Overcoming Obstacles

When I was a middle- grade student, two things made me nauseous. One was timed math tests. The other, obstacle courses.

Back in the day, an obstacle course was enough to send me to the nurse’s office hoping for a quick ticket home. The climbing rope that hung from the gym ceiling was the pinnacle of my misery. I should be honest and say that I never got more than six inches off the ground so my fear wasn’t based on any real risk, but on the impossibility of the task and the humiliation of public failure.

I was NEVER going to make it to the top of the rope—especially after struggling to climb over the pommel horse, doing a cartwheel on a balance beam (or not) or sweating through fifty push- ups (ha!). Wasn’t. Going. To. Happen. Ever.

Middle grade students have enough obstacles in their lives with or without a seventy-five foot rope to climb. Unfortunately for some, reading is one of those hurdles.  My next few posts will discuss barriers to reading and what Mixed-Up folks like us can do to help kids to bust through or boost over.

We’ll start with the most obvious obstacle–the reader.  Every reader brings internal strengths, weaknesses, interests and biases that can contribute to success or failure in reading.

Dig a little deeper within the blog to find great ideas to inspire children to move from learning to read to loving to read.

Book clubs: Any time reading becomes a social activity, that’s one less hurdle for some kids. Kurtis Scaletta has had knowledgeable and informative posts about book clubs with a focus on boys. Check them out for the inside scoop.

Books on tape: Take a look at one of Hélène Boudreau’s posts about using books on tape. Audiobooks can also be used to promote reading in a variety of situations.

  • With kids that don’t have a read-aloud routine in their home
  • With auditory learners
  • With children who get overwhelmed by the number of pages in books
  • With those who don’t read well. An adult can start the book on tape and let the child finish reading it once they are established in the story. Or they can alternate between listening and reading. Adult and child can listen to the whole thing together if neither is a strong reader.

Book –related field trips: For hands-on kids or those whose life experiences may be limited, a field trip to a location mentioned in a book can make the book more relevant and help strengthen the book-to- self connections that classroom teachers are always encouraging.

Book projects: I had a previous post on how book projects took reading to a new level for my son. Here is another spot with lots of creative book project ideas for those kids who learn by doing.

Reading together/read aloud: A great way to bond. Stop to ask questions, define new words or make comments while reading to strengthen comprehension skills and vocabulary. For even more fun, try something new.

  • Set up a tent, use a flashlight for light and read a suspenseful story.
  • Read a winter story by the fireplace with a bowl of popcorn to share.
  • Find a fun perch at a local playground and read from a different height.
  • Give an active child some paper and crayons while he or she listens and draws as the story unfolds.

Book to movie connections: A great way to motivate visual learners. Read the book first and look for similarities and differences in the movie version. Add a post-movie pizza and a few friends and you have an on-the-spot book club meeting. Hélène had another great post about favorite book to movie translations.

Reading Buddies: Programs like these match senior citizen volunteers with children to promote reading, vocabulary-building games, mentor activities and shared history which benefits both participants in ways that reach far beyond the book.

Literacy activities and programs: Libraries are full of great book-related activities to promote reading. Incredible to think not every neighborhood or community has a library or an easy way to get to one. I grew up in a small town and the visit from the bookmobile was a highlight of our month. If you have access to a good library, use it, bring a friend and be thankful for it. I never appreciated my favorite library as much as when I moved away and realized that not all libraries are created equal.

Graphic novels: Another great way to promote reading with visual learners, artistic kids and reluctant readers. You can even read classics in graphic novel form with the original text. What a clever way to keep the classics relevant in today’s visual, fast-paced environment and hopefully encourage a kid who might have never read the book to take a look.  See Wendy Martin’s post for more about this non-traditional media.

Non-fiction and how-to books: Some kids better understand the purpose of reading when it is directly related to an interest or as a way to find out more information about a subject. Non-fiction, magazines, how-to books and other forms of print are often ways to keep a reluctant reader connected.  Take a look at another post from Wendy Martin for more.

Reading aloud to pets: Read more here about this creative approach. What a great idea!

Check back for more about removing barriers to reading in my next post coming in May.  I’ve dropped a few hints in this post about the next obstacle we’ll discuss. What do you think the next barrier will be?

Joanne Prushing Johnson looks at the world upside down and backwards, trying to figure out new ways to do the same old thing. Joanne writes funny middle-grade books and is represented by Quinlan Lee of Adams Literary. To find out more, check out www.joanneprushingjohnson.com. Or hang upside down on the nearest monkey bars for a couple of minutes and you’ll get the general idea.

  1. Thank you so much for the great post on getting reluctant readers to love to read. This is a topic dear to my heart and I wanted to share a category of posts on this subject for anyone who wants it: http://www.pragmaticmom.com/?cat=3154

    I have about 30 posts on this topic. I also have a book list: Best Books for Reluctant Boy Readers at http://www.pragmaticmom.com/?p=116

    I hope that this is helpful to your readers!

  2. Great suggestions!

    I am currently doing a theater project with a group of fourth and fifth graders and it’s so amazing–you can see their confidence grow every week. Rereading and memorization in theater, followed by performance, can be a great road to reading. It was for me!!!

  3. Great timing. I’m working with reluctant readers at a neighborhood school next week. Thanks for the inspiring ideas.
    Btw, I laughed out loud at your P.E. (aka gym) miseries. Vanessa, the character in my first book, had to face every one of those things in P.E. class with the evil Coach Connor.
    Thanks for the excellent post!

  4. Hmmm Cathe. You might be onto my next topic about barriers to reading.

  5. Great suggestions . . . I’ve brought graphic novels into my library and they are very popular. I’m trying to get some audiobooks now but it’s hard because we have no funding for materials this year. I started a program on donors choose at http://www.donorschoose.org/nipomoelementary which I’m hoping will be funded so we can get some in. We have not only reluctant readers but many english second language students so audio books are great for them to hear the language.

  6. This is great. My 8 yr old is just turning the corner on whether she enjoys reading. Reading to the pets…gotta be my favorite.

  7. Book projects for sure! Oh, books on tape are great too.

  8. Great ideas here. I’d also add regular trips to the library/bookstore. I used familiar TV characters in picture books to get my son started at 4 years old too.