Guerrilla Tactics for Struggling Readers

struggling readersDo you have a struggling reader? I did, too. Which is why I’ve developed some unusual strategies over the years to get my kids to love reading; strategies that fit with their unique personalities. And why I wrote the book, Book Love: Help Your Child Grow From Reluctant Reader to Enthusiastic Reader, coming October 2012.

My tactics to encourage a love of reading do not involve punishments or rewards –unless the reward is a book. And not a big fan of keeping track of pages read, titles of books read, or minutes read either.  I don’t think it encourages the ultimate goal of enjoying the book. Same with sticky note over-use, I don’t like it. While sticky notes can be helpful to practice and show thinking strategies, one can also get carried away with the notes and they can interfere with enjoying and comprehending the story. I’m just saying.

Here’s my the ultimate goal: 

The goal is that my child loves reading.

Loving reading happens when my child discovers that the book itself is the reward.

What do you think? Do you agree?

With that goal in mind, here are the strategies I use to get my own children more engaged in books. Maybe these will work for you as well.

struggling readers

Guerrilla Tactics To Get Your Struggling Reader To Love Reading

1. Leave piles of books lying around the house. At first glance, this may appear slovenly, okay, yes it is but it works with my daughter. AJ’s rarely passed up a picture book, comic book, or magazine without reading it. (Yes, she’s 9-years old and still reads pictures books which I encourage. I count everything. And, picture books are generally at a 4th grade reading level.)

2. Play audio books in the car and during home time. This summer, AJ’s school assigned books to read. She’s not a big fan on being told what to read. So, I got the books on CD. Once I popped them in and we listened to a few minutes, she was hooked! (The White Giraffe and Jack Plank Tells Tales were two such books and she ended up loving both.)

3. Read aloud a book until child is hooked; let them continue on their own. Often I get “too busy” to continue. (Or get a sore throat. Whatever.) Watch your child pick up the book and read to herself because she must know what happens. I did this with Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat which really was a terrific story.

4. Unlimited library book check out. I don’t understand why we often limit our children to a certain number of books. Granted, there can be fines if misplaced butI like to think of it as my contribution to buying my library a new wing. My suggestion is to not set limits — or set them high. Why not let your kids pick 25 books? Are we trying to encourage lots of reading or not? I let each of my kids fill a large tote bag. Try it and you’ll see how excited your kids get about going home to read all their new books! It’s like magic.

5. Money to spend at the bookstore — on any reading material. 

6. No television during the weekdays and very minimal television on the weekend. (1 – 2 hours.) This means NO television in the background either. Really. Again, try it and you’ll see for yourself. (Let them get bored – they’ll live. Maybe they’ll even pick up a book.)

7. Limited number of after-school activities. If you want your child to read, that child needs free time – he can’t be overbooked and too busy to read. Think about your priorities. I would even go so far to say that if you have a struggling reader, skip after school activities until your reader is up to speed with reading. Invest everything in literacy. It’s the most important skill from which to build.

Best Ideas for Reluctant Readers

What Kids Need at Home and School

1. Choice

2. Time

Time in class to read.

Time at home to read.

3. Volume

Lots of books. Reading a lot of books improves reading ability. As in practice makes better. This is the big difference between struggling readers and good readers. While good readers read a lot, struggling readers do not and continue to not improve.

Just-right books. Read appropriate books that are not too challenging. Really. Use the 5 finger test. Or remember the 1 in 20 rule. In a just-right book, the child should only misses 1 in 20 words.


As far as what should happen at school, educator Alfie Kohen says, “Children are likely to become enthusiastic, lifelong learners as a result of being provided with an engaging curriculum; a safe, caring community in which to discover and create; and a significant degree of choice about what (and how and why) they are learning.”

Well said, don’t you think?

More Reading Resources:

Catching Readers Before They Fall by Pat Johnson and Katie Keier

What Really Matters in Fluency by Richard Allington

Reading Rockets website

Selling Reluctant Readers: 10 Marketing Tactics to Amp Up Fun (great post by Shaping Youth!)

Book Love: Help Your Child Grow from Reluctant to Enthusiastic Reader by Melissa Taylor

What guerilla tactics have worked in your family to get your kids hooked on books?

Also read:

Word Attack Strategies Beyond “Sound It Out” 

6 Ideas for Reluctant Readers

23 Reasons to Read Printable Poster


  1. says

    Here is a practical way to raise a reader. The guerilla tactics you spoke of works. Worked for me as a child and I am utilizing it now with my kids with great results.

  2. Molly Hyde-Caroom says

    We do all of these and all of our kids LOVE reading (or learning to read). Such great ideas and easy to implement! Between the kids, me and homeschool we have almost reached the limit of books you can have out at a time at our libraries!
    My parents also gave us the choice of reading and/or going to bed! I still have to read every night before bed and it’s such a habit I almost can’t go to sleep without it!
    The only other thing I add is to take a book/magazine with you everywhere you go. You never know when there might be traffic, a wait in the doctor’s office, a delay in travel, or any unexpected delay where there is nothing to do. This is a wonderful time because a book is preferable to just sitting there!

  3. Dr Gary Woolley says

    When our children were young we lent our TV to a family that did not have one. They were then given the choice of reading or sleeping. They all developed a love for books. Often we read to them and left the book in the room so that they could finish the exciting bit.

  4. says

    I totally agree with you Melissa! My oldest is now 11 and a voracious reader BUT she was a reluctant reader until about 4th grade. I also went CRAZY trying to get her to love to read. I used very similar tactics…

    1) trips to bookstores to buy her books (maybe 4-5 x a year)
    2) book recommendations from her friends
    3) I started a book club for her and her friends after 1st grade. I have to say that this was very rewarding and I think it helped to make reading very fun!
    4) trips to library to select books (maybe monthly)… I would buy the book if there was interest but we had trouble getting through it after 3 weeks (which is our normal checkout time for a book)
    5) books everywhere in the house including special book selection of Just Right For Me books in her room
    6) i never did audio books but I would do that now plus i would do ebooks via ipod/iphone/and ereader. I happen to have a color nook now but have only had this for a few months.
    7) i would also do more author visits at book stores. we had an author visit her book club twice. these were HUGE hits but authors often come to independent bookstores near us.
    8) I used picture books extensively especially advanced picture books when she was in 2nd and 3rd grade. I actually went though Great Books For Girls by Kathleen Odeon book by book at 2 libraries. These were great books and I was able to read to all 3 kids at the same time as she has two younger siblings. We would read 30-50 picture books a week. We all have very fond memories of this time and she still enjoys overhearing picture books that I read to her younger brother. I LOVE PICTURE BOOKS and they are for ALL AGES!!!
    9) We also did shared reading. You Read to Me and I’ll Read to Me series was great but we also did regular books as well.
    10) Hooking her on a series, even an annoying one with the Rainbow Fairies, was great. My favorite series though for 2nd grade is still the Cobble Street Cousins by Cynthia Rylant.

  5. says

    WOWZA! At last I’ve met a mom who truly parents the same way I teach! I spent half my salary on books, and my classroom was bursting! But it was worth every penny. The kids and I reveled in our bookworld, and lived and breathed reading.

    I like your style, lady! 😉


  6. says

    With our reluctant reader, we allowed a treat of an hour of a favorite cartoon a day! How does THAT help? The secret is, the volume is OFF, and the closed captioning is ON!!!
    Works like a charm!
    (Spongebob is much easier on my nerves with no volume anyways!)

  7. jojoebi says

    my son has been gobbling up books since a baby but there are some great tips here, I have friends with reluctant readers, I will send them over!


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