Even the most thoughtful and dedicated book lovers can sometimes find themselves entangled in a frustrating reading slump. Why does this happen? Perhaps the previous book was so phenomenal that nothing else measures up. On the flip side, the last book or two may have been so disappointing that motivation plummets. Reading slumps can also be seasonal. For example, the sudden freedom of summertime or holiday breaks can quickly put reading at the bottom of the list.
The COVID-19 pandemic certainly put a wrench into students’ reading abilities. Researchers at the Center for Policy Analysis at Stanford Graduate School of Education found that oral reading fluency for second and third graders decreased 30% during the 2020-2021 school year. Even re-engaging advanced readers is a major challenge.
Whatever the reason, it’s critically important that kids and teens don’t feel discouraged. Getting back into the magic of reading just takes some attentive strategies, exploration, and, of course, encouragement from teachers, family, and peers.
Check out these 12 helpful tips to help kids conquer a reading slump.
1. Join a Book Club
Book clubs add a social component to the joy of reading. It can really be enjoyable to talk about favorite parts of the book, characters, and subplots that made an impression. To add variety, members can either take turns choosing a new book or choose each book collaboratively. Chances are that all book club members have also had their share of reading slumps. Fellow members can share what they do to conquer slumps and other reading difficulties.
2. Revisit a Favorite Book
Enthusiasm for reading is often rekindled by rereading a favorite book. It could be one from several years ago or even that phenomenal story that made an impression prior to the devastating slump.
There's even value in reading a book that might be below the reader’s current grade level. For one thing, it can help students realize how much they've advanced in reading abilities. Furthermore, it’s always interesting for a reader to discover how their perception of a story and characters can change. Such revelations help illustrate how we change, and yet, how we stay the same.
3. Explore Reading Lists
There are numerous recommended reading lists available online that are broken up by grade level as well as age group. You could also look for a reading list from your favorite author or favorite genre. Many include detailed descriptions and synopses. There are also a multitude of age-appropriate magazines that, in addition to great articles, also contain games, illustrations, and fabulous photos.
The latest in internet technology gives teachers and librarians the option to create their own reading lists. It’s even possible to link tailor-made reading lists to virtual challenges, badges, and prizes.
4. Ask Friends and Teachers for Recommendations
Sometimes, a good friend may have insights into their pal’s book slump. Teachers always have several ideas for books that match reading levels. Students can also ask teachers about their favorite subjects. For example, American History teachers are sure to have extensive knowledge of stories that could reignite a history lover’s reading passion. Friends or teachers will always be around to start conversations, offer encouragement, and serve as cheerleaders after books are finished.
Another popular method for finding the right book is posting about the hard time you are having finding the next read on social media. This is an easy, accessible way for connections to offer suggestions.
5. Try a Different Genre
Reading slumps could be partially due to boredom with a particular genre. A tried-and-true book category just may not hold the same interest it once did, at least for now. There are many captivating genres to choose from to shake it up. Check out the following list.
- Science fiction (sci fi)
- Romantic thrillers
- Historical fiction
- Short stories
- Graphic novels (See further explanation below)
Some genres overlap. For example, a memoir is a type of autobiography that focuses on key moments in the writer’s life that shaped and influenced them. Autobiographies, in contrast, are chronological accounts of the author's life events.
6. Get Ideas From Favorite Subjects
We are all a unique combination of many interests and passions! Pick any favorite subject and there are probably several books about it. For example, an interest in chemistry can inspire someone to read “Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History” by Jay Burreson and Penny Le Couteur. Other subjects and their related titles might be:
- Music: "The Music of Black Americans: A History" by Eileen Southern; "A Life in Letters” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
- Cooking: “Blood, Bones, and Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton; “On Food and Cooking” by Harold McGee
- Mathematics: “A Very Improbable Story” by Edward Einhorn; “The Greedy Triangle” by Marilyn Burns
7. Try a Reading Challenge
Reading challenges increase reading potential not only in the summertime but throughout the year. For many, a reward system for achieving reading goals is all that’s needed to get back into excellent habits. Many students do very well with the promise of reading badges or certificates.
Turning the reading challenge into a group activity creates a sense of teamwork and support among students. Many educators find success offering special parties or field trips for reaching a group reading goal. Is there perhaps a local charity or community organization that's close to the hearts of the students? Many schools initiate reading challenges that benefit worthy causes, such as the school food pantry, which can be particularly motivating for older kids.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: Town Hall Takeaways: Librarians on Summer Reading Engagement
8. Read a Few Pages of Different Books
How about a trip to the local library? Choosing a variety of books from the stacks and reading three or four pages from several books will likely spark interest in at least one of them. It’s fun to get creative juices going by speculating on what happens during the other parts of the story. Doing this activity with a friend may lead to some good laughs and surprising insights.
You can also find libraries of books to browse in unexpected places. Several ideas will come to mind while browsing through the bookshelves of friends or family members. Similarly, many kids get ideas from re-organizing their own bookshelves. As it happens with most bookworms, some will re-discover books that they totally forgot about!
9. Read a Short Book
As people struggle through a reading slump, it’s often easier to feel that sense of accomplishment when they can zip through a shorter book. The advanced reader shouldn’t worry if it's not a lengthy novel. They aren't backsliding in abilities, but simply using strategies to aid in returning to their usual high reading level.
There are other advantages to reading a shorter book. For one thing, if the book is a disappointment, it won’t be nearly as torturous to finish it off. Also, shorter books are easier to discuss with friends and peers who might not know what the book is about.
10. Go for a Graphic Novel
Graphic novels are a genre of books in which pictures provide additional details that advance the storyline. They are also called visual narratives. Comic books are but one example of a graphic novel. Although some might consider graphic novels “not really reading,” many educators are emphasizing the value of letting kids dive into this type of genre.
A growing body of research is emphasizing the many benefits of graphic novels. First, depth and complexity are added to the students' understanding. This is because the text is needed to understand the pictures, as well as vice versa, allowing kids to learn how to synthesize information and make inferences. The additional visual information also helps kids understand the elements of storytelling. Most of all, graphic novels simply encourage kids to keep reading, which is the most important element in good reading habits.
11. Change Up the Reading Environment
Even if a child is totally accustomed to a specific spot in the school library, or that favorite chair in the living room, maybe it’s time for a change. Lack of variability in the physical environment can dull the senses, including the visual and mental abilities needed for attention and reading comprehension.
By the same token, something might have changed in the environment that causes some rather jarring distractions. For example, is it noisier outside the bedroom window since the new family moved in across the street? Changes in room temperature can have a major effect on concentration too. It’s helpful to make sure the reading area is comfortable, but not so comfortable that it puts readers to sleep!
12. Explore Different Reading Formats
Although the traditional print book is a centuries-old favorite, 21st-century technology offers many ways to break those frustrating reading slumps. Newspaper and magazine articles (both print and digital) are easy to obtain and can allow exposure to a plethora of topics. Very portable e-readers contain countless numbers of full-length books.
Listening to audiobooks can help those who, for one reason or another, simply don’t always have enough reading time to sit down and devote undivided attention to print books due to chores or other responsibilities. It’s often difficult to determine what kinds of time constraints face students outside of the classroom. Audiobooks, as a more passive activity, can also be used as a stepping stone to the more active mental demands of a printed or digital book. The benefit is that students can still be exposed to great literature despite the limits they might have on their time.
No matter your age or ability level, the dreaded reading slump can happen to adults and kids alike. Even so (and also no matter what), it’s a challenge that can be definitively overcome. We should consider it a minor bump in the road along the incredible literary journey. Chances are that the process will involve some level of trial and error. We encourage you to stay positive, collaborate with colleagues, and keep moving forward.
When it comes to helping our young people experience the wonderful world of literature, it’s worth it.