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: http://www.fcrr.org/curriculum/PDF/G2-3/2-3Fluency_3.pdf    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.


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