October 20, 2012

Book ’em!

When the tutors at Engaging Minds and our students go over the nightly homework they have written in their homework or assignment books, under the categories of “Reading,” “English,” or “Language Arts” we almost always see the following: “Read X minutes” – or, for many of our students, just “Read.” Independent reading is an integral part of making students not only better readers and researchers, but better students and people overall. The American Association of School Librarians has stated in relation to independent reading (also called voluntary, leisure, spare-time, and recreational reading) that, “Literacy is associated with school achievement, participation in a democracy, and self-fulfillment.”

But before students can buy into the idea of reading for pleasure, for however many minutes a day, they have to select a book. As parents, teachers and tutors we are often tasked with the job of helping students select books that will not only engage them in the moment but also encourage them to keep reading and to love the process. Here are some suggestions for how to help your child (and students) pick books that will do just that.


  • Most importantly, children need to select books they will enjoy. Yes, there will be many instances where they have assigned reading or have to read for research. But to promote a true engagement in and enthusiasm for reading, the folks at Reading is Fundamental state that children know what they like and the mere act of having their opinions validated in relation to their book choices is both empowering and successful as a means of helping select an independent reading book.
  • Reading Rockets invokes the oft-employed “Five Finger Rule” to help younger and struggling readers pick a “just right” book for them: After choosing a book that seems enjoyable, go to the second page of the book. As the page is read, the student holds up one finger for each unfamiliar word. If there are five or more such words, this book may prove too challenging- and therefore discouraging- and another book should be selected.
  • If a child is very enthusiastic about reading a book that is slightly beyond his/her ability level, reading the book together aloud is a good compromise, according to Read-Write-Think. Taking turns reading helps take some of the pressure off the student and may even introduce parents to entertaining books that they themselves missed in their younger years.
  • Mary Fellows, the president of the Association for Library Services, suggests in an interview on the Washington Post ‘On Parenting’ blog that listening to audio books is another effective method of getting children excited about reading. Not only can this help alleviate the aforementioned problem of books that may be too challenging for the student to read him/herself, but it can also be a great way to get a student immersed in a book series that can carry him/her through to the point where the books are actually at the “just right” level of reading.

One last way of promoting independent reading is to show your kids that you enjoy reading (and it beats the heck out of nagging!). Modeling of reading as a desired leisure-time activity is a very effective and subtle technique for encouraging your children to grow from young readers into adult book-lovers.