Teaching Opinion

Response: Ways To Engage Students in Reading

By Larry Ferlazzo — February 22, 2014 6 min read
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(This is the final post in a three-part series on this topic. You can see Part One here and Part Two here)

Emily Norton asked:

I am a college student currently in a children’s literature class so my question is...How will I get my early elementary students engaged in reading? What strategies can I use to make sure they will fully understand the books we read? How can I ensure that I will create life-long readers?

Part One in this series included responses from Donalyn Miller, Mark Barnes and Christopher Lehman. In Part Two, educators Kristi Mraz, Marjorie Martinelli, Kathy Barclay and Cindi Rigsbee contributed their thoughts.

Today, Jason Flom responds to Emily’s question, as do many readers....

Also, when I originally published this post, I had forgotten to include this very interesting -- at least, to me -- Google Ngram Viewer chart comparing the phrases “free voluntary reading,” “extensive reading,” “SSR” (for Silent Sustained Reading), “reading for pleasure,” and “required reading” (as a contrast to the other terms). Google charted how often those phrases had been used in books over the past two hundred years.

It seems depressing to me, with “required reading” going way up, and the other phrases going in the opposite direction. It’s obviously not a scientific-designed survey, but I wonder if there’s not a fair amount of truth to what it might say. Let me know what you think....

Response From Jason Flom

Jason Flom is the Learning and Communications director at Cornerstone Learning Community in Tallahassee, FL. He is an ASCD Emerging Leader, class of 2010, and the founding editor of Ecology of Education, a multi-author blog exploring issues and ideas in education. He is also a BAM Commentator. Give him a follow on Twitter at @JasonFlom:

Engaging early elementary students in reading is, like much in education, an ever evolving and dynamic process best approached with an observant eye and responsive adaptations. For me, the process begins and ends with the same two questions:

1. Is the literature meaningful to learners?
2. Are learners making sense of it?

These two questions stimulate reflection and guide facilitation in cultivating a love of reading with young learners.

1. Learners must find personal meaningfulness within the reading. Connecting with the story, the characters, and the narrative arc keeps them reading.

Some questions I ask when planning for meaningfulness:

  • What are these learners’ interests? What do they care about?
  • What are they curious about? What questions do they ask?
  • During playtime, what do they imagine? How are their imaginations at work?
  • What cultures are present in this group and which of these cultures is (are) underrepresented in the books we have available? In which area should I expand the literature offerings?
  • What will it look like when these young minds are engaged in literature they truly find meaningful?

2. Sense-making is at the heart of nurturing a life long love of reading. But how do I know learners are making sense of what they are reading? Again, I employ questions to guide my observations and determine adjustments in my practice.

  • Are learners sustaining interest in the available literature?
  • Do they share the literature with each other? Or share what they learned?
  • When I talk with them about what they read, what is their enthusiasm level? How accurate are they about the content they find most interesting?
  • Is their reading reflected in their writing and art work?
  • What questions do they ask before, during, and after reading?
  • Are they looking for more books on the same topic?
  • How independently can they recall what they read when given a chance to share a book they enjoyed?

I have found that cultivating a life-long love of reading really boils down to helping learners connect with and construct knowledge from literature - fiction and non-fiction - that builds on their strengths, stimulates their affinities, and cultivates their curiosity.

Responses From Readers

Ricky Rutledge:

The Million Dollar question ... “How Can We Develop Life-Long Readers?":

Before this question is asked of Educators, it needs to be asked of Parents. In the home is where it starts, of course.
By being an example of an enthusiastic reader, by reading to the child from the beginning, the being aware of the child’s preferences, and having suitable material available, Age/Level/Gender appropriate material, also by having a variety of reading material available - Electronic, Hard-back, Soft-cover, Pop-out, Comic, Interactive, Picture, Tales of every kind...and never forget the Classics/Myths and Legends, for they alone have stood the test of time. FUN.

Now to the Educator, all of the previous points apply also, but must be broadened:

Energy and Enthusiasm from the Teacher, the introduction of Academic themes/specific purpose reading, specific techniques to enhance comprehension, Higher-level thought processing, constant confirmation of the value and benefits of life-long Reading - Economic, Cerebral, Spiritual. FUN.


First, do no harm. Seriously. Second, provide time to read and an atmosphere of literacy, and that means books and respect for choice. Third, realize that being able to match the right book to the right kid means you will have to keep reading and growing too.


If by middle school, students groan when greeted with the prospect of reading a book, something has gone seriously wrong in their education thus far. A reading teacher can judge her success each year by gauging how many of her students either love to read or are well on their way to loving to read.

Many readers send in responses using Twitter. I’ve used Storify to collect them:

Thanks to Jason and to many readers for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post. I’ll be publishing comments from readers next week.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind. You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers. I’ll be highlighting one particular publisher every two months, and will be starting the new year with ASCD.

Just a reminder -- you can subscribe to blog for free via RSS Reader or email.... And,if you missed any of the highlights from the first two years of blog, you can see a categorized list of them here. You won’t see posts from school year in those compilations, but you can review those new ones by clicking in the monthly archives link on blog’s sidebar.

You can also see annual lists of my most popular posts.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from blog -- along with new material -- in an ebook form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Last, but not least, I’ve recently begun recording a weekly eight-minute BAM! Radio podcast with educators who provide guest responses to questions. You can listen and/or download them here.

Look for the next “question-of-the-week” in a few days....

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.