5 Ways to Engage Reluctant Readers

engaging reluctant readers
(Image credit: Image by Tumisu from Pixabay)

School librarian Mindy Engler isn’t a big fan of the term “reluctant reader.” 

“Really, teenagers are all reluctant readers to some extent,” she says. “Especially with everything they divide their time with, to sit down and read a book takes a lot sometimes.” 

Engler is the high school library media specialist at Canton City Schools and offers these successful strategies that utilize both technology and good old-fashioned classroom management. Using these approaches can help inspire reluctant readers … er, teenagers, to spend time with books. 

1. Engaging Reluctant Readers: Provide Access  

Giving kids a chance to read in whatever format they want, whether that’s a print book, ebook, or audiobook, is key to the success Canton City Schools have had around reading, Engler says. 

“Students have access to a school library right here, and two different apps for ebooks,” she says. One app is Sora, which was added during the pandemic, and which kids use to check out books during breaks from school and on the weekend. 

“I love showing people our checkout stats, where I can see that kids are checking out a book at 9:30 on a Friday night,” she says.  

2.  Sustained Silent Reading in The Classroom  

A number of teachers within the district devote a certain amount of time each class or every other class to reading. “They allow students to choose whatever it is that they want to read,” Engler says. 

This practice helps eliminate one of the main obstacles to reading for students (and adults): lack of free time. “With teenagers being busy and having so many other things vying for their attention [it helps] to actually give kids some time in class in school to read a book of their choice,” she says. 

3. Book Club  

Engler has hosted a book club since 2018. Once again, student choice is a key component of the approach. 

“Students choose the books that they want to read,” she says. “I have a big list that I show them, and we show book trailers, and then at the beginning of the year, they choose all the books that look interesting to them.”  

They then narrow it down to one that they read over a nine-week period during which the emphasis is on reading for pleasure not memorizing facts or looking for themes. 

“Another part of getting kids to read is to make it fun,” Engler says. “There's no tests on it. We just read the book and come to the library and have a book discussion.” 

4. Teachers Modeling Reading 

Teachers in the district encourage reading for pleasure by posting what they’re reading, not on social media, but literally on doors outside their offices or classrooms. 

“I have that outside my office, things I'm currently reading and currently listening to and what I've read,” Engler says. Students are also encouraged to share what they’ve read and Engler will post it on a big bulletin board. These efforts help foster an ongoing conversation around reading.  

5. Prioritize Student Choice in Reading 

Engler is an advocate for students choosing what they read when they are reading for fun. “If it's your choice, you're going to be invested in that,” she says. “We tell students if you read the first 50 pages and it's not interesting, it's okay to put that book down and pick up another one that you would like to read. Verse novels, graphic novels, rereading favorites -- all of that is part of that student choice.” 

While Canton City Schools still has required readings, Engler advocates for adding some level of student choice to that process as well, if feasible. “I always say, ‘You can teach things that are in the standards such as setting and theme with any type of books.' So if kids are maybe not as engaged in one book, maybe have lit circles and they can choose a couple of different books." 

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a Tech & Learning contributor. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.