How it All Began

When I was an elementary teacher librarian, I was approached by Deb Hansen, a well respected reading specialist and colleague. Deb knew about my history and interest in getting boys to read and showed me Jon Scieszka’s website GuysRead.com. We knew of a handful of 5th and 6th grade boys that were really struggling with reading and decided to try our own version of Guys Read.

Our Goals:

1. show these boys that reading could be cool
2. bond with them and make them feel special
3. just have relaxed fun reading and discussing a book
4. plant a life long seed for reading Picking Boys Who Say, "I Hate Reading"

Choosing the Boys:

We began each session of Guys Read by meeting with teachers to select the boys who struggled the most with reading. Deb and I each "adopted" about 5 or 6 boys for the upcoming 6 weeks. We dedicated about 30 minutes each day with a mission to get these boys on board with reading. Most of the boys in our groups had ever read an entire book before. They all said they hated to read. Interestingly enough, they were always excited to be part of Guys Read. This was often because they appreciated the special attention. I’m sure that getting out of class helped too.

Talking to the Girls

I always made a point to explain the Guys Read program to the entire class, particularly addressing the girls. I told them that I cared about them and didn’t want to offered them by trying to address the problem with boys and reading. They always received it, likely because they already knew I had good intentions and knew that I cared for them. By addressing them I showed my respect to them. I always offereed if they had the need to start a Girls reading group that I could help them get it started. After my talk, I never had any issues.

1st Day – Open Discussion

The first day of each session began with an agreement about group norms and a heart filled discussion about the goals for our Guys Read program. We talked in an open forum where each boy got a chance to talk about things they liked and (mostly) disliked about reading. Following this forum we spent time teaching them about different reading styles and preferences (read this article for more info). We emphasized that reading included formats such as magazines, newspapers, comic books, graphic novels, internet articles, etc…

2nd Day – Library Visit & Book Talk

Usually on the 2nd day, we’d walk down to the library and spend the first 15 minutes reviewing the various types of books that are in the library, and where they are located. I’d usually pick a few high interest nonfiction books and we’d have a quick comparison to fiction. I’d usually tell them about my preference for nonfiction and how I was often made to feel inadequate if I didn’t like fiction.

Choosing the Right Book

Contrary to my feelings of fiction, I taught the boys about the wide range of fiction genres, clarifying the importance of finding the right genre to fit their interests. I explained why fiction is better to read aloud and that they needed to vote on a few titles that I had pre-selected. I’d usually gather a mixture of humor, science fiction, and adventure. No matter what I pre-selected, I always show a great deal of excitement to get them pumped up. Even if I wasn’t thoroughly excited about a title, if I showed excitement they would usually buy in. One example was with a Captain Underpants book. They were much more excited about it, but I supported them. 

The Right Location

When working with struggling boy readers, I found that it was very important to have a quiet secluded place to read. I always had the group read in a small workroom, with everyone seated around a table big enough for everyone. Being away from possible gawkers helped the boys feel safe about being in the group, especially in the beginning.

A Trusting Atmosphere

It usually took a week or two for the boys to feel comfortable participating in the group, especially for those boys who had never read an entire book before. The best way to engage them was by sharing my thoughts as I read and through high and low level questions. I constantly reminded them that guesses were greatly appreciated, mistakes were ok, and conversation was critical. As soon as someone was laughed at or made to feel inadequate, I would immediately jump in and get all over the guilty student. There could be absolutely no room for making someone feel inadequate or embarrassed. I verbalized this very clearly! There were times that I had to send a boy back to class. That always taught him the importance of our trusting atmosphere. Once trust was established, the doors of reading were opened.

Read Aloud Tips

For the first week or so, I did all of the reading, modeling with expression and showing excitement and interest. I explained that we would take our time and discuss things as we went along. This helped them get in the flow of the story and allowed me to build a trusting atmosphere. I’d tell them my goal was for all of us to eventually take turns reading aloud. While they listened, I had paper and crayons available for them to draw or doodle about the story or whatever they wanted. At the end of each day they could hang up their drawing if they wanted. Starting the 2nd week, we reviewed the group norms and I’d go around the circle as we read – offering each boy a turn to read only a few sentences. They could always pass if they wanted. When someone finally gave it a try after being shy I’d give them lots of positive reinforcement afterwards. When I wasn’t reading I would draw things about the story, even though I was a terrible artist. By the end of the 6 weeks, usually every boy would love to read aloud, often complaining when their turn was done.

Finishing the Book

It was usually a bitter sweet moment when we would finish the book. They were excited to accomplish the entire book and appreciated the journey we took together. At the same time, they were often sad about being done. I’d usually do a quick review about the goals that we set before we began. Then, at the very end, we’d go around the table and share something we liked about the book or our time together.

End of the Year Field Trip to Barnes and Noble

By the end of the year, we usually had about 30 – 40 boys participate in our Guys Read program. As a reward, we coordinated volunteers to drive us all to Barnes and Noble. We always found a willing sponsor to donate money for each boy to buy a book of his choice.

3 Things I will Never Forget

• Timmy screaming at me in the hallway, excited that he found another book by Will Hobbs and saying he loved to read!
• John begging his teacher to read in the library and watching him giggling loudly about his funny graphic novel, completely unaware that he was in another world.
• Dave, a rough and tough kid choosing a Magic Tree House book to my surprise and burying his face in it all the way home from Barnes and Noble
• Marvin and James looking up to me as a role model, ever so thankful that I cared so much about them

Please Share Your Questions and Comments!

Have you participated in a similar program?
Have any tips for reading aloud with boys?

Posted in: Adults, Content

{ 19 comments… add one }

  • Debby1

    Deb and Mike,

    As I was reading this I was actually getting a lump in my throat. I cannot thank you enough as a parent for being so caring and giving. If the world had more people like you two it would be wonderful. Just knowing there are people out there so giving of themselves is great.I can only imagine the joy it brought the two of you to see these boys read and succeed. It must be like a parent when their child takes their first step or says their first word.

    Again, as a parent I thank you both from the bottom of my heart.

    Reply
  • Mike McQueen

    Thank you all very much for your comments and compliments. That program was a lot of work, but it paid off in many ways.

    Reply
  • Mike McQueen

    Great idea, ayoubmarket, integrating competition among boys is a very strategic way to get them involved with reading.

    Reply
  • DebH2U

    Hi all…

    I just stumbled upon this site and am thrilled to join the conversation. I started a Guys Read club this year after being inspired by a couple of well-known authors at the Florida Media Conference last fall. We chose to start with our MOST reluctant readers who were also boys that exhibited some kind of (positive or negative) leadership in class. I enlisted the help of eight adult male staff members to be their mentors. We asked the boys what they were interested in learning about and we chose reading material and activities from there… Having these men as mentors has made a huge difference for the boys. Adding some challenges and competition (as Ayoub says above, has helped too. Author Marc Aronson (marcaronson.com) who is a strong proponent of getting boys to read, has been an advisor to our club and he has blogged about our program at http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/blog/1880000388.html. I think reading material that is geared toward the boys interests, choosing NON-fiction, and enabling them to connect with adult men has been a winning combination. I look forward to connecting with all of you to share more ideas and stories!

    Reply
  • bookclub4boys

    Hey!
    I love the gUys Read program- since I am not a librarian or teacher in a school… I decided to start a boys book club with these same principles in mind for my sons.
    It’s been 5 years now- and my boys love their Action-Oriented Boys Book club.

    My 12 year old- has a Book/Movie group- when a new movie comes out- he and his friends read the book, knowing us parents will be more willing to let them go see it in the theater… as a reward.

    There are LOTS of sneaky ways to get kids reading! Thanks for the tips!

    Reply
  • Andrea

    That post brought tears to my eyes. I would love to get something started like that at our inner-city school. Too bad I am not a “guy”… suggestions for other ways to make this work? Our school does not have the support of parent volunteers. We are 98% minority, 90% in poverty, 70% English Language Learners. This type of program would make a HUGE difference with our boys.

    Reply
  • Coralie

    As a teacher-librarian who does not get to see any grade above 3 it is frustrating keeping the boys reading. After complaints from a parent about her son not reading I started BOYS ONLY Book Club. TO start every meeting I ask for recommendations from the boys. They can’t stop talking about their favourite books. Sometimes we have book trivia contests…this month our reading will be cookbooks and we intend to use the kitchen. Always looking for new ideas to keep their attention. We are having a male author visit the school and he will spend lunch time with our group.

    Reply
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  • Deb Hansen

    When I started Guys Read at the school I taught at with Mike, it was a project funded by a group of homeowners at Larimer Place where my parents lived. Whenever I visited in August or September, there were over-flowing bins of school supplies in the lobby to be donated to needy kids. I had an idea: what if there was a stronger connection between those generous people and the kids who would benefit from their donations? My mom arranged a “coffee” in the party room where I presented my idea for a Lawrence-Larimer Place Literacy Link. I outlined by first project: Guys Read. After my presentation, I left with over $800 and the enthusiastic support of the homeowners, who were thrilled to know exactly how their money would be spent. So Guys Read became one of the most successful but most simple of projects I’ve ever tried…no grant proposals, no official paperwork, no data collection and analysis.

    In addition to roping Mike into the program (since I could do everything except be a guy!), I recruited my son to join us when he was home from Cornell. He not only was a good student and a reader, but a football player as well (which probably didn’t impress the boys as much as that he drove them to Barnes and Noble and his Camaro and let them listen to rap!). He has written about his involvement with Guys Read on several of his med school applications as being a life-changing experience. Wow. That is something for a program that was born out of a simple desire to motivate guys to read more and to share a love of reading with them.

    Was it successful? Beyond our wildest expectations.
    One of the boys in my group (a very troubled young man with serious challenges at home) went from U on CSAP to proficient and as his intervention teacher, I can confidently say it was NOT his engagement with the interventions but his involvement in Guys Read that made him a reader. And Mike and I did not have to document or in any other way diminish the pleasure we got from implementing this program…and it was, indeed, pure joy to end each day with our Guys, reading.

    So what is the lesson here for fellow teachers? Sometimes the simplest of solutions can create tremendous change within a kid. And that the human connection just might be the best of the “best practices” that we are searching for.

    Reply
  • Mike McQueen

    Well said Deb! I had no idea that you son was also so greatly impacted. Of all the things that I have been involved with regarding boys and literacy, our Guys Read programs stand out the most in my memory. You inspired me then and still do to this day. It’s my hope that our experiences will be shared by many other educators, ultimately influencing tons of boys!

    Reply
  • bluesbabe43

    Mike and Deb,
    The success of your program is inspiring!

    I am a teacher/librarian who tires to support boys’ reading by acquiring books that makes them want to read. That means: graphic fiction (They love the Bone comic books, books about the military and guns, sports, car books, books about the supernatural, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, etc, etc. I have tons of boys who want to borrow nothing but non-fiction. Finding books at their level can be difficult and I just keep trying. The work becomes more joyful when I free myself from some of my values about what they should read and try to be more open to where they are at.

    I do know that having a better mix of books for boys and all readers really generates excitement about reading and makes library checkout time fun for everybody.

    Reply
  • Rose

    Kudos to your reading program, Mike! As I was reading your post, I can’t help but think about my sons’ reading habits. They read books alright but only if it is a required reading in their class. Books like the hard bound ones, especially those with several chapters don’t bring much excitement to them.

    What they like reading are comics and graphic novels such as Manga, the Japanese anime novel.

    I’d like the boys to read more. It’s unfortunate that my kids don’t have a supplementary reading program in school.

    Reply
  • zemlene

    This is really a nice program Mike and Debb… Two-thumbs up to both of you.

    This is really a good cause program. I was hoping that something like this would be in my country as well. Is it ok if i would print this and show your post to our librarian so she can open some program like this? maybe she could get some idea on how to start a program to fight upheld literacy in our small public school.

    Reply
  • samanthajr

    I think this progam seems great. I think sometimes that boys need someone to help them realize not all books are boring. They need to know the different types of books. They also need to know of other content that the can read. I think having this reward program is wonderful.

    Reply
  • vanessa_cruz0615

    I was amazed about your program! You can help the parents and their kids as well. With this program they can fully understands and realized that reading book was as fun as playing their favorite game, watching their favorite movies, and eating their favorite food…This is really a big help!

    Reply
  • vanessa_cruz0615

    A while ago I told my husband to view this site. He felt sad that he never knew this kind of program here in our country during his childhood years. He said that if he had been to this program before, maybe it’s easy for him to get interested reading books. Just for the record, he really hates to read. He’ll just shook his head for a no, whenever I asked him to read the books and magazines I bought. “I’ll just watch a movie from my DVD” he will always answered me. But I think it’s not too late, isn’t it? I realized that he should have his own magazine/book that will catch his attention. And recommend him to visit this site often.

    Reply
  • ayoubmarket

    As a Teacher I tried this method with my students but I face many problems like ; parents don’t care, boys have no interest,… so I develop a method base on Competition: for example if some student read more than others in a limited time he will be credited with a present or a some extra points in his final exam (our exams based on points not degrees) and I think it is a good method to teach with because the students (especially boys) don’t care about the teacher (parent also) who just give home works and never help in studies (like reading stories …) This is my idea in readings problems  C.AYOUB

    Reply

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