Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Getting Kids to Love Reading Again by Bil Richardson

I have a passion for getting kids to read.  I became the stepfather of a son who doesn’t like to read and found out from the parents of his classmates that this is a very common problem.  I also did some research and learned that the number of kids who never read for pleasure has tripled since 1984 and boys are half as likely to read as girls.  As a result of this I wrote a book aimed at getting kids who are the age of my son to read (middle school). 

Since then I have been going into classrooms trying to get young people interested in reading.  I make the sessions fun and active and here is what I do.  I open by asking who likes to read and who doesn’t.  In the 5th and 6th grades only about 20-25% say they don’t like to read.  By 7th and 8th grade the numbers invert and about 80% say they don’t like to read.  That is a huge shift in a year or two.  I then ask who likes movies, TV and nearly all raise their hands.  I ask about video games and almost all the boys raise their hands but only about a quarter of girls do.  

Then in a very dramatic way I say here’s a phrase you’ve never heard.  Call of Duty changed my life.  Super Mario Brothers changed my life.  That movie Finding Nemo changed my life.  This usually gets a laugh.  And then I say, but millions of people will tell you the story of how a book changed their life.  I then proceed to tell them about two books that changed my life.  

Kids get bored if you just talk so I then change things up with an exercise.  I ask them to close their eyes and picture something I describe.  Often I use the image of an elephant in ruby slippers who gets up on two legs and dances.  Most laugh when they picture this.  Then we talk about what they saw and the fact that we had a shared experience in which I put an image in their head that was in mine.  Then I ask what color their elephant was and what the slippers looked like and finally what kind of dance their elephant did.  Each of course sees the image a bit differently and I ask why.  The reason is that they all bring their own experiences and imagination to what they see.  

Next I pick up a book and tell them why reading is different from any other kind of entertainment or learning.  I have been making movies for 30 years and I explain that watching films or TV is a passive experience.  All you do is sit there and look at the things the director wants you to see.  But with a book you put part of yourself into the experience.  Just like with the elephant exercise, part of the experience is what the writer wants you to see but part is what you bring to the story.  So the final result of reading is that it is part the author but part the reader.  No other medium can give you that experience and it’s quite magical.  

Then I shift gears a bit and talk to the kids about stories.  Everyone likes stories even if they don’t like to read.  I explain that all TV, movies, books or even video games (that have a plot) have a story.  And all stories are built on a simple formula.  There is a main character, who has a goal and between that character and their goal are obstacles that they have to overcome.  Then we do a very fun exercise in which I tell them I’m going to be the main character and I point to a place in the back of the room and say getting to it is my goal.  Their job is to be the obstacles.  Then I ask if they think they can keep me from getting to my goal.  They usually become very invested in trying to stop me.  I then dash to try and reach my goal and the entire class tries to stop me.  No class yet has been able to keep me from reaching my goal but we all have loads of fun in the process.  

It takes a few minutes to get them settled down and then I give them an exercise to do later on their own.  I say, write your own story.  Make yourself the main character.  Think of a real goal you have and write down the list of obstacles between you and your goal.  Then write your story how you are going to overcome those obstacle and reach your goal.  I explain that if they do this, then at the lest they may find they like writing or come up with a good story.  But another thing they’ll get in their real life is that they may also come up with a plan to help them reach a real goal.  And that this exercise can be a tool they use their entire life to help reach their goals.  At this point they are usually pretty quiet and thoughtful.  

I close by telling them that they are at an important time in their lives.  This is when you start trying to figure out who you are, what you’re good at and even what you might want to be.  They are also at the age I was when I started writing.  So they should take advantage of being in this stage.  Try new things, experiment – maybe you’ll find you like writing and reading more than you thought.  Maybe you’ll discover something else about yourself.  

At the end we have a Q&A and topics range from writing to life to travel to making films and many other things.  Finally I read a chapter from a book I’ve written.  For middle schoolers I read from The Frankenstein Adventures and tell them I’m donating a copy to the school library and they can find it there if they want to read it.  I then point out that they have a chance read a book written by an author that they’ve met and that is a pretty rare thing.  All of this is designed to try to get the kids to read.
The response from these sessions has been pretty amazing and anyone wanting to schedule an activity at their school can reach me through my website or social media.  There is nothing more important to the future of our nation than having a literate population.  As an author this is what I’m doing to help contribute to that.  

We would like to thank Bil Richardson - the author of "The Frankenstein Adventures" for sharing a wonderful post. Information about his latest books can be found at Amazon India and Amazon USA


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