Motivating Big Kids and Teens to Read

Hello, Literacy Land readers!  It's Lauren here today from Teacher Mom of 3 to continue a collaborative discussion about motivating readers and sustaining that momentum. Last month I shared my tips for Motivating Our Littlest Readers. You can read that post here.

Today, I want to share ideas and professional reading suggestions to keep the spark alive with older readers- those in grade three and above.  Some of you may not know that I have spent roughly half of my twenty-five years in education working with students in grades 6-12.  Although much has changed since I first stepped into my classroom back in 1989, one constant remains:  kids of all ages are wired to learn, are curious, and want and need to see purpose and authenticity in their learning.

As literacy teachers, we want to ignite the spark and fan the flame to create life-long readers. Miller and Gallagher state that "The highest priority is to create lifelong readers".  But what happens when the spark that was ignited in the early elementary years wanes?  Just the other day, one of my dearest friends who teaches eighth grade ELA, stated that her struggling readers see no purpose in reading.  They are burned out by the time they get to her classroom from reading to prepare for the "big test".  They see no joy in reading.  In the book Readicide by Kelly Gallagher, he states, "Students are taught that the reason they should become readers is to pass a test" (p.17).  Jeffrey Wilhelm, author of You Gotta BE the Book shares that we must help students to pursue reading in a personally, meaningful way.  In addition, Smith and Wilhelm found that boys, especially, want to understand the value of reading and need a reading purpose that relates to their lives.

But how do we as teachers accomplish this?  How can we create passionate readers and share with parents the importance of continuing to encourage their children to read at home?

Here are a few ideas that research supports and that I have found to work in my classroom.

Tips for Teachers:  Creating Passionate Readers

  • Before we can help unmotivated readers, we need to find out why they are reluctant to read.  Is it because they are struggling readers, reading below grade level?  Is it because they are are not interested in the texts we use in the classroom?  Are they burned out from too much test prep and lack an understanding of the importance of reading?  Do they see no joy in reading?  Is it because the way we are presenting, teaching, structuring our lessons does not appeal to their learning style?  Once we determine the why and diagnose the issue, then we can work to remediate.

  • How do we accomplish this?  I suggest using interest surveys, learning styles assessments, Multiple Intelligence surveys, and student conferences.  Laura Candler has some free resources for determining students' learning styles and interests.  Check out free printable forms here and here to get started.

  • Gallagher recommends that we use the 50/50 approach when planning our reading instruction.  That is, 50% of reading in the classroom should be recreational, independent, student-selected reading.  The other 50% should be academic reading. Gallagher shares that if we are only doing academic reading, we will not develop life-long readers ( p. 109).  He goes on to say that "Kids who do the most recreational reading become the best readers" (p. 42).

  • Make sure that every student has a book to take home and read for fun that they have selected and that they have an invested interest in. This is the single most important issue in our quest to develop readers (Gallagher, p. 46).

  • Implement teacher and student Book Talks, Graffiti Walls, flexible reading groups, literacy circles, and acknowledge all types of reading as important including magazines, digital texts, audio texts, manuals of how to fix things or to figure out how things work, or reading about how things work. Be passionate and enthusiastic in sharing your own reading experiences. Allow for student choice and time for reading in the classroom.

Of course, this is just a starting point.  For more information, check out the following professional books to help ignite passionate, life-long readers and thinkers {click on the pictures to view the books on Amazon}:

What ideas do you have to motivate older readers?  How do you instill confidence in struggling readers and help them to discover the joy and pleasure of reading?  Share your ideas in the comments section!


  1. I love me some Kelly Gallagher! I had the pleasure of attending one of his workshops many moons ago, and he motivated me to completely change the way I was teaching. I stopped doing as many whole-class novels and focused, instead, on student-led book clubs. I NEVER had such a group of readers as when I allow my students to pick their own groups, books, pace, and roles. I've blogged about this many times on my own page because I think it's really made all the difference!

    1. Yes, I agree that Gallagher is great- he's a realist and "hits the nail on the head"! How cool that you got to hear him speak!!! I also so agree with you about less whole class novels and more book clubs. I need to go read some of your blog posts! Thanks for sharing your ideas! Lauren

  2. Readicide is on my list of books to read! The others look great too. I really need to read these and talk to our teachers about this issue. There is so much test prep going on that they are actually doing worse on the tests each year. Getting students to enjoy reading will make reading instruction more meaningful to students. You are so right on ~ motivation is key!

    Reading Toward the Stars

    1. Andrea- The book is well worth the read, and is filled with research support. I personally think that every admin and supervisor of ELA should read it too! Lauren

  3. You've convinced me to order Readicide. It's such a challenge to get our teens to pick up a book and read it. Thanks for a motivating post! I'd love to hear more about graffiti walls. :)

    1. Wendy, Readicide is a great book! Not as easy to read as The Book Whisperer, but it is filled with research and really challenges you to rethink or validate your instruction. I'll do a post about Graffiti walls soon! :-)