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29 August 2023

5 Top Tips to Encourage Reluctant Readers

Shelby Derbyshire

Head of English, Digital Theatre+

Students reading

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It’s no secret: reading isn’t every student’s forte. For some, it’s seen as a boring, old-fashioned practice that takes away time from way more interesting things. For others, there’s a genuine skill barrier affecting their engagement. After all, it can be really frustrating to do something that you find tough and inaccessible.

But if reluctant readers persevere, it’s so rewarding! Reading is proven to improve focus, boost memory, and build empathy and communication skills. Research suggests that reading enjoyment is one of the most important factors in a student's educational success. There are hundreds of journal articles that explore the educational and social benefits of reading.

So, how do we get reluctant readers excited about reading in the classroom? How creative can we be to give students the best possible start in their reading journey? Check out some of these strategies to encourage reluctant readers and help them fall in love with reading in no time.


Digital Reading Materials

Giving students access to digital materials – a poem or short story they can read from a tablet or school computer – is a great way to boost engagement. Lean into the technology your students are familiar with, and where possible, do away with the heavy book bags.

Graphic Novels

Graphic novels are a proven tool for teachers who want to engage their reluctant readers. They have less text than traditional books, they're colorful and fun, and they're great for visual learners.

Your students will still have to figure out the storyline, character motivations, and plot – they’re still building all of those essential skills! – but they can do it in a way that feels much easier. Graphic novels are especially useful for exploring texts with archaic language or complicated dialogue, like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Make it Funny, Frightening, or Foul

It can be hard to convince a reluctant reader that Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is funny, or that Poe’s narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart is frightening. If you’re not a strong or engaged reader, there’s nothing inherently interesting about words on a page. But don’t worry: that’s when filmed performance and recital can step in.

A good storyteller can keep you hanging on the edge of your seat, and a good actor can have you crying or laughing in moments. For students, seeing plays in performance and stories and poems recited is a great way to become immersed in the mood and tone of the text. You’ll get to watch your students have an “a-ha!” moment: “Oh, that’s the joke!” It’s a great way for them to truly immerse themselves in the narrative.

Readers’ Theatre

Readers’ Theatre scripts are created from popular stories or plays. There are no props, costumes, or lines to be memorized. Instead, students perform their script standing, reading from their script and focusing on delivering the lines with the right tone, inflection and pronunciation. They’re laser-focused on understanding the words of the text. Can they deliver the right mood? Do they understand how the story is progressing?

The fascinating thing about this technique is that really works. In one study, it was found that eighth graders who used readers’ theatre techniques saw genuine improvement in their comprehension, reading level and fluency when compared to a control group. There was also an increase in student motivation to read classroom materials.

By adapting popular short stories – such as Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, or Amy Tan’s Fish Cheeks  – into this format, you give reluctant readers an active, dramatized way to explore the text.

Turn on the Captions

There’s no better way to understand a play than to see it in performance. There’s no better way to understand rhythm than to hear a poem recited. And a short story, delivered by a performer, can bring the setting and characters to life – opening new avenues of understanding for your students.

Today, digitized live performance and filmed recitals provide unparalleled access to these opportunities. But did you know that you can also improve their reading comprehension and engagement with the click of a caption button? Students consistently report increased engagement and enjoyment of captioned media over all other options, including print and uncaptioned media. It’s a great way for students to improve vocabulary, improve their comprehension skills, and think critically about the text.

If you’d like access to any of these resources and are not yet a customer of Digital Theatre+, please get in touch with a member of our team today. If you already have a subscription, click here.


OECD (2002) Reading For Change Performance And Engagement Across Countries - Results From PISA 2000.

Keehn, S., Harmon, J., & Shoho, A. (2008). A study of readers theater in eighth grade: Issues of fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 24, 335-362.

 Holmes, K., Russell, W. B. III., & Movitz, A. (2007). Reading in the social studies: Using subtitled films. Social Education, 71(6), 326–330.