or we try to fit five days of instruction into a four day week and realize that the kids really didn’t really learn the material.

In a world where we are bombarded with messages telling us “more is always better” and that success belongs to those who earn or have or buy or do more, we need to learn to ask, “If I do this, who will be better for it?  Will my life be improved?  Will my family benefit?  Will my students learn more?”  And then we need to stand back far enough from the big picture to see the potential complications that might occur.  After counting the cost, we can move forward with our plans or change them in ways that lead us down a simpler path.   What about you?  Do you have any plans that might be more complicated than they are worth?

Practical Application:

While planning lessons and thinking through daily routines and activities, ask:  Have I made a task, event, project, or lesson more complicated than it needs to be? Do the stress factors of any of my plans outweigh their potential good?  If so, what system, plan, or project do I need to get rid of or change?   Write yourself a reminder to keep your plans simple.

I Want to be First

Not first to arrive in the lunchroom or first to tattle about what happened on the playground at recess or first to the rug to listen to you read.

I want to be first to thank you for the amazing job you did this week.

Thank you for the arguments you mediated, the tears you dried, the papers you graded, the lessons you taught, the kindness you showed, the patience you had, and the lives that you changed.

Thank you for going the extra mile, for planning ahead, for having an impromptu conference with a parent, for consoling the student whose parents are getting divorced, for working through your lunch hour, and for talking a co-worker down off the ledge.

Thank you for returning each day with enthusiasm, for being organized, for helping every student feel part of your classroom community, and for lying awake at night trying to figure out how best to reach your toughest student.

You are changing lives and I want to be first to say thank you.



Have you ever received a kind note from a student at just the right time?  You know, like at the exact moment that you were wondering why you became a teacher?  :)  High Fives for Teachers is a place you can visit to receive ideas and encouragement for all of your teaching days . . . days when you get notes and the days in between.  It’s my plan to share stories that will encourage you, make you laugh, and cheer you on as you teach.  I will share a new story and add book recommendations and meaningful, manageable strategies for teaching every week.  Welcome to High Fives for Teachers!

Just for Today

Have you ever had a day when you realized you weren’t your best self? I have had plenty, but the one that really stands out in my memory occurred during my first year teaching in the primary grades.   I tried very hard to be patient with my students, but I found my patience wearing thin.

“Why are you tardy?” I demanded as Jose sauntered in late.

“Will you just do your work?” I screeched as Monique refashioned her friend’s hair.

“Look at me when I am teaching!” I squawked as Lisa unwound more fibers from the carpet.

Curt comments were pouring out of my mouth all day.  That night, I actually sat myself down and gave myself a good talking to about my behavior! “Remember that they are children.  They need you to be patient and kind no matter what,” I said, resolving that the next day would be different and that I would behave better.

The next day was much better.  Students arrived on time and no one spent time braiding their table mate’s hair or reweaving the carpet during instruction.  Still there were the usual interruptions from students who had misplaced their math papers or spilled their red fruit juice down the fronts of their white shirts, but I managed each situation with a smile.   At day’s end, I dismissed the kids to the hallway to retrieve their jackets and backpacks.  As they ran to their coat hooks, I saw Roberto striding toward me.

“Mrs. Miller?” he inquired.

“Yes?  I replied, still smiling.

“Thank you,” he said in his cute little raspy voice.

“For what, Roberto?” I asked in surprise.

“Just for today,” he said, shrugging his shoulders and looking at me intently.

“Ooooooooh.  That is so sweet of you,” I cooed as I looked at him, waiting to see if he had anything more to say.

“Yeah,” he said nodding his head forward in complete sincerity.  “I just really like it on days when you’re nice.”

I was stunned for an instant, but remembering the day before said, “So do I, Roberto.  So do I.”

I have cracked up more than once while recollecting that humbling conversation, and the lesson I learned has stayed with me.  My mood makes a difference to my students and my actions and words are powerful.

After all, I am able to control an entire classroom with a single glance.

I am able to inflict wounds with a flick of my tongue.

But better, I am able to instill confidence in my students with a simple wink.

I am able to build students up by using choice words to direct them to be on time, to make better choices, and to pay close attention.

I need to control my reactions to the odd and sometimes ridiculous things kids do.  And if I do control them and move forward happily, I make everyone in the class (including myself) a little more thankful just for today.

* Practical application*

After this happened, I began placing little construction paper signs (or post-it notes) where I’d see them as I was teaching and working with students.  I wrote notes that said, “Be nice.” or “Easy does it.” or “Count to ten.”  Sure the kids noticed them, and they used them for themselves.  They didn’t realize that I had put them there for myself, but if they had, I’d have made it a  teachable moment to let them know that even adults need reminders (and practice) being nice.