Secondary English

How can you support struggling readers?

It’s that time of year again: new pupils, new faces, new reading levels, new panic over how best to support them in your classroom. It’s probably best to start by establishing the main barriers in class and create a strategy from there.

Engaging demotivated and reluctant readers

The Collins Read On series is a great place to start and I would recommend Lone Wolf by Alan and Robbie Gibbons or Point Danger by Catherine Macphail, both from the Horror genre, which I have found the most success in when engaging a class of younger, lower-level readers. For an older class, Benjamin Zephaniah and Alan Gibbons are both authors able to engage pupils from the get go – it definitely helps that the topics of their Read On books are modern and edgy. They have the added bonus of being pitched correctly at lower reading levels and are relatively short, which helps with engagement levels. Brilliantly, Collins also provides a CD-ROM with lesson plans, resources and advice – a fantastic support for both the busy teacher and their pupils.

Encourage shared reading and class discussion

You need your pupils to care about these books and be able to discuss passionately key events and characters. On that note, never underestimate the power of group, class and pair discussion when reading – it is tempting to have pupils constantly writing out their answers, but with a struggling group it can turn them off learning pretty quickly. I have found great success in lively debate and Drama activities to support these novels too. Reading aloud? Get them on their feet moving around the room. An argument in the novel? Have pupils shouting insults at each other – how would they deal with this situation? What resolutions can be made here?

Boosting confidence in your class as readers

You need to change your pupils’ opinions of reading – from HAVING to read to WANTING to read. A great, accessible text will do some of this, but you can do a huge amount too. Always have a book on your desk as well as a list of recommended novels suited to your classes’ needs – I go a step further with this and hand them out at parents’ evenings or send them home as homework suggestions. Another great idea is to create a reading group for outside class time; create a visual display of a new and exciting title each month in a prominent place like the canteen and allow pupils to take books home for that month. To get this really established I found that a reward system and ‘reader board’ – to add an element of competition – helped to encourage a healthy interest! Celebrate every success, from a quiet pupil reading a few lines aloud in class to a pupil completing a reader on their own.

Jo Fliski is a teacher of English, Media and Drama at Lliswerry High School as well as being Head of PSHE. She’s also a freelance editor and author.



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