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

{ 10 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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