Thursday, June 16, 2011

Visual/Verbal Literacy - Part 2: Reluctant Readers and Brick Walls

Aside from my confession below, I can think of no better way to begin this post than with another slam poem by Taylor Mali:

Confession:  I remember being in high school, home sick and asking my mom to read aloud to me.  She refused, saying I was too old.  With some serious prodding from me, she relented and read to me, and I will always remember and love her for it.  Even now, I beg my husband to read aloud to me too.  I just love it.  I love hearing his soothing voice - it relaxes me. I don't think you're never too old to be read aloud to. 

Aside from the intimacy of being read to, reading aloud helps kids hear and integrate the rhythm and sequence of language.  It is an excellent way to encourage reluctant readers and boost their language skills.

Overview: Getting reluctant readers can be as much fun and as effective as hitting your head against a brick wall!  As my last blog was on visual literacy - an important skill to emphasize for all, especially reluctant readers, I want to spend more time now on visual literacy.  With summer here and school out, there is a lot parents can do to help build kids' literacy skills.  Here are some suggestions:

Read aloud at bed time, down time, or on a stormy afternoon (I recommend your reading Thundercake by Patricia Polacco and then bake a thundercake together). You can even read aloud at breakfast - if you're awake enough and have the energy - read cereal boxes together, read or summarize a newspaper or magazine article, or even share cool blog posts together.

Model reading independently- let your kids see you reading for fun and for work.  Let them see you enjoying it - finding humor, excitement, information!

Tell Stories -  making up crazy, zany ones or writing/telling serious ones.  The point is to become more comfortable using words.

Read wordless books and tell you the story:  Reading wordless books offers a wonderful opportunity for your child to become more comfortable with books and with using his or her words.  The more your kids use words (spoken, heard, or written), the easier it will be to USE them.

So, from as soon as your child can talk encourage him or her to read books aloud to you or silently to themselves -  just looking at the illustrations and telling the story (also great practice with visual literacy).  Here are some more of my favorite wordless books (I have recommended others in previous posts):

Looking Down by Steve Jenkins
The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
Flotsam by David Wiesner 
Little Star by Antonin Louchard
Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day

Make up stories - (even or especially zany, crazy stories) - the point is to play with words

Rhyme - play rhyming games, make rhyming poems (zany crazy poems work well here too) - rhyming provides opportunities to play with phonemes (word sounds).  The more familiar you are with word sounds, the easier they will be to visually recognize in print.

Graphic novels great motivators integrate visual and verbal literacies. 
Check out some of my other posts with graphic novel suggestions: 

Encourage your kids to read alone - even if it's a picture book.  

Make sure your kids are reading high interest books on their "INDENDENT READING LEVEL" An independent reading level is the reading level the person can read comfortably with little to no error.  It is the reading level that is "easy" but engaging.  If your child is putting down a book mid-reading it is either because she or he has lost interest in the content, or because the book was too challenging, or both.

How to find an independent reading level? You can ask your child's teacher and/or you can experiment yourself.  Have your child read aloud to you.  If he or she stumbles over words when reading AND/OR cannot define words read, then that reading selection is too difficult to read independently.

Some high interest easier reading books for weak readers:  These books are entertaining but the language is easier and there are visual cues to help with comprehension and word recognition.
  • Sophisticated picture books
  • Horrible Histories by Terry Deary are wonderfully funny and often colorful and unusual stories from history or science.  There are also occasional illustrations to further express a point.  This a wonderful series of books for middle school students of ALL reading levels.
  • The Magic Tree House series are easy to read stories (second grade reading level) that older, less talented readers can enjoy reading as well.
NOT SURE?  Ask a Librarian!  They are fantastic resources for appropriate reading materials for kids of all ages.

Join or establish a parent/child book club.  Talk to your local librarian for assistance.  I did this with my daughter and it was a lot of fun.

The world around you is an oyster of words to read and write - take advantage of this! Read signs when driving.  Make up real and crazy signs.  Read and write blogs together - create meme challenges. Leave notes for each other.  Create and write cards. 

The best way to encourage reluctant readers is to make sure they are reading at the right level and to surround them with books, and reading and writing opportunities.

What's your opinion?


  1. I remember reading to my girls when they were young. James and the Giant Peach, Little Princess, Secret Garden, Chronicles of Narnia...they loved listening to the stories. My mom recorded books on cassette tapes for them and they'd listen to them while going to sleep (after I'd read to them!). I read everything from books to boxes. My oldest daughter recorded books to send to her Army husband when he was deployed. The secret to creating a love for reading is to make it fun! Great post and so timely going into summer vacay.

  2. Letting children see their parents reading - and enjoying it - is also important. So many children see reading as a school subject and if they never see adults reading for pleasure that opinion will not change. As a teacher I used to have a 'silent reading' time when we all read individual choices for ten to fifteen minutes.

  3. You are so right. Modeling is really important. I am going to add that to the text. Thank you!

  4. These are very good tips. I have a reluctant reader at home and

    Make sure your kids are reading high interest books on their "INDENDENT READING LEVEL"

    was one of the ideas that really got the ball rolling.

  5. thank you so much for this great tips. thanks also for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. Im already your follower

  6. To assist in developing a love of reading, I always encouraged moms to start reading to their little ones early in life ... making it fun and exciting so it comes to life. Role modeling is another important aspect as well.

    Great job!

  7. With all due respect to your mom, I think she was wrong not to read to you. Did you see this CBS News story?

  8. Thanks Roger. GREAT link - everyone else, should please check it out!

    And, my mother actually DID read to me after I asked her to, and I have always been grateful!