Sneaky methods for engaging reluctant readers

Bev Humphrey

Bev Humphrey is a former school librarian who now works as a literacy and technology consultant, as well as fulfilling the role of website content editor and editor of SLA Digital for the School Library Association. Bev visits many schools each year as an Accelerated Reader trainer, and delivers courses/training all over the country on topics such as using social media in schools, promoting reading for pleasure, and digital storytelling.

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Image credit: Flickr // halfmind Image credit: Flickr // halfmind

We are in boom times for children’s and YA literature, it seems, and more and more publishers are publishing books that are engaging for struggling readers to get them more motivated to read. I’ve often found it easier to ‘rev up’ the reading of those that have low literacy levels than to excite the interest of the ‘can read, won’t read’ crowd. It seems amazing, and a little incomprehensible, to me that young people who are able to access the fantastic imaginations of fab authors don’t show any inclination to do so - do they not realise that they could be fighting with ninjas in Chris Bradford’s books or travelling through magical realms with Garth Nix’s Lirael?

Pah! Unfortunately my disbelief and encouragement hasn’t always worked to give them a metaphorical kick up the backside into reading, so I’ve had to explore other, sneakier methods. The vast majority of children and young people I have come into contact with may not be readers, but in fact they are reading a lot each day, via their phones or tablets on social media sites or special interest blogs. Tapping into this love of technology can be very successful in encouraging reading and as a geeky reader myself I love using tech in this way.

One of the most effective ways to encourage reading is by tapping into the BookTube community on YouTube.“Young people are reading a lot each day via their phones.” The site’s vast popularity shows no signs of abating, as can be seen by the success of YouTubers like Zoella, her brother ThatcherJoe and DanTDM, all of whom have huge followings on the site. Zoella’s team up with WHSmith for book recommendations has been very successful, encouraging many teens to buy and read books that they might never have discovered otherwise. The titles chosen are wide-ranging in content, with something for all tastes. Zoella’s choices have even inspired some book vloggers to create ‘unboxing’ videos, and this particular video has had nearly 3500 views …..really - that many people want to watch someone opening a box?!

The unboxing videos have always foxed me really - I just can’t see the appeal, but obviously a lot of young people disagree with me! ThatcherJoe, or Joe Sugg to give him his real name, has published a couple of graphic novels in his Username series, with the final one being published in September of this year. The series even has its own Twitter account to keep the excitement going (@USERNAMESERIES), with 38,500 followers. DanTDM vlogs about Minecraft, and although there isn’t a direct link with books, referencing his channel in conjunction with information about the many Minecraft books that are published would add a little bit of kudos to any display. The Elementia Chronicles series are Minecraft-based novels that any young computer fan would probably devour quite happily as they allow the reader to stay within the addictive virtual world of the game.

Having a school YouTube channel and using this to create playlists of vlogger videos can work well and is easily accomplished. The other great reading promotion resource you can find on YouTube are book trailers: in the same way that films have always had a trailer released before the film comes out to whet movie goers appetites, many publishers and authors now do a similar thing with books, releasing a teaser trailer before the title is published.

These film snippets can look very professional, or may take a more informal style, but they are great fun and do bring kids attention to books they might otherwise overlook. The engaging nature of the trailers can also jolt readers out of their self imposed genre boundaries and spur them into reading something new - not just Wimpy Kid! Subscribing to publisher channels like HarperCollins will mean you are advised each time they add new content. Another great source of trailers to use is the World Book Day site, as there are several channels of videos here for all age groups.

I’ve found one of the most powerful stimuli for reading can be meeting an author and hearing them talk about their books, but with dwindling budgets it’s not always feasible to have regular visits in schools. If this is the case in your school, why not bring the author to you virtually by joining in with the regular events on sites such as Puffin Virtually Live, Scottish Book Trust’s Authors Live or Children’s Authors Live. All of these sites have great archives of previous events that you can watch at your leisure if you are not able to take part at the set time, and they always have wonderful authors speaking.

Reading from a tablet or phone can be a more comfortable experience for some kids, and adults too of course. I couldn’t consider reading from my phone (eyesight isn’t great, one of the downsides of ageing!), but I do most of my reading on my iPad, because it’s just more convenient. Another advantage of reading from a device for a young person is that no one can see what you are reading, so you do not feel as if you are being judged by your choice of books - sadly, teasing from peers is all too prevalent and can result in a complete switch off from reading. Not all kids like reading ebooks, but investing in a limited number via an ebook platform would ensure that you are catering to all tastes. Well-produced book apps can be an enticing carrot for reluctant readers too. Here’s my top five list - this was such a difficult choice to narrow down, as there are so many that I wouldn’t want to be without:

Me Books:
War Horse:
Captain Underpants:
Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy:

I love apps that give augmented reality experiences. As long as you have the physical book too, they provide a perfect marriage of gorgeous physical books with technology that makes them come alive. Good quality ones are few and far between but these are just wonderful:

Two Left Feet:

Peer recommendation can be a motivator for some kids, but I didn’t have a lot of success in getting my students to write book reviews in my time as a school librarian (“Allow it miss! That’s so lame!”). However, I’ve approached it differently when working with other schools by asking them to write “DanTDM vlogs about Minecraft, and these add a little bit of kudos to any display.”a blog post about their last book and publishing them with an accompanying photo - vanity, thy name is youth, to paraphrase a well known saying! Even just a few lines if written by the coolest kid in the class can prompt a run on a particular book and featuring guest blog posts from teachers or well known local figures is good fun and an interesting exercise. Snippets from these blog posts used as screensavers on school computers give a tantalising flash of inspiration, providing a small chocolate reward for writing a blog post is even more motivating… although there are naturally more healthy ways to reward writers if you so wish!

I hope these ideas have sparked something for you, dear reader, and that we can all use technology to encourage kids to enter worlds of adventure, fear, romance, sadness and excitement in between the pages of that most magical of artefacts: a book.

How do you get kids into reading? Let us know below!

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