How to Motivate a Middle School Reader

Having trouble getting older kids to pick up a book that's not assigned in school? Try these six tips to help them discover excitement on the page. By Regan McMahon
How to Motivate a Middle School Reader

In the early grades, parents and teachers focus on teaching kids how to read. As kids get older, we hope they'll want to read. Reading for pleasure has lots of benefits. It builds vocabulary and improves reading comprehension, writing, spelling, grammar, and knowledge of the world. It also boosts test scores.

A 2013 study found that kids' leisure reading is linked to increased cognitive development -- in other words, clearer thinking, better problem-solving, and improved decision-making.
 
But as we reported in our 2014 research brief on Children, Teens, and Reading, reading for fun drops off dramatically as children move into the tween and teen years. So it's crucial to find ways to encourage middle schoolers to read.
 
One key is to tap into what your kids like to do, what they're interested in, and where they are in their emotional growth. At this age they're social, curious, beginning to pull way from their parents to forge their own identity, and fine-tuning their sense of humor. Thus, books that expand their view of the world or poke fun at the world they know (family, friends, puberty, school social dynamics) hold a lot of appeal, as do imagined worlds of science fiction and fantasy.

Try these six tips to get middle schoolers reading:

Let them choose what they read: Having control over what they read increases kids' motivation to do it. And don't criticize their choices or formats -- books, ebooks, graphic novels, articles. To widen the field, take them to the library or bookstore. Browsing in a used bookstore can be a revelation (and easier on your wallet!).

Feed their interests: Whatever your kids are into -- basketball, space exploration, World War II, alien invasions, wizards and dragons, humor, teen romance, social justice, books about middle school (a vast genre unto itself!) -- there are books about it. Finding a book on a topic your kid is already passionate about is half the battle.

Make it social: Reading the latest hit book lets your kid be a part of what "everyone" is talking about. Many friendships have been formed over a love of Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Check the middle-grade bestseller lists, clue your kid into book blogs (including ones by kids and teens), and ask booksellers and librarians what kids this age are requesting. And keep your ears tuned to book raves on carpool rides!

Mix movies and books: Many books written for kids and teens are adapted into movies, and knowing there's a big-screen version on the way can motivate kids to read the book first -- or after -- to compare the book and movie versions of, say, Wonder or A Wrinkle in Time. It also gives kids the chance to be the expert who knows more on a subject than their parents.

Follow the series: If your kid likes the first book in a series, keep 'em coming. Adventure sagas and dystopian nail-biters, which kids love at this age, have lots of installments, each ending on a tempting cliffhanger. Getting hooked on a series like Percy Jackson or The Mortal Instruments leads to being hooked on an author, which leads to more books and even spin-off series.

Make time for reading: Model reading at home by turning off the TV and devices and reading a book or magazine yourself in full view -- your kids will be more inclined to follow your lead and read themselves. Try reading aloud: Big kids like it, too. And when you go out, get kids in the habit of bringing a book or magazine along in the car: They're great boredom killers!

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About Regan McMahon

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Regan has been reviewing children's books for more than a decade. A journalist and former book editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, she cites as one of her toughest assignments having to read and review the 784-page... Read more

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Comments (1)

Kid, 10 years old

I think these tips are great for not only middle schoolers but elementary readers as well. My parents let me choose the books I want to read and are fine with my choices even if it's a book they aren't interested in, and let me read eBooks as long as I spend most of my time reading print books. Reading is one of my favorite things to do, and I especially love series. Here are some of my book recommendations for ages 8-12. 8 and 9-year olds: Harry Potter, Serafina, Goosebumps, Big Nate, Babysitters Club, Fablehaven, Land Of Stories, The Trials Of Morrigan Crow 10 and 11-year olds: Goneaway Lake, Midnight Without A Moon, Olive's Ocean, Murder Is Bad Manners, A Wrinkle In Time, Insignificant Events In The Life Of A Cactus, El Deafo 12+: The Hunger Games, The Fifth Wave, All The Bright Places, Far From The Tree, People Like Us

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