October 28, 2010

How Fun Reading Practice Can Help Struggling Readers

Tags: Teaching Reading Tips

When was the last time you really enjoyed yourself? A vacation? An outing? A conversation? Whatever the situation was, it was probably enjoyable because it involved some type of behavior that could be classified as fun.

Another activity that can be considered fun in certain contexts is reading. Being completely engaged in a good book, learning about something you are passionate about, or reading on a social level such as reading an email or letter from a friend can all make reading a playful and enjoyable behavior.

However, although many people can find entertainment through reading; struggling readers often experience feelings of dread, stress, and even humiliation when they are asked to read. Thus, an effective way to help these individuals improve their reading skills is through incorporating fun into their reading practice.  

Recently there was an article published in The Scientist journal about the research of scientists concerning the science of play. The article discussed the prevalence of play not only in humans and other mammal species but the discovery of playful behavior in other species as well. Scientists have found that reptiles, fish, and invertebrates all engage in some form of playful behavior. This finding has led many scientists to strive to understand and define the role and meaning of play.

One of the “play” researchers, Gordon Burghardt, has defined play by any behavior that meets 5 specific criteria:

  1. Play is not fully functional in the form or context in which it is expressed.
  2. Play is spontaneous, voluntary, and/or pleasurable, and is likely done for its own sake.
  3. lay is incomplete, exaggerated, or precocious.
  4. Play is repeated but not in exactly the same way every time, as are more serious behaviors.
  5. Play is initiated when animals are well-fed, healthy, and free from acute or chronic stressors.

Incorporating play into reading intervention for struggling readers is beneficial because it can help ease the stress and dread that struggling readers often feel when reading. It also will provide them with a desire and motivation to learn to read if they are shown that it can be an enjoyable activity. There are a few things that can be done to help make reading a “playful” task for struggling readers rather than a dreaded one. 

Change Struggling Readers Attitudes about Reading

The first criteria mentions that for an activity to be considered play, it cannot serve its typical purpose. For struggling readers, reading instruction is about learning to read, a task that is difficult for them. Thus, by removing the “you are learning to read” aspect to reading, struggling readers may accidentally find they enjoy reading.

By simply reading to your students and showing them how fun and engaging a good story can be you can help your struggling readers see reading as a fun activity rather than a stressful and embarrassing task. While doing this, it could be helpful to disconnect the reading of a book from actual reading instruction. This way struggling readers won’t connect it to the task that they have come to dread.

Although reading to your students may seem like an activity that would be done with younger students, it can be effective for older students if the setting does not seem juvenile.

Another important aspect of changing struggling readers’ attitude about reading is creating a sense of voluntary participation. You should not force struggling readers to read out loud if they do not want to. This can only make the task more dreaded.

If you do choose to read to your students, one way to make the activity seem like a desirable choice for struggling readers would be to choose stories that are of interesting to the struggling readers in your classroom. This way they will be increasingly intrigued by the story and will want to pay attention and learn how to improve their reading skills so they can read material that interests them by themselves.

Incorporate Games & Activities into Reading Instruction

Using games and activities in your reading instruction can make struggling readers see learning to read as a fun and engaging task. When doing this it is important to appeal to the age group and to be sure that the activity is at their skill level. If a game or activity is too easy or to difficult for a struggling reader, they will not see it as enjoyable. Reading Horizons elementary reading program offers several free games that can be incorporated into your reading instruction.

Share any reading games & activities that have worked for your struggling readers in the comment section of this post!

Reading Instruction Must Be Effective

One important thing to remember is that if you do help struggling readers develop the desire to improve their reading skills, it is very important that you know how to help them develop their reading skills. Otherwise, their feelings of frustration will heighten. You do not want to tease your students by making them want to learn something, only to not be able to teach them the skills they want to learn. For most struggling readers systematic, explicit phonics-based, interactive (Orton Gillingham) reading instruction is the most effective.


In the article about play, the researchers offered several debated theories as to why organisms engage in play; however, it suffices me to say that play is simply a relief from what would otherwise be a boring and mundane life. If we don’t make the effort to make the things we do fun and playful, life will be pretty lame.

Everyone can learn to enjoy even mundane or stressful situations when they are made “playful.” This concept is especially true for teaching situations and in the process of turning struggling readers into successful readers

Learn how Reading Horizons structured literacy program helps struggling readers become more engaged in learning to read.

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