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High-Interest Texts for Reluctant Readers in Secondary ELA

    high interest texts for reluctant readers

    Learn the trick for engaging even your most reluctant readers. Add some of these high-interest titles to your classroom library, and your students will be on their way to discovering a new love for reading.

    Whether it’s because they struggle with comprehension or simply aren’t interested in the topic, it can feel like there will always be those students who don’t like the classroom texts. Unfortunately, it’s almost par for the course.

    Of course, there are plenty of ways to encourage engaged and active reading in your curriculum, whether through literature circles or independent reading.

    However, switching up your approach is only part of the solution for reaching your most reluctant readers. The other part? Making sure you have plenty of high-interest texts for them to choose from.

    That’s why I’ve dedicated this post to listing tried and true high-interest titles that have engaged even the most reluctant readers in middle and school classrooms.

    What is the Difference Between a Reluctant Reader and a Struggling Reader?

    While struggling readers face challenges with comprehension or fluency, reluctant readers don’t necessarily struggle with reading—they just don’t want to. However, struggling readers may become reluctant readers if reading leads to confusion, frustration, or embarrassment.

    Reluctant readers often have the skills needed to read with success. These students may choose not to engage in reading for various reasons, such as a lack of interest or motivation. In other words, they may be perfectly capable of reading but would rather not (and often don’t).

    While there can be overlap, the terms don’t mean the same thing; reluctant readers choose not to read while struggling readers face difficulties in reading.

    Why Don’t Students Like to Read?

    In many cases, it’s simple: students have yet to find a book, author, or genre that they enjoy, leaving them to believe they mustn’t exist. Furthermore, they have no idea how or where to find books they like—it’s overwhelming, so they’d rather not look at all.  In other cases, they’ve had a negative experience in the past, such as encountering a challenging or boring text, that has led them to believe reading “isn’t their thing.”

    That said, some students truly have a reason for not liking reading. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t like it moving forward. It’s all about helping them find books they want to read. Books about topics they find entertaining or relatable. Storylines that have them racing to the end. Authors who have them wanting to read another of their books.

    And I’ve put together a list of the titles you need to do just that.

    High-Interest Texts for Middle School Students

    1. Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan

    Students love Percy Jackson without fail. The best part? After they finish the first book,The Lightning Thief,  there are four more books in the series! While this fantasy-adventure series is based on Greek mythology, Riordan uses humor and modern-day twists to take readers on a number of memorable adventures.

    2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

    Jeff Kinney’s hilarious diary-style series will have your students laughing out loud. The realistic fiction follows Greg, the story’s unforgettable and highly relatable narrator, as he navigates the highs and lows of life as a middle schooler. The blend of text and illustrations makes it easy to digest, making it a perfect choice for even the most reluctant middle schooler readers.

    3. Holes by Louis Sachar

    Despite being written well over two decades ago (I feel old!) students still love to read the story of Stanley Yelnats and his time at Camp Green Lake, a rather unique juvenile detention center in the Texan desert. Students are fascinated by the story’s cleverly written dual narrative. As they go back and forth between Stanley’s struggles at the camp and the story of his great-great-grandfather, students try to piece together why Camp Green Lake inmates are forced to dig holes in the first place.

    4. Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

    Stone manages to tackle heavy topics and race relations with a heartfelt story and a touch of humor. The story follows eleven-year-old  “Scoob” as he embarks on a memorable road trip through the US South with his G’ma. Through his grandmother’s stories and their adventures together, Scoob learns about our country’s (and his family’s) past with racial discrimination. Stone combines fast-paced storytelling with an adventurous plot to tell a story that is equal parts entertaining and  thought-provoking

    5. The Crossover series by Kwame Alexander

    The Crossover series centers around basketball-loving twins Josh and Jordan Bell and their experiences on and off the court. The novels blend storytelling with free verse, exposing students to an engaging and easy-to-read rhythmic writing style. That, combined with a sports-centered narrative littered with pop culture references, is sure to catch students’ attention.

    6. The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

    Students are obsessed with this spectacular work of fantasy fiction. In fact, they love the entire Ascendance series. Neilson captivates readers with an exciting plot that includes elements of fantasy, deceit, and defiance. It’s a thrilling tale filled with suspense, unexpected twists, and intriguing characters, making it a compelling and page-turning read. Students will be on the edge of their seats until the last page, and before you know it, they’ll be moving on to the next book in the series.

    7. Restart by Gordon Korman

    Restart is an entertaining story that follows 13-year-old Chase Ambrose, who, after falling off a roof, wakes up in the hospital with no recollection of who he is—or anything about his life, for that matter. That includes the fact that he was a middle school bully. As he navigates his way back into his life, Chase goes on a journey filled with redemption, forgiveness, and second chances. Ultimately, Restart offers an accessible and relatable story for reluctant readers.

    High-Interest Texts for High School Students

    1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

    This powerful and timely novel dives into the complexities of race, identity, and activism through the eyes of sixteen-year-old Starr Carter. After Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer, Starr becomes the voice for justice in her community. The story combines engaging storytelling, relatable characters, and relevant themes to encourage critical thinking in even the most reluctant readers.

    2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

    The Hunger Games is a dystopian classic that still captures the hearts of young adult readers.

    Set in the ruthless world of Panem, 24 teenagers are forced to participate in a televised “Hunger Games,” where they essentially fight to the death. The story centers on Katniss Everdeen, a courageous, strong, and resourceful teenage girl who becomes a symbol of rebellion against the cruel and callous Capitol. Even your most reluctant readers will be captivated by this fast-paced, action-packed narrative.

    3. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

    John Green’s poignant story of love and loss is sure to tug at your students’ heartstrings–0-even those of your more reluctant readers. The story follows the budding romance between Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters after meeting at a cancer support group. The emotions in the book are raw, authentic, and relatable, creating a story that is as compelling as it is accessible writing style. The Fault in Our Stars tackles profound themes of love, loss, and the human condition, creating a moving and thought-provoking read.

    4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

    Calling all gamers! Gamer or not, your students will love this thrilling sci-fi novel set in a virtual reality world called the OASIS. When the OASIS’s creator dies, sets in motion the race to solve the mystery he left behind, leading one lucky winner to a hefty inheritance. Between a fast-paced plot, a plethora of ’80s pop culture references, the prevalence of video game challenges, and a relatable underdog protagonist, it’s easy to understand why students eat it up.

    5. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

    Students love this book—every.single.time. The story follows fifteen-year-old Will, who is determined to seek vengeance for his brother’s murder. However, on his way to do so, he encounters a series of ghosts from his past who challenge his perceptions of justice, violence, and his own choices. Written in verse, Long Way Down is an enjoyable, accessible, and quick read that really packs a punch.

    6.Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie

    This fast-paced and action-packed trilogy is sure to catch your students’ interest. Following the life of Cassia Reyes, readers are introduced to a society where the government determines every aspect of one’s life—including the person they will marry. Cassia quickly finds herself in a forbidden romance, setting the intriguing plot into motion. The story explores topics like individuality and the power of choice while crafting a narrative that has elements of romance, adventure, and dystopia all rolled into one.

    7. Gym Candy by Carl Deuker

    Gym Candy dives into the world of high school football and the pressures faced by young athletes. It tells the story of Mick, a high school football player, who faces the pressures of taking performance-enhancing drugs in order to give him a competitive edge. As Mick grapples with personal and ethical dilemmas, students will be drawn to his relatable character and the thought-provoking plot. Deuker is able to take complex and ethical dilemmas and turn them into an engaging and straightforward story that students love. 

    8.  Unwind by Neal Shusterman

    Students will be fascinated right from the beginning with this dystopian tale where parents can send their teenagers to be ‘unwound’ upon reaching a certain age for reasons such as being rebellious or delinquent (aka being a teen). During this process, every part of a teenager’s body is used for organ transplantation. The novel follows three teens—Connor, Risa, and Lev—on the run from being unwound and fighting for their lives. Trust me, with a plot this intense and suspenseful, students will be engaged every step of the way.

    For the Love of Reading

    Let’s face it, between waning attention spans and an aging Literary Canon, it’s becoming more and more common to face reluctant readers. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost–instead, it just might mean it’s time to update our classroom libraries and get to talking about more high-interest titles! Whether you find a way to incorporate these titles into your curriculum or suggest them for independent reading, you’re sure to get your students excited about reading.

    Talk about music to your ears, am I right?

    I’d love to know—What have been the most popular books among your students (reluctant readers or not)? Share them in the comments below!

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