9 Ways to Get Teens Reading
Parents know how to inspire a love of books in babies and toddlers: Just put ’em on your lap, and start reading. But as kids get older and go to school, reading can be seen as work rather than fun — and kids, especially teens, may stop reading for pleasure. Here are nine ways to get teens reading, either again or for the first time.
- Find the “why” in YA. YA (young adult) novels tackle the edgy issues teens struggle with, from peer pressure and romantic longing to grief and trouble at home or school. Whether they’re personally grappling with these issues or seeking vicarious thrills, teens gravitate toward subject matter that’s relatable. Check the YA bestseller lists and our book reviews for ideas.
- Merge movies with books. Hollywood is turning to teen lit for ideas more than ever. Offer your teen the print version to read before or after a big film adaptation comes out, and talk about the similarities and differences between the two.
- Get graphic. Gone are the days when graphic novels were dismissed as comic books. Now recognized as literature, they may be the key to getting some teens hooked on books. They’re available in a wide range of genres — from adventure and fantasy to historical fiction, memoir, and biography — so certainly there’s a graphic novel out there to suit your teen’s taste. See our editors’ picks for Graphic Novels and Graphic Novels That Teach History.
- Lure ’em with adult books. Find nonfiction titles on subjects your teen’s curious about, such as climate change, race, political corruption, or true crime. Check adult nonfiction bestseller lists to see what’s catching fire. Funny adult books also work (by David Sedaris or Tina Fey, for example), as do horror (Stephen King), mysteries (Agatha Christie), thrillers (James Patterson, John Grisham), fantasy (George R.R. Martin), science fiction (Isaac Asimov), and sports (Michael Lewis).
- Try poetry. Novels in verse are a popular trend. All that white space on the page makes them easy to read, and the spare, lyrical approach can really pack a punch. Try Sarah Crossan’s One, Stasia Ward Kehoe’s The Sound of Letting Go, or Ellen Hopkins’ Rumble. Memoirs in verse are taking hold, too; check out Marilyn Nelson’s How I Discovered Poetry.
- Let them listen. Spark teens’ interest by getting an audio book to listen to on the way to school or on long drives. Let them download audiobooks to their smartphones. (They won’t risk looking uncool, because they’ll be under headphones or have their earbuds in.)
- Model reading. Read at home where your teens can see you. Talk about what you’re reading, and express your enjoyment. Always take a book or magazine along when you go to the beach or face waiting in a long line. Send your teen the message that reading is a pleasure, not a chore.
- Keep reading material around. Kids who grow up with lots of books around tend to read more. Stock the bathroom, car, dining table — wherever there’s a captive audience — with comic books, graphic novels, and magazines geared to your teens’ interests; first books in hit YA series; or classic sci-fi and mysteries. There’s nothing wrong with “micro-reading.”
- Give the gift of reading. Hand your teen a gift card to your local bookstore. They’ll discover the treasure-hunt fun of looking for a good book.
This reading comprehension video talks you through the strategies that good readers use to understand what they are reading. You can utilize these strategies with your child so they can consciously practice while reading.
Try these six tips to get middle schoolers reading:
Let them choose what they read: Having control over what they read increases kids’ motivation to do it. And don’t criticize their choices or formats — books, ebooks, graphic novels, articles. To widen the field, take them to the library or bookstore. Browsing in a used bookstore can be a revelation (and easier on your wallet!). For great suggestions for all types of kids, check out our Summer Reading List.
Feed their interests: Whatever your kids are into — basketball, space exploration, World War II, alien invasions, wizards and dragons, humor, teen romance, social justice, books about middle school (a vast genre unto itself!) — there are books about it. Finding a book on a topic your kid is already passionate about is half the battle.
Make it social: Reading the latest hit book lets your kid be a part of what “everyone” is talking about. Many friendships have been formed over a love of Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Check the middle-grade bestseller lists, clue your kid into book blogs (including ones by kids and teens), and ask booksellers and librarians what kids this age are requesting. And keep your ears tuned to book raves on carpool rides!
Mix movies and books: Many books written for kids and teens are adapted into movies, and knowing there’s a big-screen version on the way can motivate kids to read the book first — or after — to compare the book and movie versions of, say, Wonder or A Wrinkle in Time. It also gives kids the chance to be the expert who knows more on a subject than their parents.
Follow the series: If your kid likes the first book in a series, keep ’em coming. Adventure sagas and dystopian nail-biters, which kids love at this age, have lots of installments, each ending on a tempting cliffhanger. Getting hooked on a series like Percy Jackson or The Mortal Instruments leads to being hooked on an author, which leads to more books and even spin-off series.
Make time for reading: Model reading at home by turning off the TV and devices and reading a book or magazine yourself in full view — your kids will be more inclined to follow your lead and read themselves. Try reading aloud: Big kids like it, too. And when you go out, get kids in the habit of bringing a book or magazine along in the car: They’re great boredom killers!
Whether you examine any of the research on how the brain acquires information, you will find there are 20 ways to deliver instruction. These instructional strategies increase academic achievement for all students regardless of grade level or content area, decrease behavior problems and make teaching and learning engaging.
- Brainstorming and Discussion: Engaging students in a spirited discussion is a useful way to enhance comprehension. Teachers often ask recitation questions where the answer choice is either right or wrong. Discussion questions, on the other hand, can challenge students’ thinking since there can be more than one appropriate response. As a teacher, focus on facilitating discussions between and amongst students.
- Drawing and Artwork: Many students have a natural affinity for drawing. Use it! I could have stopped periodically and had students draw a scene from The Lottery. A picture of the box in which the lottery slips were kept would have been a good way to ascertain students’ attention to detail.
- Field Trips: The brain remembers what it experiences when it travels to places in the real world. Having students make written predictions regarding what they will see on the trip and then write about what was seen are good literary activities to incorporate. Virtual field trips enable students to travel to places that would otherwise be inaccessible or cost prohibitive.
- Games: Nothing facilitates a good review better than playing a game. Dividing students into three heterogeneous teams and competing in a spirited game of Jeopardy is a good way to review major concepts prior to a test. Tossing a Nerf ball for students to catch is a great way to call on students to respond.
- Graphic Organizers, Semantic Maps, and Word Webs: I would be hard pressed to teach any comprehension skill without the use of graphic organizers. This strategy appeals to both hemispheres of the brain. Create mind maps for teaching main idea and details, sequence of events, cause and effect, compare and contrast, and many other comprehension skills.
- Humor: The job of the “class clown” is to research an approved joke and tell it at a designated time during the period. This role rotates among all students who choose to fulfill it. Jim Carey related the story of how one of his high school teachers made a deal with him that if he participated in class and completed all homework, he could have the last minute of class to tell a joke. The rest is history.
- Manipulatives, Experiments, Labs, and Models: Having students read and follow the directions for an experiment or for building a model is a way to integrate literacy across the curriculum.
- Metaphors, Analogies, and Similes: One of the highest level thinking strategies is the use of metaphors. When a student can find ways to compare two or more dissimilar things, they are really using their brains. For example, when teaching main idea and supporting details, I compare it to a table and legs.
- Mnemonic Devices: Every content area contains acronyms and acrostics, shortened ways of helping students retain content. While these may not foster higher levels of thought, they go a long way toward increasing the amount of content students can remember.
- Movement: Movement is my favorite strategy, since anything students learn while in motion has a better chance of being remembered. Having students form a living timeline is an effective way to teach and learn sequence of events.
- Music, Rhythm, Rhyme, and Rap: Have students create a song, rhyme, or rap that depicts students’ understanding of a concept previously taught. While completing this assignment, they must employ one of the highest levels of thinking—synthesis—or the ability to take information and put it into a different form.
- Project-Based and Problem-Based Learning: Take 10 or 15 literary objectives and incorporate them into a real-life project or give them a relevant problem to solve. These objectives will be mastered so much easier if students encounter them within the context of real life.
- Reciprocal Teaching and Cooperative Learning: Having students sometimes work in pairs or teams to accomplish curricular objectives is a good way to ensure that they are career and “life” ready since the ability to work together is a major workplace and community competency.
- Role Plays, Drama, Pantomimes, and Charades: When students act out the steps in a math word problem, pantomime a content-area vocabulary word as classmates guess it, or dramatize a scene from history, it goes a long way toward enabling them to remember the information prior to and after a test.
- Storytelling: While invaluable in social studies, storytelling is a cross curricular strategy. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end and connect content together. These connections facilitate memory. Tell stories as you deliver content and then have students create their own and watch recall improve.
- Technology: The use of technology is another workplace competency that every student should acquire prior to graduation. It is essential since so much literacy today involves computer literacy. However, I would like to add a word of caution. I have observed students who are so engrossed in technology that they have little time for anything else such as developing the social skills necessary for successful teamwork or the movement so essential for good health and long life.
- Visualization and Guided Imagery: When authors do not provide visuals in a story, novel, or textbook, good readers are able to create their own visuals of what they are reading. Many students find this strategy difficult to implement since so many of the technological devices they interface with today have visuals provided. Pausing during read alouds and having students develop pictures in their brains of what they are seeing as they read is a good way is a good way to help them perfect their visualization skills.
- Visuals: We live in an extremely visual world. So visual, in fact, that at least 50% of students who walk into any classroom today will be predominantly visual learners. Comprehension is facilitated when students have visuals (pictures, captions, bold and subheadings, charts, and graphs) to assist them.
- Work Study and Apprenticeships: Work study refers to apprenticeships, internships, and externships. In other words, it is on-the-job training. Can you begin to imagine how much informational text reading and comprehension would occur when students are learning to repair an engine, become a dental hygienist, or prepare culinary delights?
- Writing and Journals: I have known good readers who were not necessarily good writers, but I have not known the opposite. Those who write well usually have a good command of the language which they use expertly to communicate their message. Even stopping periodically for quick writes facilitates memory and understanding.
Interesting Literacy Based Videos
“Power of Reading”: What can reading do for us? It can do things that you wouldn’t ever imagine, changing your life for good. Discover the benefits of trying to read at least one book.
Best Practices: High School Reading Strategies:This video demonstrates methods to use with high school students that will increase their reading skills.
Mindstorm Saturdays: Learn about different applications of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) through hands-on activities, discussions, and career exploration. Each month, a different topic will be explored. Snacks and Ride to Read passes will be available. Great for curious kids in grades 6 – 8, but other kids are welcome to attend as well. (This program will resume following Covid-19.)
Books by the Stack for Teens: Looking for reading passages for your older child?
Anime Club: Thursdays, January 7 and 14, 2021 from 5:30 – 6:30 pm – Virtual Program | Zoom – Pre-registration required. Join our virtual Anime Club to talk with other enthusiasts about your favorite fandom, discuss comics and manga, play online games, and enjoy anime-related content together! This online program is designed for anime fans aged 13 and up. Register today!
CommonLit is a nonprofit education technology organization dedicated to ensuring that all students, especially students in Title I schools, graduate with the reading, writing, communication, and problem-solving skills they need to be successful in college and beyond. This website has an entire library filled with stories that can be selected based on genre, grade level, literary device, text sets, and themes.