Expect Unexpected Engagement When you try Hexagonal Thinking in ELA


308: Build an Easy Careers Unit
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What to do when a Student says “I hate reading!”

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You know the old English teacher saying, “You don’t hate reading, you just haven’t found the right book yet!”?

Well, it’s true.

But for kids who hate reading, it doesn’t solve the problem. They have no reason to WANT to find the right book. Because as they have just mentioned, they hate reading. They’re not exactly combing the shelves for good options, building “maybe” lists on Goodreads, and checking in with their parents for the latest and greatest from Audible.

I know you know this. I know I’m preaching to the choir.

It’s hard to reach these students sometimes, because they have tried to close their doors to reading. But that’s just because they haven’t gotten the help they need to find the right book yet.

Now, however, they have you. A teacher who cares so much about them that they’re using their free time to peruse the blogosphere for ideas to hook them on reading. To show them the world of books they are sadly missing. And you, my friend, have come to the right place.

Here is a barrage of options to help you reach these hard-to-reach readers. You can put most of these into place in your classroom in such a way that they will start to help allll your haters (book-haters, that is). And you can also tailor some of them to conversations and interactions with specific students who are really struggling. You’ll know what the best combination is for your students, right now.

By the way, have you joined my free five-day challenge, 5 Days to Build a Better Reading Program? Each day focuses on a different area to help you build a reading program that will change your students’ lives. In one week, you could have the ideas and tools you need to create a reading revolution in your classroom!

OK, now let’s start with the list. The critical list of books that have been THE MOST POPULAR with your students over the years. The books that won’t stay on the shelves, and get passed from hand to hand under the desk while you’re trying to roll out your new unit on The Crucible.

This list is a very big deal. These books are going to be “gateway” books to help your students realize what a wonderful thing reading can be. You can use this list in a few ways: to recommend sure-thing hits to a specific reader, to build displays in your classroom that will help your readers connect to books, and to publish and put up on the wall in big, bold, colorful print so that no one could possibly miss it.

Here’s what would go on my shortlist right now. No need to judge whether these books are “hard” enough or “challenging” enough to recommend to kids as old as your students. That’s not the point. The point is to get them through the gate.

The Outsiders
Harry Potter
The Hate U Give
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
Dear Martin
Ender’s Game
Ready Player One
The Poet X

Building this list is going to make it really easy to create a great display across the top of your classroom library. If you don’t have a classroom library, try to empty out a shelf where you can put a few great books from the school library. Probably books from your shortlist, that you can slip straight into the hands of your reading-haters.


Whatever you call your display, “Starbooks,” “Books you can’t put down,” “Books you’ll love,” etc. ,just start with the MOST popular books you can. As you begin to see development in your readers, then you can start to branch out into other fun displays. But never forget your shortlist, because it’s going to take time to reach all your readers.

It’s also important to give students time to read. Teachers around the world are experimenting with ten minutes of reading a day, reading Fridays, reading in homeroom, reading when students are done with quizzes and tests, etc. Try to find a dedicated period when students can read in your classroom, because you really need to SEE a student reading to know if they are connecting to their book.

Say you just gave a book-hater Ready Player One and are peeking over eagerly from your own book to see if he’s falling in love with it. Instead of seeing him glued to the page and racing through chapter one, you see him glaze over. He needs you! Race (nonchalantly) over and ask him if he’s liking it. If it turns out he hates futuristic fantasy, slide The Outsiders across the table and go through the process again.



Keeping an eye on your readers while they’re reading is huge. You need to see who’s connecting and who’s not. And you need to help those who aren’t find a new book as quickly as possible. Especially if they have a history of hating reading.

Another great option for hooking students who think they hate reading is to experiment with audiobooks. Play some audio hooks for the class, putting on a chapter or half a chapter every couple of weeks to see if they’ll hear something they love.

Be prepared for a line of students wanting to read the book if you’ve just played an amazing audio hook, so try to have a few copies of the book ready to check out. You can also see what’s available in your area in terms of letting students listen to full audiobooks if that works well for them. We’re not judgy here in converting-reader land. If a student can fall in love with books through the audio route, GREAT!

This can be especially helpful for students who work, need to help take care of siblings, or are very committed to sports. Audiobooks allow for multi-tasking. Many local libraries offer audiobooks with a card, or your school system may have audio subscriptions as well. It’s worth asking. Connect readers to print books through audio hooks, or connect them to audiobooks. Both are great tools for your quest to get everyone reading.

Now, though I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, book talks really help connect students to great books. You can let students have thirty seconds to pitch their favorite books to the class after they finish reading them, invite guests from around the school or community to come in to chat about their favorite books for a couple of minutes, and do book talks yourself.

Hearing a little about a book from someone who really loves it makes a huge difference to students’ desire to read it, especially if the person talking is someone they like and respect. Is your reluctant reader obsessed with hockey? Invite her hockey coach to come in and book talk her favorite book. Is your reluctant reader serious about science? Invite the science department chair.

You can also use Recommended Read posters to help accomplish the goals of book talks in a quick display format. Snap pictures of students and teachers with their favorite books, get them to write a line or two about the book and why they like it, and turn the results into printable posters using the free online poster-making tool at Canva. 

If you’re looking to kick it up a notch, you could also try the “book tasting” and “speed dating a book” activities I’ve been seeing floating around Facebook and Pinterest. While I haven’t done these myself, they look like a ton of fun and not too complicated.

For a book tasting, choose the books you want your students to check out. Group the seating in your room to look like a cafe or coffee shop. If possible, decorate with a few tablecloths and fun little centerpieces. Maybe add a few snacks. Then put books out at each station and give your students a menu reflecting the different choices they will see, as well as a question or two about each, like “What does this book seem to be about? Does it look like a book you would like?” Have everyone find a seat and look at a book, checking out the back, the front, the first page or two, and filling out their menu for that book. Play a little music in the background. Then call for them to switch to the next “tasting” station. Keep switching around until everyone has had a chance to sample lots of different books.

Speed dating a book is very similar. Pull your seating into a long line going across the room. At each seat, place a book. A few flowers in vases here and there would be a lovely and hilarious touch. 

Give everyone a piece of paper with sections like
  • Title of book 
  • Would you “go out with” this book? 
  • Why or why not? 

Then have every student sit down with a book and check it out, filling out their papers as they go.  By the end, they should have a bunch of ideas for books they might like to read.

I have one final idea for you, inspired by the wonderful work of the library at my school. Our library team is often to be seen rolling a cart or bringing a stack of books to all different locations around the school. 

When our students finish all their work at study hall, there’s a bunch of books available to give them something to do besides watch Youtube (which is not allowed). When students walk into the cafeteria, they pass a little cart of books suggesting that they “Check out a good read!” When students leave for breaks, there are extra book locations near the doors to inspire them to take a book home for vacation.

Is there a way you could adapt this idea at your school? Could you work with your librarian to place some books in key areas of the school? Ask your friends in other departments to keep a few books on a shelf for students who finish their work early? This is just a fun, small step you and your department could take to help encourage a reading culture at your school.

Alright, I hope you’ve found a bunch of ideas for how to help the next kid who flatly announces “I hate reading” in the middle of your English class. You CAN change the course of their life.



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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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