Okay, so I am sitting in my Junior English class and I am about to teach thirty high school juniors their first short story for the year, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”. I ask them what stories from the past they have liked. They give me this dumfounded look as though they do not know what a story is.
In a nutshell, they explain to me that the stories and poems they have been given in past years are boring. So, they don’t read. The novels that they were suppose to read were never opened and Cliffnotes and Sparknotes were the reason they passed their previous English classes.
I then proceed to tell them a story of my own. I remind them how cool it was to get their first library card and go to the library or bookmobile and check out as many books as the librarian would allow them to check out. There must be a way to get these kids to enjoy the pleasure of reading again, I ponder.
For the past two years, through trial and error I found what works. Here are five ways to get your students to read:
1. Give the students choices. Pick some books that are contemporary and classical and give them 3-5 synopsises of the books. Make sure they are different genres.
2. Find out your students’ hobbies. Everyone enjoys reading what they are interested in outside of school. My husband says he is not much of a reader but if you but a baseball biography in front of him, he won’t put it down until he is finished.
3. Read to them some good samples. I found that my high school students love the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. They love the stories and poems because they are emotional stories.
4. Start Short. Students always look at length of stories, poetry, and plays and role their eyes when it hits over five pages in length. Get them hooked first and then slowly get into longer stories and novels.
5. Get them into Literature Circles. Teachers can give the small groups a list of questions for discussion. Keep the groups at four or less kids. Again, start with simple who, what, where, when, how questions and then slowly add more interpretation questions. Kids are more apt to discuss the literature in a small group then they are in a group of 30.
Reading IS fundamental to understanding the people and the world around us. We owe it to our kids to teach them the wonderful worlds that they can peruse through literature.