“He’s a boy. He doesn’t like to read.”
I cannot count how many times I have heard this statement, or something similar. Research reveals that girls outperform boys on reading achievement tests. For example, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that fourth-grade boys’ average scaled score is lower than their female peers (National Center for Education Statistics, 2015). Enjoying the act of reading typically increases one’s reading volume, and the amount that one reads correlates with reading achievement. Gambrell (2015) states, “The more students read, the better readers they become” (p. 259). We must not overlook the gender achievement gap and surrender to the notion that “boys just don’t like to read.” This article includes five strategies that can motivate boys to want to read, thus increasing their reading volume and mitigating the gender achievement gap.
Research shows that students are more motivated to want to read when they have choice (Powell et al., 2006). It is imperative that you provide boys with choice in what they read. If students are required to read texts at a certain readability level, allow them to choose books within that level instead of providing them with certain books that they have to read.
Boys need books that will interest them in classroom libraries. Studies focused on boys’ book selections and interests reveal that boys typically prefer to read texts focused on animals, sports, and transportation. More specifically, books focused on sharks, reptiles, football, basketball, and cars can appeal to boys (Williams, 2018). Resources such as and Lexile can help you find books focused on these topics at varying readability levels.
Boys tend to need movement throughout the day, including the time that they read. One student in my class stood at his desk the entire time during independent reading. He was engaged in reading and not distracting others, so I did not ask him to sit down. Allow boys to choose the position that helps them stay engaged while reading. Hill and Nickels (2018) provide many ideas of alternative seating in the classroom.
The people who boys tend to see reading the most are females, including teachers, mothers, and caregivers. Boys also need to see male role models who read. Find male role models who will share favorite books, read aloud, and explain why reading is important to them. Administrators, custodians, lunchroom staff, parents and caregivers, older brothers and cousins, firemen, and local athletes are some examples of males who could serve as role models. A 10-minute visit from various male role models several times a year can make a difference.
Talking about books is an authentic literacy task that involves a meaningful and purposeful experience that can motivate boys to want to read (Gambrell, 2015). After independent reading time, allow students to turn and talk with a partner about the book that they just read (Kelley & Clausen-Grace, 2008). Allot 2 minutes for this activity, 1 minute per student to share. This activity provides an authentic audience and can motivate boys to want to read books that their peers discussed. Another way that boys can talk about books is virtually, using kid-friendly social networks that resemble Facebook or Pinterest. Some examples of social networks you can use to create such forums include Edmodo, Kidblog, and Padlet.
Some boys may not appear to like reading, and research shows that males typically do not perform as well as females on reading achievement tests, but you can be a part of the change. Increasing reading volume is critical in mitigating the gender achievement gap. Help motivate boys to want to read by offering choice, providing topics of interest, allowing for movement, finding male role models, and getting them talking about books.
By Lunetta M. Williams
Dr. Williams is a Professor at the University of North Florida. Her overarching research interest is minimizing the reading achievement gap among economically disadvantaged and economically advantaged children. Research areas include reading motivation, independent reading time, and children's book selections.
Williams, L.M. (2018). Selecting books and activities to entice boys to read: Research-based strategies for summers. In R. Allington & A. McGill-Franzen (Eds.), Summer reading:
Closing the rich/poor reading achievement gap (2nd ed.). NY: Teachers College Press.
Gambrell, L. (2015). Getting students hooked on the reading habit. The Reading Teacher, 69(3), 259-263. http:s://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1423
Hill, S., & Nickels, M. (2018). It’s elementary: Alternative seating engages students. New Teacher Advocate, 26(1), 2–3.
Kelley, M., & Clausen-Grace, N. (2008). R5 in your classroom: A guide to differentiating independent reading and developing avid readers. International Reading Association.
National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). The nation’s report card: 2015 mathematics and reading assessments. Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.