Motivate Reluctant Readers with Focus and Purpose

Over the years, I’ve played around with different ways to engage students with reading and writing and if I had to label myself I would be more a writing teacher than a reading teacher.  Sure, I assign novels and we discuss as a class and engage in activities, but I feel like the actual remediation and teaching of reading skills falls to the wayside at the high school level due to time, due to our diverse and numerous clients, and due to lack of specific training.  To remedy this, I have recently been reading a lot about the teaching of reading.  What habits can we help students to develop as readers and how can we best do this?  How can we get students to engage with an assigned or canonical text and overcome their innate tendency to disengage just because it’s “for school” or they’ve heard it’s “hard”?

I’m going to be posting reading-related tips here as I find them.

Today’s tip:  Set a clear purpose for reading, and give students options.  Students find meaning in the text when they’re clear about why they’re reading other than because it’s assigned work for a class.


-Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus.-I know that I’ve been guilty of just handing out a reading schedule and not purposefully framing student reading experience and focus with specific guiding statements, questions, or response focus points.  For example, if I am having students read the opening of Fahrenheit 451, instead of just saying come back with annotations and ready to discuss tomorrow, it would be far more engaging to provide students with the following three reading focus options:

  1. Select any passage and respond to it.
  2. Describe the world in which Montag lives.  How is he similar to or different than society?
  3. Why do you think the author created Clarisse’s character?
  4. What repeated colors and images do you notice in the opening pages of the novel? Why do you think the author wrote this way?

Instead of reading just to read, students would have a specific focus for their reading notes.

Another way to provide more specific focus is by assigning an ongoing focus which will tie-in to an assessment.  For example, students could keep track of meaningful literary devices, interesting syntax choices, and symbolic quotes throughout the novel because they will have to create a Podcast discussion of the author’s style.  But still, this gets tedious and pre-focus for a reading assessment seems to be a common suggestion for engaging readers.  Some of my colleagues will create “news bulletins” or brief screencasts to give students a preview of the text.  The idea is to give them just enough information to interest them, enough details to create reference points while reading, and enough intrigue to make them want to find out how it ends.

Food for thought!



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