How to keep your elementary school kid engaged in reading

A multi-ethnic group of school children are indoors in a classroom. They are wearing casual clothing. They are sitting on the floor and eagerly listening to their teacher read a storybook.

How to keep your elementary school kid engaged in reading


How to keep your elementary school kid engaged in reading


Dear Anita: I am a teacher and am always looking for good read-aloud books that will keep my fourth-graders’ attention.  This is my seventh year teaching and I am finding it harder and harder to keep the students engaged in a read-aloud. 

Credit: Giphy

My very unscientific theory is that children spend so much time on screens that give them immediate gratification they find it hard to settle down and patiently let a story unfold. Needless to say I find this tragic. 

Dear Reader: First, thank you for being a teacher who reads aloud to your students! Second, I intend to devote an entire column to this topic in the near future. It is THAT important.

But your use of the term “engaged” got my attention and I am certain this word resounded with other educators and parents. There is new and continuing research on the subject of technology and reading, but for today, let’s work on the issue of engagement.

What makes an engaged reader?

Researchers Guthrie and Wigfield suggest that engaged readers are:

  • motivated to read,
  • strategic in their approaches to comprehending what they read,
  • knowledgeable in their construction of meaning from text, and
  • socially interactive while reading.

Here’s one fairly simple strategy called Sketch to Stretch that teachers can use to motivate students to engage with the story and one another. All you need is a Post-It for each child. But you will call this their screensaver!

Sketch to Stretch

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As you conclude your reading aloud for the day, ask each student to use a pencil and quickly sketch what might happen in tomorrow’s chapter. Model this for them so they understand this is not an artistic endeavor but releasing an in-the-moment idea.

Set a timer for no more than three minutes. Then each child shares the screen-saving idea with a neighbor and keeps the Post-It on his or her desk until the next reading. The children can put their notes together the next day and see if anyone’s idea occurred. If so, keep those Post-its on a special wall to revisit.

Fostering engagement and comprehension in elementary schoolers

Credit: Giphy

You can also use this to have students sketch the most exciting, confusing or troubling parts.

All of these foster engagement. And they give a nod to that visual aspect that technology offers! For more on this idea, visit this learning website.

If you have a question about children’s books or want a suggestion for your child, feel free to contact me via my editor, Suzanne. Perhaps I can become  your friendly book doctor!

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