Strategies to help you motivate your reluctant readers in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade

Strategies and Tips to Motivate Reluctant Readers

Strategies to help you motivate reluctant readers in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade

Written by guest blogger Cindy Koopmans

Reluctant readers don't have to stay reluctant.  They just need the right book to motivate and engage them.

Choosing the “right for me” book is a critical piece of crafting a competent student reader.  Honestly, so often as students they don’t even know what they don’t know!  And who will explain all that to them if you don’t?

Using book previews and customized book bags is one teacher-tested way to change reluctant readers into excited readers.

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Model Book Previews for Your 3rd, 4th, and 5th Graders

I use the days prior to assigning specific books to specific kids doing my own book previews.  This is a Donalyn Miller idea.  I bring a stack of five or six books and show off the cover, carefully read the dedication (if there is one), and then read the first page or two of the first chapter.  

Be sure to take time to explain to students that simply reading the back of the book, or the “blurb” is not the best way to decide if a book is the right book for them.

Kids don’t know that those blurbs are written by expert advertising types that are trying to sell the book and the back of the book is not showcasing the author’s writing style.  

Now channel your inner kid and imagine if your teacher handed you two or three books and said—

I really thought about you when I chose these books because they I know you said you like (fantasy, science fiction, books with a little romance). So look through the stack and choose the one you would like to read first.  Read the first page of the first chapter carefully.  Tell me which one grabs you.  If you have trouble choosing, play ‘eenie- meenie’ with yourself. If you see any others that you’d like to read this year, just write the titles on your Books To Read wishlist.

Ultimately, despite your best recommendations, the choice of book must be their own.  Over time, they will become more and more discerning.  

Motivate Readers with Customized Book Bags

The first day I fit a group of kids to their book of choice is like Christmas.  I use individual gallon-sized plastic bags with the child’s name on it and slip two or three books inside.  Then I load up a plastic crate with all those ziplock bags full of books.  Once in the classroom, it is fun to make a big deal out of handing the bag as I call their name. They don’t get to keep all the books in the bag.  They have to choose just one.

And since I’ve spent a lot of time and energy creating a bag just for that child, I don’t let them reject the whole bag.  They have to choose one book and just try it overnight. I call this “dating” the book.  

Once they are sure they love the book, then they “marry” the book.  And I don’t allow divorce all the time.  Once the student is 100 or so pages in and they divorce the book?  I make kind of a joke-y big deal of that.  Only once or twice every nine weeks is a child allowed to divorce their book.  

Here’s a little sample of the kind of things I say as I hand out the books:

 “Tyler, there are some really good books in here so I’m sure you will love one of them.  This one on top?  This Jason Reynolds book? It was really popular with my boys last year.” 

“Hannah, I know you like books about animals, so this one, A Dog's Life, made me think of you.  It is by one of my favorite authors, Anne Martin.  It may make you cry.  It made me cry.” 

“Emma, this book is by the same author as our class novel, Barbara O’Connor.  I think you’ll really love the story line, because one of my most avid readers last year loved it and called it her favorite book ever.  It’s this one, Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia.

As you do this, the whole class is listening and, whether they say so or not, kids are thinking, “I’d like to read a book about a dog like that!” or “I want to read that book by Barbara O’Connor!”

Books are exciting!  Books are electric!  Books are fun!  The day I get a new book is a really happy day.  I can’t wait to start reading!

Offering each reader a specially selected stack of books demonstrates that they are in control of what they read.  They have a choice.  It also demonstrates the fact that I care deeply about the students’ reading life.  I want to know what books they prefer to read and I’ve made sure that they have a few books to choose from in that particular genre. 

I know the books in my class library well enough to be able to fit the books to the child much as a show salesman fits a shoe to a lady. I’d never fit a 90 year old with high heels and I’d never give a teenager dowdy sensible shoes, unless she was wearing them to her waitressing job at the greasy spoon.  

You are fitting books to your students and the more you do it, the better you will get at it, especially as they feel more and more engaged and trust your judgement.

Need book suggestions?  Check out these engaging books for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students.  

Cindy Koopmans lives in Sorrento, Florida and is a veteran fifth grade English Language Arts teacher, a lover of words, and a voracious reader. As empty-nesters, Cindy and husband Brian are finding more time than ever to simply enjoy life through travel and hobbies. If you want more book recommendations, Cindy always has them at the ready for adults and children alike. You can reach her to ask questions about teaching reading or writing at, or follow her on FaceBook at or Instagram @ckoopmans.

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