How to Get Boys Reading Perhaps


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.

23 thoughts on “How to Get Boys Reading Perhaps”

  1. I start my boys out in the beginning of the year with Pokemon, Wimpy Kid, and Diaper Baby. They can’t believe I have those books in my library and that I am ok with them reading all of them. By the end of the year, after some great read alouds and many book recommendations from their friends and I, their tastes have begun to change. I am always surprised how their choices become more mature. They begin to develop an understanding who they are as readers and while Wimpy Kid and Diaper Baby are fun, there are so many fabulous books out there available to them as well.

  2. Pernille,
    You’ve captured (again) several things that many of us are likely thinking about! Acknowledging the difference in generally-preferred reading topics, genres, and formats is a key transition point in igniting, at the very least, a renewed interest in reading for many boys. Here in Newfoundland that acknowledgement has been scooped up by another teacher in a program she’s called “BURP” Boys Undercover Reading Program! ( Just having BURP time in our library has been motivating some of our boys.
    Having choice in where you read, in how quiet the sharing does(not) have to be and so on are in her program and also in your list! Great minds think alike!
    I especially think your point about being familiar with selections that are likely to appeal is so important…For all our readers. Teachers need to be able to talk about these books for boys too!
    I still remember when my son pressed “Hatchet” into my hands and said I had to read it…so glad I listened! So glad I’ve been able to share it with many boys …and girls since.
    As usual I loved reading your blog!


  3. This is something I struggle with every year. It used to be mostly my male readers I was worried about, but it’s getting to the point that I’m worried about ALL my readers! Kids just aren’t reading for pleasure anymore, no matter what great things we do in the classroom to try and encourage it. I’m glad you mentioned competition, because that is something I’ve gone back and forth on over the years. I hate when we do a competition or a goal, and kids cheat. We actually stopped doing lunch bunch book chats, because I felt I was just teaching my kids to cheat to earn a reward – I really had no way of knowing whether they read the book or not, unless I read every single book they were reading, and then they would pick books they had already read or heard in third grade or second grade. The purpose of the activity was lost to all the cheating. How do you avoid the cheating in your classroom when you introduce competition?

    1. I don’t have a prize other than pride, plus they really want to beat me. I have had kids that try to say they read a book that they hadn’t but they usually trip themselves up. Plus, I always tell them that if they cheat I will make it the 80 book challenge for them instead.

  4. The boys in my grade 3 class LOVE the “And Then it Happened” Series. So good!

    As a mom of a toddler boy I find it so much harder to read to him than my daughter. He’s up and down and runs around climbs over us tosses the books. It really can be frustrating. However we keep at it as we want him to enjoy books when he is bigger. We also realize he DOES enjoy books and reading time with us but in a different way than my daughter does and it’s okay 🙂

  5. I recently discovered the Guys Read series. They are a collection of short stories bundled together In a book centered around a theme. He stories are written by prevalent authors like James Patterson, and Gordon Korman. There’s a collection of sports stories, a comedy one, a thriller selection and more. I love that they are 10 short stories in one book – approachable and high interest for those reluctant boys – and girls too!!! I’m hoping these will be ‘gateway books’ for kids who struggle to stick with one book through to the end.

  6. Hi there! I’m Erin and I’m an EDM 310 student at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama, United States. I will be posting a summary of two blog posts I comment on on my blog if you want to check it out on the November 24! This is a wonderful post. I agree we need more creative ways to get boys interested in reading! My brother enjoyed the Little League All Star books when he was younger, but when he grew up he lost interest. Thank you for giving suggestions on how to possibly fix this!

  7. I agree that some of the boys are a challenge in my room. I have the book challenge going, and I try to read as many books as I can just so I can be able to recommend individually to my kids. Chasing the Falconers is a great series by Gordon Korman for boys, Capture the Flag by Kate Messner. My first read aloud this year was the One and Only Ivan and ALL my kids loved it. I’m reading the False Prince to them right now, too. We pretty much just started, but they’re hooked already.
    Are We There Yet?

  8. Hmmm. I’ve had good luck in getting boys interested in reading by giving them books that show them how to do or make things. They like to be successful, and if reading helps them demonstrate achievement in building or doing something where they are in total control, then they’ll read more. Since workplace reading is more like this anyway, I don’t worry so much about whether or not they are clicking with fiction. They can come to that later. It’s the habit of reading I want to see them develop.

  9. Boys read when reading is part of the school culture. Once our entire school adopted a student-centered reading workshop approach as modelled by Lucy Calkins and Columbia University Reading/Writing project, I got classrooms of boys who couldn’t stop reading.

    Boys often chose different books than girls. They shied away from most female protagonists. But they loved the Warriors cat series, the Alex Rider series, many of the mysteries and fantasy books. Boys shred books with other boys.

    Seriously, I recommend splurging on the Columbia University summer teacher college program.

  10. Hi Pernille,

    Many excellent ideas, as usual! I think choice is crucial for boys. Graphic novels and “How-to” books are excellent ways to get them engaged. Sometimes they lead to chapter books (in the “literature” sense of the word) and sometimes they don’t. I think that’s alright. Our top-down assessments and curriculum will assure that our students are exposed to this type of literature, so if we give them the rest of their reading time to read books they enjoy, they will develop a sense of reading for reading’s sake, not for a score or for validation.

    I would add the graphic novels of Doug TenNapel – especially “Cardboard,” “Bad Island,” and “Ghostopolis” – to the list of recommended books for boys (and girls). They are raging through my 5th grade class like wildfire. They are similar to the “Amulet” series, but with more complexity and more moral and emotionally nuance.

  11. Don’t forget non-fiction book choices. I love fiction but try to build up an equally compelling non-fiction library with books about history, athletes, mechanics, facts, etc. My grade 4 and 5 boys have a tendency to gravitate towards those then the fiction stories.

  12. Hello would you mind stating which blog platform you’re using? I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m having a difficult time choosing between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design and style seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique. P.S My apologies for being off-topic but I had to ask!

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