Developing life-long readers

male teen student reaching for a book off library shelf

From our Educator Guest Blogger Series

“I haven’t read a book since middle school!” “I haven’t read one since elementary!” “I used SparkNotes, and I passed all of my tests.”

We’ve all heard those comments when asking students what they last read. Every year teachers struggle to get students to read without being coerced by daily reading quizzes. We want our students to enjoy reading, but how do we accomplish this?


We know from research and experience that reading instills empathy, provides relaxation, develops critical thinking skills, and promotes mental growth. These benefits are obvious to us, but students who are caught up with extracurricular activities, dating, home life, and job responsibilities are hard to convince. They “don’t have time to read!”

One of our main objectives is to develop students who have mastered effective methods of comprehension and literary analysis, and we are tasked with helping students build reading stamina and focus so that they will be college and career ready. Kelly Gallagher says, “The average level of literacy required for all occupations [has risen] by 14 percent. Both dropouts and high school graduates demonstrate significantly worse reading skills than they did ten years ago” (Kittle, Gallagher). Also, because “the difficulty of college textbooks…has not decreased…since 1962” and “has, in fact, increased over that period” (CCSS-ELA, Appendix A, 2), students absolutely must read more. This goal is vital.

Of course, we want to accomplish this without extinguishing their love for reading. We hope that our students become lifelong learners and readers, enjoying books and passing that love on to their children as they become parents.  Unfortunately, approximately 27% of adults in the U.S. claim “they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year” according to a recent Pew Research Center survey; although there are some variations with regard to education and socio-economic levels.  On the bright side, a Gallup survey indicates that younger adults may be reading a bit more, perhaps due to the availability and convenience of e-readers. 

What can we do to encourage our students to be readers?  

  • Read books written by those who study students and reading to encourage yourself and gain ideas. I recommend "Book Love" by Penny Kittle, "I Read It, but I Don’t Get It" by Cris Tovani, "180 Days" by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, "Game Changer!" by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp, "Disrupting Thinking" by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, and "The Read-Aloud Handbook" by Jim Trelease. 
  • Allow students to tell the truth about their reading; then move on. Start fresh.
  • Allow choice. Students who are allowed to choose the genre and book they are interested in will read more willingly, and if they enjoy that book, they will look for others. Even if they choose books significantly below reading level, allow them to read that book. As Penny Kittle says, they will begin to move up the ladder as their confidence grows. Present them with interesting reading choices in a wide range of topics and reading levels. Assure them that it’s okay to get a different book if they don’t enjoy the one they’ve chosen.
  • Work with your librarian to develop book talks and lists of recommended reading by genre. Our librarian, Tamara Cox, is my best resource for encouraging my students and promoting reading. She invites authors to speak to our students so that they can hear about the writing process firsthand. (Read Tamara's ETV Guest Blog here.) Show them interviews or videos of authors. SCETV has great resources for South Carolina authors, including related recertication credit courses. Allow students to share book talks when they find a book they really love. Word of mouth is still the best promotional tool. If they’re shy about talking face to face, have them use Flipgrid, which is a fantastic tech tool.
  • Allow time for independent reading in class. You can spare 10 or 15 dedicated minutes to do this. You will see their comprehension and analytical skills increase. Remember, many of your students are working and have little or no time to read. Help them find time.
  • Model reading. Read aloud to your students. Even seniors love for you to read to them. Read with them during independent reading time. Post your own “I AM READING…” signs. Introduce them to iconic figures who promote reading. Play video clips of these men and women promoting literacy.  Jason Reynolds, the Library of Congress’ chosen National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, didn’t read a complete novel until he was 17. Now he writes amazing books for young adults and middle school students (CBS This Morning). Show your students the Storytime with SCETV video of Marcus Lattimore, former University of South Carolina football player and current Director of Player Development, as he encourages, “Literacy is conducive to your growth...The foundation is being able to read and write…Literacy gives you power.”
  • Recommend books that support students’ stories. Your students have a history and a cultural heritage. Give them books that speak to this interest. They will be engaged, and they will understand that you support their heritage and identity. Investigate #OwnVoices or We Need Diverse Books for reading lists. Remember, students need windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors.
  • Don’t be afraid to recommend audio books. Students who are developing readers or have learning disabilities may be encouraged to enjoy books if they don’t have to struggle with the words. Have them follow along in the print book as they listen to improve their reading skills.  Even students who are strong readers may find that listening to an audio book is a time saver when they are working or doing chores at home. With the Covid-19 situation, many librarians are recommending audio and e-books to students. Libraries are offering temporary online accounts for students to access vast reading resources.
  • Connect assigned curricular reading to their independent reading. For example, if you are studying the hero’s journey, have a classroom discussion in which they relate the hero’s journey as they see it in their independent book. You don’t need to grade independent reading, but do add formative assessment opportunities for accountability and learning. Reading conferences are helpful assessment tools, but authentic classroom discussion and connections in which students share with others are even more effective and might spark another student’s interest in one of the books being discussed.
  • When teaching the classics or academic texts, make the lessons live. Using action figures to introduce "Beowulf" has been a hit in my classes for nearly 30 years. Once they wrap their heads around the fact that I’m playing with action figures to teach a lesson, they love it, remember, and complain less about reading the text. Using foam swords or pool noodles to reenact the fight scene from "Romeo and Juliet" or "Macbeth" is sure to engage them. Students who are allowed reading choice will be much more likely to be engaged when you require a text, especially if you bring it to life.

These methods do work. Last year my 96 senior English students read over 1000 books by February. Some read only one or two; a few read 20 or more. But they all read. Many were extremely proud when they finished that first book they read since middle school, and they weren’t ashamed to tell others about their accomplishment.  One young man went to the library saying, “I finished the first book I’ve ever read all the way through,” as he asked for another by the same author. A few told me that they are now finding moments here and there to read at home despite their busy schedules. Students I taught 20 years ago email me telling me what they’re reading or boasting about the home library they are building. One shared that she is passing her love of books on to her young son as she reads to him daily. Others have asked me to participate in book clubs with them and call bi-weekly to discuss our reading. 

You can make a difference.  Remember, “There is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book.” —Frank Serafini

Works Cited

  • "43 Great Quotes on the Power and Importance of Reading". Bilingual Monkeys, 2013, Accessed 19 Aug 2020.
  • Corestandards.Org, 2020, Accessed 19 Aug 2020.
  • Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Doors - YouTube.
  • "Part 1: Younger Americans’ Changing Reading Habits". Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, 2012, Accessed 4 Aug 2020.
  • Pennykittle.Net, 2020, Accessed 19 Aug 2020.
  • "Storytime with SCETV: Little Doctor And The Fearless Beast". South Carolina ETV, 2020, Accessed 19 Aug 2020.
  • "Watch CBS This Morning: Young Adult Author Jason Reynolds - Full Show On CBS All Access". CBS, 2020, Accessed 19 Aug 2020.
  • Weissmann, Jordan. "The Decline of the American Book Lover". The Atlantic, 2014, Accessed 4 Aug 2020.
  • "Who Doesn’t Read Books In America?". Pew Research Center, 2019, Accessed 19 Aug 2020.


Originally from Missouri, and still a fan of the Chiefs and Royals, Sherri Moye is a graduate of Bob Jones University where she majored in English Literature with a minor in Journalism. She began her teaching career in Georgia where she taught at private schools for 25 years, returning to South Carolina nine years ago. After taking a few years off, Sherri returned to teaching, spending the past five years teaching English IV and Theatre at Wren High School in Anderson District One. Now entering her 31st year of teaching, she notes it will be a busy one as she is also continuing her education at Gardner-Webb University.  She is the mother of two wonderful adult sons, loves to learn and travel, and tries to read at least 100 books each year. "I work on that enjoyable goal when I am able to pry a book out from under our three mischievous cats, Lexi, Nellie, and Loki who like to plop down on whatever interests us. Literature and sharing my love of reading is my passion, and I hope that each of my students will pick up that love and pass it on to others." Follow Sherri on Twitter at @sjmoye. 

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Note: This guest blog does not necessarily reflect the views of ETV Education.