How Do You Grow A Good Reader?

As one who spends lots of my time promoting writing (see The Writing Course), you might wonder about the connection. Well, there isn’t much of a mystery; the more we read, the more possibilities flow toward our writing! I realize that there are plenty of readers who never write, but it is rare to find a writer who never reads.

Really, it’s all about learning to love words and ideas, and how these two transform thoughts, touch emotions, and tutor actions. Reading is awesome, true?

So, if your kids are reluctant readers, here’s what I’d suggest:

  1. Make sure they can read

*Review or Retake a good phonics course. No time to explain it here, but this is often the issue. For a variety of reasons some kids just don’t quickly crack the code on reading. Phonics is the code.

*At least for a few weeks, have your child read out loud for 10 minutes a day and then explain or recount what they just read. This exercise alone will show you what’s up with your reader, AND LIKELY it will connect the reading brain to your child’s soul.

*Read interesting books to your children and stop every 10 to 15 minutes to have them explain what you read (see above). Getting fascinated with good books often starts here.

*Get them tested. I’m not really that big on testing, but there are times you might need a baseline to measure improvement and target weaknesses.

  1. Make sure (for a while) that every other book they read is fun enough to read

This will not be your ‘always’ pattern, but early on in independent reading it is vital that children enjoy WHAT they are reading in order to enjoy THE ACT of reading. Usually books don’t start out interesting or ‘fun’ because it takes a bit to ‘get into’ the book. Once a child is a reader, almost every book will be interesting enough to read.

Though there are different interests, there is a bit of wisdom in public/historical opinion. The books that have been tried-and-true are the ones we often call classics. Have your child read those especially.

Every now and again I’d go to the bookstore and let every child pick out a book for themselves to own for their own library (there was a price limit!). They loved this and learned to look for books they REALLY WANTED to read. If that’s too costly just now, go to the library and borrow a book they pick out because it sounds fun or interesting.

  1. Read yourself

‘Do as I say and not as I do’ just simply won’t work. Find something you’d enjoy and read it alongside the kids (or some other way which is noticeable).

  1. Set both a time and page number limit for ‘school’ reading

Most of you won’t do this, but I honestly don’t know of anything that improves skill and confidence in reading like this approach.

Here’s Why: A large part of the problem children have in reading is that they simply aren’t reading fast enough with the focus real reading requires. They read a word or two and look around…then they read another word or two and look at the clock…all the while thinking the book is boring. The cure is FOCUS…and…the major cause of focus is LIMITS.

Here’s What: Create the number of pages AND a time limit for what the child will read for school. Obviously this is easier for homeschoolers, but everyone can set up a 30 minute reading session. Our kids had two 1 hour reading sessions a day for school, but that was us.

So, it sounds like this, “Laura Anne, you need to read to page 75 in the next 30 minutes. If you finish early, then you can do what you want with that time. If you aren’t finished, then you’ll have to keep reading until you are finished.”

Having a reading goal of the number of pages AND the time limit generates motivation and focus. It also gets the child ‘into’ the book. Haven’t you looked at your watch and also noticed that you could end a chapter in a few more pages? Did you then focus and read to get to that stopping place?

Here’s How: You simply need to calculate the reading speed of your child for that book. Often you’ll adjust as you see what they can do, but close enough is close enough.

A. Have your child read for one minute and mark how far he made it.

B. Count the words in the first three lines of a page in the book and divide by three (this gives you the average number of words per line).

C. Multiply the number of lines your child reads in 1 minute by the average number of words in a line (#2 above). This is how many words your child can read in a minute in that book.

D. Finally, count the number of lines on an average page and multiply by the number of words in a line (#2 above). Now you know the Words Per Page and how many words your child can read in a minute…which should give you a good idea of how far she can read in 30 minutes.

Here’s an Easier Way: Guess

See how far your student reads in a minute and guess how far 30x would take them in the book, then use that stopping point (page number).

  1. Keep a chart.

Have your child keep a simple chart of # of pages and how much time it took. Frankly, if you do nothing but this chart you’ll see reading improve, especially if you put the chart on the refrigerator.

  1. Have them tell you about what they read sometime later in the day (supper works well)

The feedback loop of conversationally sharing crystallizes one’s understanding of what is read. It’s kind of like the old adage, “To really learn a subject, teach it.”

7. Get them writing!

There is a strange power that takes over when we write. Suddenly we start looking at books differently. We see why somethings work and why others things do not. We even begin to say, “I would have written the story this way instead.” Writing has a way of calling us to be good readers. Honestly, just a little writing every day can change your student’s life forever.


Now, if you find a better path, then go for it. Honestly, we know this worked with our 5 children, who are all continuous readers as adults.

I’d love your thoughts (below),



Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand
We Cure Reluctant Writers