Engaging Teen Reluctant Readers

Guest Post by Arianne McHugh

40% of US fourth grade students do not achieve basic levels of reading proficiency. This number is higher in low-income families, certain minority groups and English Language Learners. In American Classrooms, grades K-3 are when a child learns to read, while starting in grade 4 a child reads to learn. If 40% of students entering that range are already behind, you can imagine where they end up by the time they reach eighth grade- severely below reading level as well as reluctant to continue trying.

Teachers are struggling to engage their classrooms, which are increasing in size- and include students at varying reading levels. The end result is that students are left behind. It’s time to stop waiting for the education system to do it “all”. Supplementing the classrooms and home environments with engaging, level-appropriate material is what will motivate young adults to open books again – and start to try.

If you give a teenager a “baby” book, he/she will not only be embarrassed to read it, they will be less than enthused with the content. Teens need books covering topics that they WANT to read about at LOW enough reading levels for them to achieve success. Not many publishers spend time creating content for these older-learners who struggle with reading proficiency.

  • Covers vs. Content. We really do judge a book by its cover. Teens want to see themselves on the covers of books- and in the pages. Demographic-specific books are finally accessible, giving a wide variety of ethnicities, genres and realistic content.
  •  Levels. Offering levels that are low enough for the teens to achieve success is vital. Starting with low levels and low page count will increase confidence and enable them to finish a book, which will hopefully lead to another.
  • Learning Style. Some reluctant readers would never attempt a text-only book, but would be interested in a graphic novel, which is more like a comic. While others may get easily distracted by any visuals yet enjoy the pure form of text. Knowing the teen is essential to helping guide them to the book that will engage and get them reading.
  • Incorporating Technology. Children and teens everywhere are surrounded by technology and while this is often a distraction from picking up a print book, it can also be a way to get them to start reading. Free books are available from your local library, for “checking out” on your personal devices (iPads, Kindles etc). Some publishers offer print books that take you from the page to your computer (Patrick Carman, 39 Clues).    

The message here is that we need to do “something”. Take the time to get to know your audience. Directing them to books that they will open and successfully finish is vital. By taking small steps, you can greatly support their love of reading and learning through books. And who knows, maybe in the process of encouraging your teens to pick up a book, you may be the one to introduce them to their lifelong love of reading.

Arianne McHugh is the President and Co-Owner of Saddleback Educational Publishing.

Saddleback Educational Publishing, a second-generation family company and certified woman-owned business, kicks off its 30th anniversary with six YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers Awards (2011) for its high interest, low reading-level series, Urban Underground, with 16 more nominations for this year. In 2012, Saddleback announces the release of several additional hi-lo Young Adult series, starting with 16-year-old author Sara Michelle’s dystopian series called My New Normal. With their award-winning urban fiction, adapted low-level classics, graphic novels, audio books and SMART Board Lessons for the Classroom, Saddleback continues to lead the secondary education market with innovative ways to reach reluctant learners.


Posted on January 31, 2012, in Publicity & Writing, Writing & Publishing. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Achievement of the "American Dream" is dependent on a consumer's ability to read! It's rare for a teen, who having suffered through an embarrassing reading episode in school, will revisit the joys made possible by the printed word – even if it's digital :o)My industry, micro-lending, is well aware that a large percentage of our customers are reading challenged. Financial education plays a pivotal role in helping our customers navigate the multitude of financial choices available.Active parents, teachers and companies such as Saddleback Educational Publishing must be applauded for recognizing and helping to solve this challenge. Jer

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