1| Do some “karaoke” reading.
Using age-appropriate movies or cartoons with subtitles is a novel way to motivate reluctant readers. “I mute the sound and have students take the parts of the different characters,” says Alexandra Mayzler, author of Tutor in a Book. As the movie plays, students read the dialogue. (It’s okay to pause the movie, if necessary.) This activity reinforces students’ reading skills and comprehension because they can see the action on screen as they read. And it allows reading practice beyond traditional books.
2| Be word architects.
“Reluctant readers are reluctant because reading is difficult,” says Jennifer Little, a teacher and the owner of ParentsTeachKids.com. “They are missing many critical decoding skills and have difficulty comprehending complex sentences.” To build vocabulary, she recommends using a one- or two-paragraph selection and asking questions such as: What word also means ___? What is another word the writer could have used instead of ___? Then, help them comprehend complex sentences by asking questions like: What is the topic sentence of the paragraph? In the third sentence, which word or words tell where/when/how the subject acted? Ask students to draw a picture that depicts all the information in the paragraph (use a text that describes a setting or character).
3| Sniff out the news.
Divide the class into small groups and provide each with a newspaper article. Ask each group to list the five W’s of their article (who, what, when, where, why) and then write two inferences from the article. Then ask groups to write their own short, made-up news story that includes the five W’s. Suggestions can include a story on a hurricane, a big sports event, or the discovery of life on another planet.
4| Make a Mad Libs book.
Ask students to make their own Mad Libs–type books by selecting a paragraph or two from a favorite book and copying the passage onto another piece of paper, leaving blanks for at least 10 words. Under each blank, the student should write the part of speech to be used, such as noun, verb, adjective, or adverb. Pair students, asking one to call out the type of word needed and fill in his or her partner’s word choices. Have them switch roles, and, once they’re done, read their stories aloud to each other.
5| Record an audiobook.
As a group or individual project, ask students to create their own books on tape. They should choose a favorite short story or a chapter from a book and record themselves reading it. Advise students that they will be graded on their ability to read with expression. Groups can divvy up the dialogue of various characters to make the story sound more like a play. The class can donate their books on tape to a younger class or the school or local library.
6| Create a graphic novel.
Many kids who have read Diary of a Wimpy Kid or other popular graphic novels are interested in creating their own. Tell them that they can make up their own stories or retell a favorite story in comic-book form. Discuss the development of plot and character and how the comic format can be used to show the progession of action. Offer opportunities for them to share their completed stories with the class, and consider binding their books to leave at school or take home. For more ideas, check out You Can Do a Graphic Novel by Barbara Slate.
7| Form book clubs.
“Teens often feel hesitant to read because they seldom have any choice about the material,” says Anna Piepmeyer, program director at Open Books, a nonprofit that promotes literacy. “Allowing students to read whatever they want is a great way to get them jazzed about books.” Consider launching small-group book clubs based on mutual interests; for instance, one group may focus on science fiction, another on mysteries. Allow each group to select a grade-level book that fits their theme and provide time for them to meet. To get discussions rolling, design a list of general questions, such as what they like or dislike about the main characters, and their predictions for the story.
8| Get in character.
Give middle schoolers the opportunity to slip into the skin of a favorite character, Piepmeyer suggests. Divide the class into groups and assign each group a character, then have them come up with a skit showcasing that character in a new situation. For example, their character might be going to a new school, in an urban setting instead of a rural one, or dealing with an unexpected conflict. Students will have to read carefully to understand the quirks of their character, such as his or her voice, vocabulary, and personality, in order to create their skits. After groups develop their skits, allow each to present their skit to the class.