I never used to worry about boys not reading. After all, wasn’t that to be expected? My husband isn’t a big reader and he seems to manage. Yet, when I realized that I needed to bring the passion back into reading last year in my room, I started to notice my boys. Those same boys that I had recommended Lightning Thief and Harry Potter to even though they had already read them. Those boys I had bought Mike Lupica books for because they had to do with sports. Those boys with their boyish books who I didn’t really push to become passionate readers because I wasn’t quite sure how to do it. Those boys became my unintended passion.
Today I was asked how I get my boys reading, and while I am not an expert, and some of them still don’t read as much I would love them to, I do have a few ideas. (And yes, many of these apply to the girls as well).
- Acknowledge the difference. And not necessarily the difference between boy and girl readers, but the difference between all readers. We all have our strengths and we all have our reading demons. Acknowledge them and figure out how to work through them or with them.
- Share your own demons. I tell the kids how fickle I am with book choices, how my time has to be devoted to just the right book. I tell them what I love to read and what I am likely to pass up. I also make sure to tell them when I have been surprised by a book.
- Have honest conversations. One boy told me “Reading sucks!” and it led to a very meaningful lesson that we have carried with us all year. Be prepared to be honest, be prepared to not judge, let boys speak their opinions and then work with it rather than be the know-it-all expert. Just be your human self and start the relationship early.
- Read their books. While I am not quick to grab a sports book, some do catch my eye (Stupid Fast was after all one of the Global Read Aloud choices this year because of me). I am lucky though that I tend to lean toward 5th grade boy book choices naturally. Science fiction and fantasy – bring it on!
- Recommend, recommend, recommend. I read a lot because I need to be able to recommend books to all of my students. But the boys, those I have to hand the book too, stick it in their book bin, tell them why and then encourage them to try it.
- Loosen up. We don’t need to read chapter books all the time. I have been expanding my graphic novel, non-fiction, and comic book selection the last few years. Have all sorts of books ready for your boys and let them know it is ok to read them. Too often we push the chapter book because we think it is one of the only ways to grow as readers, this is simply not true.
- Let them choose. Sure we can guide and point out but in the end, let them choose!
- Let them read wherever they want. I hate reading in a chair, I am more of a lay down kind of person. My students may all read wherever they want as they don’t bug someone else. Few of my boys sit at their table and I am ok with that.
- Give them different ways to share their thinking. Some of my boys can draw like madmen, some of them do best on conversation and some of them prefer to just speak to me about what they are reading. That’s ok, to each their own, I make sure they have many different outlets to talk about their reading.
- Think about your read aloud. I am just finishing “Out of My Mind” by Sharon Draper as my first read aloud and so my next one will be something completely different, “The False Prince” by Jennifer Nielsen. Too often, if we are female teachers, do we grab read alouds featuring female leads. It is important we showcase all types of lead characters of both sexes.
- Geek out with them. I get super nerdy whenever a new book in a favorite series is about to get released. Yesterday was awesome when the 8th Diary of a Wimpy Kid book was released and we made sure to celebrate it. We often take reading so serious that we become our own worst enemies. Have fun with it, it is after all sharing the love of books. If we can’t laugh about it all, who can?
- Add a challenge if needed. The students are all participating in the 40 book challenge to see if they can read 40 books faster than I can. (One of my students already did!) but we also have a January book challenge where they set individual goals and we combine them as a class goal and then have a huge celebration at the end. The competitive nature of many of my students feeds right into this without it being about beating someone else.
A note on competition since this has sparked some debate: It is not competition in my room in the true sense of it. There is no prize, there is no punishment. It is about having students have a goal in how many books they should read, here it is explained to parents, and the hope that they will push themselves as readers when we create a sense of urgency. They are not out to beat each other, no one knows how many books someone else has read unless they share it. The class challenge is a goal set by all of us, students set individual goals and we add them up. This can be for any type of reading and we keep track as a class. It is a way to create community around reading, to give it importance, and for some boys a challenge means it is important.
What else would you add? How else do we reach our male readers?
For more explanations or further ideas of how to promote reading in your classroom, here is an older blog post.
I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this fall from PLPress. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.