A Simple Way to Get Students Reading

Teacher and blogger at BookRiot, Nikki Demarco, recently wrote about her struggle to get her students to read. She says that “the typical public school canon [is] not relatable to my primarily minority students.” Typically, kids must read books like The Republic, The Communist Manifesto, and Ulysses. There is nothing wrong with these books, but for students who don’t come from white western culture, they are cryptic and meaningless. 

On top of an unrelatable syllabus, teaching English doesn’t mean the same thing anymore. Because of standardized testing, Demarco feels like she’s “fighting the state’s standardized writing test expectations as well.” Her English class felt more “like I was teaching how to take a test on English, rather than teaching how to comprehend English.” Finally she decided to do something differently.

Instead of forcing the typical curriculum on her students, she came up with something totally outrageous. She let them read whatever they wanted! For the first 30 minutes of class, each student has the chance to read anything of their choosing. This seemingly simple solution made all the difference for her students. They started picking up authors that they could relate to, such as: Walter Dean Myers, Ni-Ni Simone, Paul Volponi, John Green, SImone Elkeles, and Kwame Alexander.

This led to her students reading, recommending, and discussing books. They got on waitlists for the popular books and were even bringing them home to finish them. Demarco’s experiment flys in the face of the common complaint that kids are too busy on their phone to read. Kids will read, if given the opportunity to read something that they like and enjoy.

J.K. Rowling’s quote couldn’t be more appropriate here, “If you don’t like reading, you haven’t found the right book.” Getting students to read is not about forcing an ancient tradition down their throats, it’s about giving them the opportunity to read what they want to read.

It’s not so important that everyone knows Plato‘s conception of an ideal government, what is important is that everybody reads something.


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