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Curricula and Learning Links - Language Arts

Tips for Parents of Reluctant Readers

by the Message Board Participants

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My 8th grade son has trouble reading and with language arts. I'm looking for suggestions to help him to read, and a fun and educational grammar and writing course.

NM Stephanie: Do you read to your son aloud? I suggest you start there. Have 2 copies of a book and have him read aloud silently while you are reading aloud. Every once in a while have him read a paragraph to you.

Laurajean: It sounds like your boy needs his love of reading sparked. Here are some ideas:

  • Try audio books - my youngest son - who is not a great reader - LOVES listening to books. He will pick up the language, vocabulary and other good stuff by listening.
  • Read aloud to him. One thing I do is get a book I know my son will like, and read part of it - you know, leave him dangling and begging for more. Then I tell him if he wants to find out what happened, he will have to finish reading it himself.
  • Invest in some of the "Great Illustrated Classics" books. I have picked these up at K-Mart for 3 for $10.00. These are abridged, easy versions of the classics (like Huckleberry Finn) but they have a picture on every other page, larger print and they are thick, so they aren't patronizing to an older child, but not difficult to read either. You can probably find some of these at your library as well.
  • Research a topic. I really like Ruth Beechick's idea and we have had lots of fun with it. She suggests letting the child choose a topic that interests him (baseball, China, George Washington, the Army...) and check out 3 books on the chosen topic from the library. It doesn't matter how easy or advanced they are either. Let him select 3 books, read them, and give a report (orally) on what he learned. You can write down what was said, and let him copy what you wrote. This allows him to see that writing is really just talking on paper.
  • We have used - and really liked - Easy Grammar and Daily Grams. This really is easy and non-threatening. You can have him write things out on the worksheets, or do them orally. The lessons don't take very long at all - we may spend a total of 15 minutes at the very most. (Then we take what we have learned and apply them to whatever book we are reading - I may have my son take apart a paragraph in a book. Underline the subject once, verb twice, cross out the prep. phrase. I do that maybe once a week.) If you choose to use this program you may want to start with 4/5 or even 3/4.
  • For writing.....My youngest is also a reluctant writer, in fact, he hates it! I have him copy a short passage out of whatever book he is currently reading. Then, I will have him do this 2 or 3 times (like Monday - Wednesday), proofreading and checking for errors. Then, on the 4th day, I dictate the passage to him. This has helped and is non-threatening.

Allie: How often do you read together? With you reading? I would recommend a book like The Hobbit, and going through it a chapter a night. As far as his reading to himself, let him pick EASY books - far below his reading level - to get him comfortable, and picking up speed. It really does seem to help.

Patricia: I would HIGHLY recommend that you go to your local library and check out a copy of the Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease--I imagine just about any library would have it. It is a treasure trove of info on how to get kids to fall in love with reading. Plus it has great read-alouds listed by age groups. Read aloud to your son EVERY day at least once. Then once a day implement "silent sustained reading"==it is where everybody grabs SOMETHING to read--it can be a magazine, book, newspaper, whatever the person chooses and you all sit down. We do this after lunch while I am getting the younger ones down for a nap, and then again before bedtime--for about 15-20 mintues. DO it daily, make sure your son reads EVERY day. You will learn more about this in the Read Aloud Handbook.

As to tricks to help get your son interested in reading---I will share a few I used with my son. I get him audiobooks to listen to while he is doing chores or before bed (I also read to him, but also got him the audiobooks, too) I read him books that he enjoyed--I found a whole big stack of Encyclopedia Brown books at a library sale and started reading them to him before bed. He got hooked!! I also found "TinTin" books which are basically like comic books and my son LOVED them. One other thing that tripped my son's trigger on reading was Calvin and Hobbes cartoons. I found two books of compilations of the cartoons and we shared them together before bed. Magazines that interest him, too, can get him reading. I have a friend who has a son who was warehoused in special education like your son and is functionally illiterate. She got him to practice reading by giving him the drivers license manual to read and magazines that he was interested in. Don't forget poems and anthologies of short stories.

One thing I have done with my reluctant reader son is to read to him a good book and right in the thick of the action I stop--leave him cliffhanging. He will inevitably pick up the book and read more just to find out what happened.

One thing that is very great for learning grammar is for him to do copy work. Give him a short passage out of the Bible or a good book to copy. I like the Book of Virtues for copy work for my son who is 11. Anyway, have him go back and compare what he copied to what is printed, making any corrections. Then go over it with him be sure to point out EVERYTHING he got correct (I use a green highlighter) and then point out the mistakes that he has missed (I use a yellow or orange highlighter)Then the next day, have him copy the passage as you dictate to him--not giving any hints, just reading it enunciating clearly and using you voice inflection and pauses following the punctuation marks. THen do the same--have him compare his written version to the print and explain as you go (a short pause is a comma, my voice goes up at the end when I am asking a question, etc) This one is VERY CHEAP and very effective. Children grasp a great deal out of reading and writing proper English from good models and internalize in a way that is different than just filling out workbooks.

Kysa: Have him read children's books out loud to young children. A struggling teen reader needs the practice at this level, but these books will not really interest them. It works best in a babysitting or entertaining relatives/siblings setting. I have also used Usborne children's books, so they might learn something as they are reading. You might even have her tutor a 1st or second grade child through some phonics. That way she will "learn" the phonics at the same time.

I have used this method with four different teenagers and it worked well for them. If your teen likes children, it may work well for him also. All four teenagers were up to a high school level of reading within six months of daily reading to young children for 20-40 minutes. Even I was amazed!

Joyce: My son wasn't reading at 12 when I brought him home from public school. Here are my suggestions:

  • Find a interest of the child's and get a magazine on the subject (not so over powering as books.)
  • My son loved cooking, so I we did a lot of reading in the kitchen and cooked.
  • Read aloud and up to his reading level.

Laurajean You might also want to try narration. It is a very easy, gentle (not to mention inexpensive!) way to build comprehension and it really does work. Whatever book you are reading to him (and DO read aloud to this child every day from some good book), after every chapter - or even after every couple of pages to start off with - ask him to tell the story back to you in his own words. Do not prompt her or correct him, just let him tell you what he heard. This has done wonders for my children.

How can I help my son boost his reading speed?

Patricia Just have him read more, and everyday. Speed will come with practice. We spend 30 minutes a day when EVERYBODY read something--even the preschooler who is just learning--he listens to book/tape sets or picture books. I even grab something to read myself. During this time, it can be anything that the child chooses to read--books, magazine, newspaper, etc. If they don't have something to read, them I will choose something for him. We usually do it after lunch and recess, I set a timer. Usually, they will also read before bed,or listen to an audiobook.

Any time you read, you are practicing, and practice makes perfect. This is true in reading, also. Of course no one can read aloud as fast as one can read silently, but when he is reading aloud to the younger set he is reviewing words he knows and becoming more fluent in recognizing them, he will probably be running across new words that he will become acquainted with and maybe be able to read faster the next time he reads them, and build up vocabulary and thus increase his speed when he reads silently. So, have him read aloud below his reading level!

Ideas for Younger Children

Use Step Into Reading books to determine level
Read aloud to the child
Participate in fun programs
Try comic books, Christian Liberty Readers, topics that interest the child.
Rewards system: points for each book read from a pack of gum up to $50 gift certificate at a favorite store. Do a point a page at younger levels.
Keep a sticker chart, and make it fun.