Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Getting a teen (or pre-teen) to Love Reading

This is a topic I see frequently and recently took the time to make these recommendations to a friend, so I thought I'd post it here too. The key thing to get a teenager (or pre-teen) turned on to reading is to selects books interest him/her. When I taught Reading to middle schoolers I would always start the school year telling my kids that if all they learned this year was to love to read, I did my job (I also taught them other classes: grammar, composition, & vocabulary to the same group). I loved it when, mid-year, kids that NEVER picked up a book were reading ahead in the class novel we were reading together.

One day, a student came up to me (the principal's son, lol) and said one morning before school started, "I hope you aren't mad at me because I read the next chapter! I had to know what happened next!!" I pretended to be mad at him and took him to the principal's office (his dad). When I told his dad what he had done his dad picked up on what I was doing and "scolded" him for reading ahead and then lost it laughing and said, "this is the happiest day of my life!" His son was so adamant about reading that he couldn't believe what had happened.

In one school year each student had read 11 novels (2 in the summer before school started, 6 with me-I read or the kids read aloud, and 3 individual books the kids had to select for their independent reading). Both parents and kids couldn't believe that they had read so many novels in one school year when they were accustomed to maybe two books in the past.

The key? Two things:
1. I read the six novels to them (out loud) and did a couple of things to get them to participate. At the beginning I only selected good readers to read and towards the middle they all were fighting to get a chance to read, by the end of the school year some kids were reading during my grammar class (another class-hiding their books in their desks-normally it would be a note or doing homework for another class but instead they were READING their independent novels)!!! Now there were a handful of advid readers in the group (maybe 5 out of 33-35 kids). These were NOT the ones doing this, it was the ones who were "on the fence" about reading and some who were totally in the outfield, not interested in reading at all! At the beginning the kids were shocked that I was reading to them in middle school! But they loved it! Also, I did a lot of think alouds while reading. This is when you pause while reading and make a connection to your life (something you remember or connect to another character or person). They loved that, it is quick (maybe a 20 second pause) think aloud and then you just keep going. This taught the kids to do this naturally when they read their own novels. Sometimes the kids would add to my think aloud, saying things like, "that actually reminds me of this..." or "oh, I thought of the same thing".

2. I taught them how to select a novel they liked and to learn that they had to make a good choice.
  • First, it had to interest them.
  • Second, the style of writing the author uses is important because the topic could interest you but if the author's writing is weird or difficult to follow??? it wouldn't work.
  • Third, the reading level is important. Make sure the novel is at or above their independent reading level. You can go here and get an idea of what level your child is on.
  • Make a follow up activity for the novel, like a reading log where they keep track of how much they read and to summarize the chapters or even sections of the chapter. Don't make this rigorous because this is an independent novel. But the log would let me know (especially at the beginning) if they were reading or at what pace.
Now for comprehension, you can do something simple such as a GIST Summary. You start with 50 words (50 Word GIST) and when he masters that number of words with a great paragraph, you decrease the number of words by five 45, 40, 35, until you get to 30. This is a way to help students be VERY selective with what will be in their summaries will look like. This is harder than it sounds but once they get the hang of it, it is fun and easy. I even tested them on this with a prompt. "Such and such characters developed a conflict through out this chapter. Describe the conflict in 40 words or less." It's a great writing and comprehension activity!

You need to start by finding your child's independent reading level, then take him to the library and help him select books he will like at his level or a year above. Don't go any higher than this. This is how I taught my kids to select an independent novel:
1. find a book
2. read the title, sound interesting? then,
3. flip through the pages, then
4. read the back summary, still interesting? then,
5. open to Chapter One and read the first paragraph, still interesting? THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU!

I also encouraged kids to read chapters one, two and three before deciding if that book wasn't the right one. AND this rarely happened because steps one through five above really work, but encourage them to put the book down and find a new one if they are just dragging themselves through the book. This is for independent books, if it's for a read aloud (YOU HAVE TO LIKE THEM TOO)!!!

What does your child like to do? Maybe I can recommend some books I've used in the past. Mind you, they are not Catholic but I did use them in a Catholic school and I was very selective (I did extensive research and read the books first before reading them to my students). Here are some of the books I've used: Tangerine, Things Not Seen, Behind My Bedroom Wall (about the Holocaust), Walk Two Moons, A Wrinkle in Time...these are the ones that I recall that the class as a whole loved! Hope this helps.

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