Thursday, March 22, 2012

Teaching Reading to Boys

I run a reading support group at recess for the grade one students. It is primarily for students who are struggling but I let anyone come. The children usually bring their own books and read aloud to an older student volunteer. I keep extra books for students who forgot their book or who want to change books. Today, one of the little boys told me he didn't want to read his book. It was called Bread from Around the World and had a repeating sentence on each page with the specific change (In John's house we eat whole wheat bread; in Boris' house we eat Hot Cross Buns.)

I understood why the little boy wanted to change books. I gave him a graphic novel on Robin Hood. But then I started thinking, who would want to read this book? No one I know. I think the boys are more easily distracted from reading when the subject isn't motivating. I think the girls are equally bored with the books but are driven more towards obedience than interest.

Arms-length, purpose-driven books engage boys:

Boys want arms-length, fast-paced fiction books or informational, visual non-fiction books. They don't want the good-for-you books that schools put upon them.

I believe that reading entails three key areas: motivation, fluency and comprehension. Comprehension means understanding the story and even reflecting on the story. Fluency is word familiarity, word-calling and word meanings. Motivation is the big one; it is what drives the reading process and gets them reading and gets them to continue reading.

I've used strategies such as having students find and read jokes and riddles aloud. It motivates them (because they can all laugh), it gets them beyond fluency to comprehension (you have to tell the joke properly for it to work and you have to understand it to tell it properly).

Boys do read:

While teachers try to resolve the "boys don't like to read" dilemma, I have always wondered if it isn't that boys don't like to read what teachers would like them to read. They tend to have no problem with emails or texts. They don't want to read about social problems or discuss a character's deep feelings.

This is a growing list of general quick tips for getting boys to read from:

  1. Most boys prefer to read NON-FICTION.
  2. It's critical to RESPECT a boy's reading interests, even if we think it stinks.
  3. Most boys prefer things that are SHORT, like Tweets :-)
  4. Boys love MAGAZINES! They are chunk-able and informative.
  5. Boys like to DISCUSS things they read, but are often shy. Ask questions, engage them. 
  6. Boys need ENCOURAGEMENT with reading. Remember to tell them "Good Job, Keep it Up"


  1. I think you're right to question the "good for you" books. Boys like books about things like fighting pirates or battles in just about any war, but school boards are likely to conclude that such stories "aren't good for them" and replace them with books about how "Juan wears different clothes than George, but George respects Juan's diversity."

    Just give the boys stories about Daniel Boone. They'll love those.

  2. Yup. A good story is supposed to entertain above all else. Somehow that has gotten lost in early reading books.

  3. My son (12) was mesmerized by the first page of the Movies section of the Toronto Star newspaper. The huge picture of Mark Ruffalo in the role of Hulk in The Avengers movies (opening today) is what caught his eye. He's taken the section to school to ask the special ed literacy teacher if he can read it in class. I'm sure she'll say yes. He's very motivated to read the Entertainment and Sports sections of the newspaper.



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