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Boost Boys’ Reading With The Swiss Army Knife Approach

Don’t just sling them a Roy of the Rovers annual and think it’s job done – a more versatile set of resources is needed to turn boys on to reading...

  • Boost Boys’ Reading With The Swiss Army Knife Approach

There’s more to getting boys reading than stocking class libraries with non-fiction texts and stories about football, as we all know. Different strategies will work for different children; we need a Swiss Army Knife full of tools to help both struggling and reluctant boys enjoy life-long adventures in reading.

1. What makes them tick?

Some boys want to read about space, dinosaurs, cars and sharks…but some don’t. If children are reluctant or struggling, prioritise finding out where their passions lie, and find reading material that engages them. Without this, their chances of committing to reading are slim. And the reading materials may not be books, of course.

2. Add some structure

Many boys respond well to structure; 10 or more minutes of independent reading may, for some, be too open-ended. Highlystructured sessions that require specific activities every few minutes may help. Try reading with a 3-5 minute timer. When the time is up, take one minute to record, draw or discuss a summary of the content, then repeat the whole process until the end of the lesson. Ensuring discussion is the major feature of reading sessions is vital.

3. Fine-tune progression

Graded progression through a high-quality reading scheme can instil confidence. It enables struggling readers to succeed daily – crucial in building enthusiasm for reading. But it is equally important that any such books are content appropriate; investment in ‘high-interest, low-ability’ texts is a must. And always promote progress in relation to a child’s personal best, discouraging comparison with others.

4. Use peer pressure

Use the National Literacy Trust’s Reading Champions approach to target ‘cool’ boys and take them from reluctant to keen reading via an exclusive, highstatus club (nothing like traditional guided reading!); then unleash them and let peer-pressure work positively for boys’ reading, for a change!

5. Find a purpose

For those who don’t yet read for its own sake, make it explicitly task-oriented, especially across the curriculum. Focus on the task ahead and some reluctant readers may not even realise they are reading! You could use guided and independent reading to find out about humanities or science topic subject matter, with the absolute requirement that the children must subsequently deliver short presentations, perhaps in pairs. Ban reading in these presentations, to stop children copying and then reading this out verbatim.

6. Get competitive

You may ask children working at similar current levels of reading achievement to try to be the first to discover a particular piece of information or to reach a specific event in a story. Working against the clock, with a collaborative partner, seems to get some boys motivated.

The rewarding of reading is a contentious issue; some say motivation should be intrinsic. However, for some children, we must try everything to hook them into reading, and the idea behind programmes like The Summer Reading Challenge is that, by increasing reading volume / frequency, we increase the likelihood of children developing the habit…and then no longer needing the bribe. We reward many learning behaviours in school; let’s reward the one that is probably the most important of all.

7. Beware a focus on non-fiction

While it may be true that some boys really do only like non-fiction, we haven’t encountered little boys finding story time unbearable or spurning the opportunity to listen to audio stories. Our theory is that many little boys adore stories and being read to, but reading fiction for themselves is a big commitment: start at the front and work all the way through, reading everything! Information books generally allow them to open a random page, peruse as much as they fancy, and then close it again – much less effort. With our very best intentions, we may be complicit in their development as reluctant – or even slightly lazy – readers.

8. Tempt them in

Try the ‘film trailer’ approach: read brief extracts from great books out loud, and then say, “You can find the book here!” Don’t read the opening page; film trailers don’t show the opening minutes: choose really exciting bits!

9. Be active

When looking at text as a whole class, try a second read-through that requires a physical response, e.g. children might indicate they’ve spotted particular grammatical features – verbs or adverbs, for instance – with particular hand signals as they read aloud.

10. Look and learn

Visually-appealing texts, such as picture books and graphic novels, can help with reluctance as they help readers both ‘get in to a story’ and make progress through it, while still wrapping them up in a great narrative.

11. Go digital

Various forms of e-reading can appeal in the same way; additionally, they can hide the fact that the child is reading an easier text, sparing embarrassment, and they also fit more neatly into perceived male culture, giving some boys permission to read.

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