Who Cares? 4 Keys to Open the Door of Reading Engagement for Struggling Adolescents

Rebecca Brown

“Why should I care about reading this, Mrs. Brown?”
If I had a penny for how many times I heard this in my middle school remedial reading courses…well, you get the point.

Though a focus on early literacy and helping struggling readers early on in their childhood is of the utmost importance, the reality is, there are a large number of kids who get to their adolescent years far below grade level. Without the depth of comprehension or willingness to read, these students are at a higher risk of not succeeding in the years to come. At times, it seems like it could be a lost cause; the opportunity has been missed and they will never be good at reading. While some students might never love reading, helping them understand the importance of reading might just be the key as they get older.

For many, reading has become a grind. Not only is reading no longer enjoyable, but students have trouble even comprehending the basics. Our goal as educators is to get them from seeing reading as a grind to a place of engagement—where students care about what they are reading and also find the power to comprehend the information. In my years of teaching middle school students who were struggling readers, I have found four keys to overcoming the grind and getting them to engage in their reading.


4 Keys to Unlocking an Engaged Reader

1. Background Knowledge: As they read, teach them to think first about what they already know about what they are reading. Connecting the reading this way can open up a comprehension of the story. In addition, it helps them find ownership in the information put before them; ownership can create pride and care for the topic.

2. Relevance: Older students need to know the relevance of what they are reading. While a text on the history of Versailles might seem boring and not important to an 8th grader, guiding students to consider current events and find common connections can help them understand their reading at a deeper level.

3. Graphic Organizers:  This might seem simplistic, but for struggling readers, utilizing graphic organizers can help them make connections, become active readers, and open up their background knowledge. Once they are practiced at using graphic organizers, they can start organizing these thoughts better in their head without needing to use them all the time. Struggling readers need a place to put down the text in a logical, thought-provoking way. Graphic organizers are the tools to guide them in this way.

4. Active Reading:  Asking questions while reading is crucial to comprehension. This takes time, effort, and practice. Modeling active reading through read alouds and guided questions is the first step to active reading.  Teaching students to visualize what is being read, asking what different words mean, and understanding the context behind the story can take them from reading it at face value and lead them to go deeper into the story’s meaning.

Getting to a point of helping older readers not only comprehend their reading, but also understand its importance is no easy task, but by using the strategies above, a struggling reader can unlock the door to becoming an engaged reader. When this happens, they become confident readers.  It might even help a student pick up a book on his or her own!


Rebecca Brown is a teacher with 12 years of experience, including eight years teaching online English and Reading with Fuel Education. Additionally, Rebecca has been serving as the FuelEd’s State Lead for Ohio and Iowa for the last four years. Rebecca previously taught in traditional brick-and-mortar schools focusing on Intensive and Remedial Reading. She graduated from Hope College with a bachelor's degree in English Education, minoring in Political Science and Religion. She received a Reading Endorsement while teaching in the brick-and-mortar setting.

Learn how our digital literacy platform can help open the door to engage your readers.

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