Love of Reading is Contagious

(Third in a series on tutoring.)

Some people are especially fond of books. I’m told that as a little kid I used to fall asleep with a Little Golden Book on my face many nights. But even people who are not naturally crazy about reading can be taught the value and joy of it through example.


The trick with tutoring is to be strict enough to get to work, but to make it fun enough that students associate reading with a good time.

Ideas for Teaching the Value of Reading:

  • Tell kids how important reading is, how every part of school will be easier once they know a lot of words and can read smoothly. Tell them you want them to become great readers, and learn as many words as possible.
  • Challenge them to make reading progress a goal. We use fluency tests in our lessons, and have kids plot on a graph how many correct words they read in one minute. It can be very encouraging for them to see their graphs go up as they improve in reading that passage from week to week. Progress should never be compared to other kids though – they just compete against their earlier scores. Kids who cannot read much yet can be timed for how many Dolch sight words they can remember – start with a pre-primer list:
  • Tell kids stories of how much of a difference reading has made for you or someone you know. Tell them all the things you like to read. I like to tell a story of Ben Carson’s, from his book, “Gifted Hands” . The famous neurosurgeon grew up in poverty with a single mom who did not have much education, but she knew the value of reading. She made her boys read two library books a week, and he believes that had a great deal to do with his success in school.

Ideas for Making it Fun:

  • I know this is unenlightened, but we’re shameless about giving out candy rewards. I bring a big bowl of mixed varieties, and tell tutors to use it as incentive in any way they want. We give kids candy for memorizing verses, for hitting fluency goals, for finishing assignments – whatever it takes.
  • We let kids who finish their reading tasks for the session do something fun that is word-related, such as reading a picture book to them that they’re interested in, or doing a crossword puzzle or word search.
  • We give students lots of affirmation for any progress they make. This is really important. Find something to affirm, even if it’s only that the kid listened for a whole page without interrupting, or stayed in his seat for ten minutes. Look for positives and look for improvement and call it out every time. Many kids who struggle in school get more negative feedback than positive, and they need their hope and confidence rebuilt.
  • We invite families to three sessions a year, where we serve dinner, play some fun games, and tell parents and grandparents how well the students are doing. It means a great deal to a child that their tutor cares about and has talked with people in their family.

There is nothing better to see than a kid’s face light up when they have successfully read a book. It makes it all worthwhile!

3 thoughts on “Love of Reading is Contagious

  1. Colleen, this led me to an “ahah” moment.
    When I was teaching in at risk high schools, I never liked teacher’s conferences. It wasn’t just that they added extra evening hours to my schedule, I didn’t think that talking to parents who were usually neglectful, was a valuable experience for the kids. I always thought that it would be more effective to speak to the kids directly. I also worried that if he or she might be subject to punishment at home that I deemed inappropriate.
    Your article made me realize that parent-teacher conferences can be an opportunity to celebrate the child in front of his or her parent. This would make children, who are hesitant to attend school at all, see school as a place to have fun. It also could be a pleasant experience for the parents, and maybe even, in the most optimistic case, transform the family.
    It almost makes me wish I could go back to my teaching days and do those conferences over.

  2. Powerful suggestions, Colleen, that any adult can put to good use with any child. “Nothing ever invented provides such sustenance, such infinite reward for time spent, as a good book”–David McCullough (author). All your students are learning that all-important, life-changing lesson!

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