Getting Reluctant Readers to Read

Not every student loves to read, but there are benefits missed by not including any reading in one’s studies. Of course, some degree of reading is unavoidable, for example, one has to read a homework assignment or a short email announcement. But extended reading? That has to be a conscious choice.

Let’s see if we can make that choice easier.

1. Audiobooks
This is the first alternative. Audiobooks are wonderful for extended listening, but for a reluctant reader, audiobooks also allow a read-along experience. Students can get a copy of the text and read along silently as they listen. LibriVox is one of several sites with books from the public domain read aloud. For copies of public domain books, students can search Project Gutenberg. With a bit of digging and some luck, you can also find copies of human-read audiobooks on that site.

YouTube is another place to check for audiobooks. Some channels have a playlist of books chapters read aloud. You can find users who have uploaded classics like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes or Treasure Island Personally, I’d be more entertained by Mark Hamill’s reading of War World Z, and so might some of our reluctant readers.

2. Graded reading materials
Reluctance to read can be triggered by the level of difficulty. Authentic texts can pose a challenge for a learner who is still developing grammar and vocabulary skills. Graded readings help. I’ve been using ReadWorks with intermediate students, and I’ve been selecting K-12 texts with audio. A good portion of the audio recordings are still by a computer, but I personally have been contributing my voice to increase the number of human-read texts. (Write to me if you want to know which texts I’ve recorded.) I believe in the value of the site, and I’m happy to make sure readers of all ages have a human model as much as possible. The audio support is a key benefit in my opinion. I also appreciate the range in content, and I select readings from fiction and nonfiction, depending on my students’ interests.

Some titles from children’s literature are appropriate for adult learners, particularly nonfiction. On YouTube I recently came across Mrs. Clark’s Reading Corner. As it’s Black History Month, you may appreciate her Black History Read Alouds. You could tie in Mrs. Clark’s reading of the Ruby Bridges story with the two articles on ReadWorks (3rd and 4th grades) which also tell about the first African American child to desegregate an all-white elementary school in New Orleans, Louisiana.

3. Chat Fiction
Have you tried this yet? These apps are mostly geared toward a young crowd, but I wouldn’t dismiss them just because the content tends to be fluffy. Graphic novels have also enjoyed popularity, and it’s precisely because they don’t feel like stodgy classic literature that certain people love them. Similarly, chat fiction creates a very different reading experience — one for the digital native.

Critics may say that many chat fiction apps strive to make voyeurism entertaining, and you read a text chat as if you’ve just hacked into someone else’s phone. You tap on each text after you read it, and the story unfolds line by line. The good thing about this format is that you set the pace. I learned about Yarn from my own children. Apparently, the app gained some popularity at school for a while, which tells you something about the intended audience. However, the nature of the numerous love stories is not appropriate for children under, say, 15.

Other chat fiction apps combine chat fiction with the choose-your-own-adventure format. I decided to give My Story a go, and I was entertained or at least curious enough to get through the first chapter of two different stories. This is the kind of app that combines texting with graphics and music. Of course, the emphasis on how your character looks is very superficial, but some reluctant readers may get a kick out of choosing an outfit for the main character before moving on to the next scene.

What’s your opinion of chat fiction? Is there any other resource that you’d recommend for a reluctant reader?

Photo credit: Read, Book, Reader, Education by Anher. Retrieved from the Public Domain at

4 Comments Add yours

  1. MrMike ELT says:

    Thanks for the blog Jennifer. Do you actually read all the story from a book and give it to your students as audio? Also, never knew of chat stories and it was interesting to read. Will try My story app. with my students this week…

    1. With my adult learners, they read before class. Sometimes we may read part of a story together, but mostly we use class time for discussion. I mostly recommend novels for extended reading. I’m currently reading a young adult novel with one student (The Giver). We’re covering two chapters a week. One chapter is read before class, and one chapter is read in class. This is combined with a vocabulary check and discussion.

      I only recommend chat fiction for older students. Some of that content is highly sexualized. But students should read what they enjoy when it comes to extended reading. I remember reading romance novels in Russian because that was more up my alley. 🙂

  2. I think reading is probably one of the best things an English student can do. It improves their vocabulary, reinforces sentence structure and grammar (without going over boring grammar stuff) and they can learn other things like phrasal verbs and collocations.

    The only problem is that the average student has little interest in reading. This is a great pity because it has fantastic benefits.

    I agree with your point about audiobooks. The student can improve listening plus read the text at the same time. A very useful thing to do.

    1. Thanks for adding to the discussion, David. I’ve observed those benefits. I know students who have invested time in reading for pleasure, and their vocabulary and understanding of sentence structure is generally strong.

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