Reluctant Readers

Written By: Jaylene Hardtke

Why are students Reluctant to Read?

“I don’t want to read that, it doesn’t interest me.”  “I don’t like reading, it’s boring.” “I don’t get it.” How many have heard that from your child/student? It is not an uncommon statement to hear especially in the digital age where screens are available in almost every situation. We find ourselves on information overload with the constant visual input of digital devices.

So how do we identify a truly reluctant reader? In her article, “Why some Kids are Reluctant Readers,” Meredith Cicerchia states:

Reluctance to read may be more common among boys than girls and is more likely to occur in children with learning difficulties who struggle with the mechanics of reading. Just keep in mind that not all reluctant readers are “bad” at reading. It might be a child is simply not interested or has yet to be inspired by books. Some people even object to the term “reluctant reader” preferring to call these children “dormant readers” instead.

How Do We As Parents or Educators Help Our “Dormant Readers?”

First, knowing how students choose books will help in assisting and motivating them. A little creativity goes a long way. Let’s try to take the frustration out of the situation. In her book, The Book Whisperer,  Donalyn Miller tells of her first encounter with her students at the beginning of the school year. When leading a discussion about how her students choose their books, they first gave her the answers they thought she wanted to hear:

“I look at the cover and the title.”

“I read the summary on the back of the book.”

“I look for an author who I have read before.”

Students add friends, family members, librarians, and teachers to the pool of people from whom they get recommendations from. All of which are answers students think adults want to hear because they don’t want to be perceived as “cheating.” When asked leading questions such as “Who has chosen a book because it is short?” They begin to get honest with their answers and add to their book selection techniques.

“I like to read some books over and over.”

“I read the ending first, and then if I like it, I read the whole book.”

“I read the first paragraph, and if it doesn’t grab me, I put it down.”

“I read books that are easy.”

Those answers sound like some of my answers, too.  How many of us have reread a book because we love it?  How many of you have a stack of books that you are reading simply because none of them held your interest long enough to finish the book? How many of us read an “easy” book simply because our lives are so full of information and activity we just want a distraction? How many of you are just too tired to read? If you have answered yes to any of these questions you can understand why we have dormant readers.

In my experience with dormant readers, I have to determine why they struggle. From there we can start to engage the student to help them find the right fit book.  This doesn’t happen overnight and may take some diligent effort on the part of everyone involved in the students reading journey, i.e., teacher, librarian, parent, grandparent and friends.

Tips for Engaging Readers

  1. The journey begins at home. California school librarian Ellen Phillips has worked for years with readers, both enthusiastic and reluctant, in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District in Mission Viejo, CA and says:

“One of the big mistakes parents make is to stop reading to their kids once they can read chapter books,” said Phillips. If you have an older child, she suggests reading the same book at the same time and then just chatting about it.

“It helps you know if they’re comprehending what they read, and it also gives you something to talk about as kids get older,” she said. “We sometimes drive some kids to hate reading by making them do something after they finish a book — make a diorama or write a book report.

“As an adult, think about what you do when you finish a book you like. You tell someone about it. Basically, you just have a conversation.”

As the grandparent of three young boys I have the unique opportunity to engage them in all sorts of reading activities; from taking them to the public library and letting them choose the books they want to read, to reading bedtime stories and even reading books online. I count it a privilege to read with them. It is a wonderful way to bond with them and introduce to them the love of reading and explore new worlds of imagination.

      2. Nothing is too easy or too hard. The question is, does the book spark interest in them? If the mechanics of reading is the issue, there are many Graphic Novelizations of popular fiction and classic literature as well as audiobooks and sites that you can read along with, i.e., Epic Books for Kids. If your teacher has an account you can sign in as her student. Contact him/her for login information. 

If a student lacks interest it can take some time and effort to learn what they are passionate about, what ignites their imagination. After leading conversations and taking time to listen we can then investigate appropriate reading materials.  Parents and grandparents can take trips to the public library.  Educators and librarians can help direct where students can find books that are a “good fit.”

Once your dormant reader has started to engage in reading, our rule of thumb is a student should have at least one book in their reading level, a book that challenges them and one that is for fun. This helps them explore different genres and they might find other things that interest them.

You can follow these examples to find a Good Fit Book:

I “PICK” a Good Fit Book

P Purpose: Why do I want to read this book?

I   Interest:      Does it interest me?

C Comprehend: Do I understand it?

K Know: Do I know most of the words?

Five Finger Rule 

Open a book to any page. Start reading. 

Hold up a finger every time you see a word you don’t know.

0-1= too easy            

2-3=just right  

4=okay to try

5+= too hard


We have identified some of the reasons why our students are reluctant or dormant readers, and we now have strategies to help them go beyond “it’s boring” to “exploring”! Remember the power of a story: A good story with interesting characters and storyline can engage a reader for hours and stimulate their imaginations. This is a process that takes time, patience, and forbearance.  Make it enjoyable for you and your readers, and enjoy the journey! 

Chart found on Google Images

Jaylene Hardtke has been a librarian at Christian Life School since 1997. Married to Fred they have three daughters and three grandsons. She enjoys fostering curiosity and discovery with her grands.  She is learning all about boy energy!