When Kids Say Reading is Boring, Prove Them Wrong!

How to support reluctant readers

“Aw man, reading sucks.”

I volunteered at a local school recently to help administer state testing.  I worked with a small group of elementary students for one week.  One boy seemed particularly annoyed at spending the next three hours bubbling circles on a reading test.  My thoughts were confirmed when I gave him his test and he said the quote above.

My first thought:  CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!

By the end of the week, this boy almost ran into a wall while walking to class because he refused to look up from what he was reading.

How did this happen?  I learned a lot during my 14 years of teaching that helped me show this boy that reading does not suck.  I hope my story gives you ideas to engage your students who normally hate reading.

When a Student Says “Reading Sucks” ACCEPT THE CHALLENGE!

When a kid says they hate reading, it usually means one or two things:

  • They are rarely given, or know how to find, reading material about topics that interest them.
  • They struggle to read and feel bad about it.

I taught long enough to know this boy fell into the first category.  When he said, “Aw man, reading sucks,” I just walked away.  I said nothing, but I used his words as motivation to provide reading material that he would love.  The best part of teaching is showing a reluctant reader that reading can be an enjoyable experience.  I only had a week with these kids, but I was determined to show him that reading is fun.

Like everything else in teaching, this is no easy task.  You MUST get to know students who say reading is terrible.  How are you going to provide engaging reading material if you don’t know what interests the student?

Goldfish Crackers — The Golden Ticket

When my small group began testing on day one, I wondered how I could get time to talk to them.  This was a challenge since the whole school had to be quiet for testing and I had to leave when testing ended.  Then I looked at the table beside me and saw the golden ticket — SNACKS!  Between part 1 and 2 of testing, I snuck my students to the cafeteria to eat their snacks.  I’m not sure if I was technically allowed to do that, but the cafeteria was far enough from classrooms that a few kids talking would not disturb any test takers.

I spent the next 10 minutes asking questions to my small group while they gobbled their goldfish and slurped their juice boxes.

Which special class is your favorite?

What’s the best thing in your home?

Where else have you lived?

Several students chatted about art, visiting their home country, and their XBox at home.  That was great, but my reluctant reader was still quiet.  I only had a few minutes before I had to return to testing.  Time was running out.  I was determined to find something this boy liked before I left on day one.

What’s the best/worst lunch here?

Tell me about one person who lives with you?

What do you enjoy doing after sch


This boy, who had said three words the last 10 minutes, barely let me finish my question before he blurted out his favorite sport.  Then he talked about friends he played with, where he played, and how he scored a bunch of goals one game.

During our snack break the next day, I asked who his favorite player was.  He said his favorite player was Cristiano Ronaldo because he had cool hair.  Then another student in my group started talking about how she enjoyed playing basketball.

So I went home and printed off articles about soccer players and basketball players.

After everyone finished on the final day of testing, I gave these articles to the kids to read.  They finished early and I figured their teacher wouldn’t mind 10-15 extra minutes of having fewer students in her classroom.  I gave the article about Ronaldo to the boy who said reading sucks.  I pointed to the top of the page to show him it was about Ronaldo.

The boy literally jumped out of his seat.

He then proceeded to read the passage for the next 10 minutes.  He did not look up or say a word until he was done.  Then I gave him a passage about basketball star Steph Curry and he devoured it too.  When it was time to leave our testing room, I walked out to the hallway with my group.  As I was ensuring I had all testing supplies, I noticed the boy was not with us.

He was still at his table reading the passage about Curry.  He didn’t notice everyone had left.

He refused to look up from the passage about Curry as we walked back to the classroom.  Before he returned to class, I asked him “Are you sure that reading sucks?”  Unfortunately, he didn’t respond because he was so engaged in what he was reading.

I think I proved my point.

How Do You Learn About Your Reluctant Readers?

  • Ask them questions about themselves.
  • Chat with them during recess.
  • Eat lunch with a few students.
  • Find them before or after school.
  • Call on students to say a few words about things they like.  Morning meetings are perfect opportunities for this if that’s part of your schedule.
  • Give them chances to write about their interests.
  • Watch what they do during recess.
  • Do read alouds and keep an eye open for times when they enjoy it or don’t show as much boredom as they normally do.

Once you find out what they like, that will help you find reading material that engages them.  Even if you can’t work that reading material into your ELA lesson, just give it to them and say, “This is about _______.  I think you’ll enjoy it!”

You can’t always provide every single student with reading material they love.  But you can’t let a student leave your class without having some enjoyable reading experiences.

If you have students who enjoy sports, feel free to grab my free reading passages about famous athletes.  Each of these free downloads has passages on a variety of reading levels to meet the needs of your students.  Click the images for more information.

Basketball passages that engage reluctant readers

Football passages that engage reluctant readers

Ideas and Resources to Teach, Review, or Assess RI.6.1

Teach, review, or assess RI.6.1


Do you have a room in your school that is covered in spreadsheets like this?

Resources to help you monitor students for RI.6.1

My school had a room where spreadsheets like this covered all the bookshelves and walls.  It was called our “data room.”  To say that district leaders loved data rooms is a massive understatement.  To them, these spreadsheets proved that teachers monitored each students’ progress on each standard throughout the year.  Yes, teachers need to monitor their students’ progress, but this was overkill.  Sadly, it took an insane amount of testing to gather all this data.  We had to test a standard in each subject at least once per week.  Many teachers across the USA have to do the same, if not more.

There is an incredible demand for teachers to monitor their students’ progress on tested standards, but many teachers are not given adequate materials to do this.

This is why I have created resources to help you teach, review, and assess all 6th grade RI standards.

Click here for my free resources on RI.6.1 (analyzing and inferencing).  It includes a passage about basketball star Kevin Durant, which will thrill your kids who love sports.  I have included an interactive skill practice activity, a writing prompt, and a quiz to help you keep track of how well your students understand this standard.  I’ve also included three pages of ideas to help you teach this lesson.  Teachers have used these resources to teach or review this skill.  Continue reading to see how.

Suggested Lesson Progression

I love getting new resources, but I hate spending hours figuring out how to use them.  That’s why I’ve provided three pages of suggestions about how to use the resources I’m giving you.  This lesson progression provides:

  • Things you can say to your students when you preview the material
  • A link to a video about Durant, which is helpful for students who don’t know him
  • A brief summary of the passage
  • Instructions on how to use all resources

Ideas to help you teach, review, or assess RI.6.1

I know you’re busy, so I’ve taken care of the planning for you.


Kids need to know that celebrities struggle just like everyone else.  Paragraphs 3-5 describe Kevin working extremely hard to improve after his first year in the NBA.  That meant he had to change his diet of fried chicken and oatmeal pies!  He also spent more time at practice and in the weight room.  I hope your students realize that Kevin didn’t just roll out of bed and become an NBA star.  His success is the result of hours and hours and hours of hard work.

Engaging Resources for RI.6.1

Paragraph 11 is about his decision to leave Oklahoma City to play for the Golden State Warriors.  If you have time, show your students the article Kevin wrote where he explains his decision.

It could lead to some interesting discussion, especially if you teach in Oklahoma City!

Skill Practice

This activity allows students to match inferences about Kevin Durant with the supporting text evidence.  Students glue the inferences into a notebook, then glue the text evidence with it.  Here is what the finished product will look like.

Teach, review, or assess RI.6.1 analyzing and inferencing

Instructions are provided when you download the resource.

Writing Prompt

I love prompts that make students think deeper about the text.  This prompt asks students to write why Kevin is successful and what the passage taught them about success.  Hopefully, students will realize that success takes an incredible amount of hard work.

Engaging resources for RI.6.1


This is a quick way to assess how well your students can analyze why Kevin Durant is successful.  Every question aligns with RI.6.1.  There are three multiple-choice questions and two written-response questions.  When I wrote this quiz, I worked hard to ensure the questions meet the rigor of the standard without confusing students.  I HATE WHEN TEST QUESTIONS ARE WORDED IN A WAY THAT CONFUSES STUDENTS!!  Ok, let me step off my soapbox to show you the quiz about Durant.

Engaging resources for RI.6.1

An answer key is also included.

You’ll find that some of your reluctant readers will be engaged during this lesson because they will be reading about a person they care about.  Thousands of teachers have used my passages.  Many have said their students who normally hate reading are much more engaged during ELA class when they use my passages.

I have also created units for the other 6th-grade RI standards.  Click any of the images for more information.

Teach, review, and assess RI.6.2 central idea and summary

Teach, review, and assess RI.6.3

I have also created units for RI.6.4, RI.6.5, RI.6.6, RI.6.7, RI.6.8, RI.6.9, and RI.6.10.

If you need units for every RI standard, you may be interested in the following bundle:

A bundle with resources to teach, review, and assess all 10 RI standards in 6th grade

Resources to Differentiate Reading Centers

I had a love-hate relationship with reading centers when I taught fifth grade.  I loved working with small groups of students.  I loved holding my students accountable for independently completing a list of expected assignments each week.  I hated the expectation from my district that students were supposed to work at centers every day (including the day before breaks) with NO EXCEPTIONS.  I was also told that each center activity needed to be differentiated depending on the reading level of the kids in each group.

I have listened to administrators give endless research about the benefits of kids working at reading centers.  I’ve known plenty of teachers who are so awesome they have center rotations for every subject they teach!  I have no issues with being told to teach centers.

Unfortunately, many teachers are not given the appropriate resources to accomplish this.  Sometimes they aren’t given anything at all.

I was so thankful when my grade departmentalized for two years.  One reason I loved it was because I taught science, so I didn’t have to worry about finding resources for all these differentiated reading centers every week…then having what I did find scrutinized when people walked through the room on a weekly basis.

I know I’m preaching to the choir.  Here’s how I’d like to help.

One of my go-to centers involved kids reading and responding to nonfiction passages.  I imagine many other teachers have a similar center.  So I have written free nonfiction paired texts about famous athletes on a variety of reading levels (grades 1-6) that include quizzes and writing prompts.  This will allow you to provide nonfiction reading materials on the students’ level.  All you have to do is put the passages in different colored folders, depending on the reading level of the kids in that group.   Then tell each group which folder to pull passages from.  This is just one of many ways to facilitate that.

I’ve tried my best to create these passages to look similar, so it won’t be obvious which passages are written on a lower reading level.  I try to avoid giving reading material that looked like it was straight out of a first-grade classroom to my struggling fifth-grade readers.

Middle-school teachers — I’ve also heard from teachers in grades 6-8 who said these were helpful for students who are reading below grade level, but need high-interest reading material that doesn’t look “babyish.”

Each set of paired texts comes with a quiz and writing prompt.  Each set of paired passages compares two famous athletes.  For example, the passages pictured above compare famous NBA players LeBron James and Steph Curry.

If you feel like your kids need a break from answering quiz questions, there are several other ways they could respond to these passages:

–Write a paragraph/essay comparing and contrasting these two athletes.  Compare and contrast how they became famous, what their childhood was like, what they’ve accomplished in their pro career, etc.

–Write a paragraph/essay giving your opinion as to which athlete is better.  Use text evidence to support your opinion.

–You could have also students verbally debate which athlete they think is better.  They could spend their time at the nonfiction reading center writing out facts to support their argument.  Then your entire class, regardless of which group students are in for centers, can debate which athlete they think is better.

–What are some things these two athletes did to become incredible players in their sport?  What did you learn about the importance of working hard from reading about their stories?  (I try to include examples of these athletes working hard in all of my passages!)

Click the images below to download a free set of differentiated passages.  I hope they help make planning for centers a bit easier.

If you need more, I also have differentiated paired texts about athletes in other sports like soccer, gymnastics, swimming, baseball, and more.  Click any of the images below for more information.  These products include three times the number of paired texts as the free products above.

I hope these resources will help you provide reading material that kids love on a reading level that won’t frustrate or bore them.  Thousands of teachers have used my paired texts.  Many have said how much their students love them.

I recently volunteered at a school to help with standardized testing.  I brought a few of my passages for the 3rd graders to read during breaks in testing.  One boy, who said on the first day that he hated reading, literally started dancing in his seat when I gave him reading passages about Ronaldo, who is a famous soccer player.  I’m confident you have students in your class who will feel the same level of excitement if they get to read about famous athletes during reading class.

Meaningful Assignments for Students Serving In-School Suspension

I always hate the assignments I send with students when they serve ISS.  I hate everything about ISS.  Obviously, when students are fighting or behaving extremely disrespectfully, they need to be removed from class.  But once he/she is taken to ISS, I despise gathering work for the student to do all day because I know I’m going to do a terrible job of doing so.

I always end up feeling guilty for the work I send.  I know I should have already prepared packets of work, but planning ahead is not exactly my strong suit.  So I end up grabbing workbooks and textbooks.  I spend about two minutes looking for things that will take this student a long time to complete.  Then I slap a few post-it notes with pages numbers to complete.  The entire time, I’m thinking, “This is such pointless work.”

These are the students who need the most support and I’m sending pointless work for them to do right after they’ve had a serious altercation with another student or teacher.  I always feel guilty, but I feel like I have no options because I only have a few minutes to find work because I’m in the middle of class.  The work also has to keep the student busy for a day without requiring too much effort from the ISS teacher who already has a million other things to do.

These are the students I’ve kept in mind as I’ve written over 200 passages about famous athletes.  As I research athletes like Kevin Durant, Tom Brady, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Usain Bolt, I look for stories about times they’ve made mistakes and how they overcame them.  When Kevin Durant was in high school, one of his basketball coaches was murdered.  Kevin was really upset because this coach was like a father to him.  Kevin’s performance on the court suffered because he started disrespecting opponents and hogging the ball.  Then Kevin realized his old coach would not want him to play like that.  Kevin stopped doing those things and his play improved.  The students who are sitting in ISS need to realize that huge celebrities like Kevin Durant make mistakes just like them.  Our students need to read stories of successful people who learn from mistakes and are determined never to make the same mistake twice.  Now, Kevin Durant is one of the most respected players in the NBA.

When I write these passages, I also include stories of how hard these athletes have worked to achieve success.  I describe how these athletes have put in years and years of insanely hard work to be successful.  When NFL quarterback Tom Brady was growing up, he hated that his sisters were better athletes than him.  He was determined to do whatever it took to be the best athlete in his family.  Now he is one of the greatest quarterbacks in American football history!  Here are some passages where the headline shows you the focus of the passage.

Meaningful work for ISS

I’ve written three sets of passages about most athletes.  For example, my set about LeBron James and Michael Jordan includes paired texts about their childhood, pro sports career, and charity work.

Meaningful work for ISS students

Each set of paired texts includes a quiz.  There’s also a writing prompt that ties all the passages together.  The first page, which you can give to the ISS teacher, explains which two passages go together.  Answer keys are also provided.  You can print a few copies of each set to have in a file folder for those times when you have to immediately send work for ISS.

Meaningful work for ISS students

Some teachers have told me the work for ISS should be boring busy-work, which I totally disagree with.  The punishment for the student should come in the form of isolation from his/her peers, not pointless assignments.

In addition to classroom teachers, I encourage ISS teachers to try a few of my paired texts. A few ISS teachers have left feedback on my paired texts saying they were helpful when kids in ISS finished the assignments sent by the classroom teacher.  They are also helpful when the student’s classroom teacher is unable to send work on time.

Click any of the images below to see all the paired texts I have available in my TpT store.  I’ve written passages on more than 70 athletes who compete in a variety of sports, so I’m sure you’ll find topics that will interest your students.  I also have passages written on a variety of reading levels to help you meet the needs of your students.

Paired Texts About Famous Athletes for Grades 5-6Paired Texts About Famous Athletes for Grades 3-4

Paired Texts About Famous Athletes for Grades 1-2

Feel free to leave feedback in my TpT store to let me know how these work for you.  Thank you for the 5,236,823 things you do for your students every day!

Paired Texts That Will Have Your Students Begging for More

Engaging paired texts about famous athletes

When I think about my experiences in school, I remember being bored during reading class.  The stories in our reading book were always so boring.  I remember rushing through my work so I could read the things that I wanted, which were books about sports!

My best memories of school came during the Scholastic Book Fair because they had books about football and basketball!!  Every year, I eagerly bought all the books about my favorite athletes and teams.  Then I returned to class and rushed through my work so I could read them.   I credit these sports books for developing my reading skills because I was such a picky reader.  I bet some of my teachers considered me a “reluctant reader.”

Fast forward (more years than I’d like to admit) and I realize that several 5th graders in my class are just like me.  There are lots of kids who are desperate for something to read that they can relate to.  I feel like there are lots of great fiction books, but it seems a lot of students zone out when they read nonfiction.  There are lots of kids who are huge sports fans, but I’ve noticed there’s a shortage of high-quality, nonfiction reading material about sports.

That’s why I have written over 200 passages about famous athletes for grades 1-6.

Here’s what a set about Steph Curry and Kobe Bryant looks like.  (Steph and Kobe are famous basketball players.)  If you click the image it will take you to that product and you can download a preview.

Engaging paired texts about famous athletes

Students will perform better in reading class if they are reading about a topic they care about.  We have tons of kids who love sports, but it seems like there aren’t enough stories about athletes.  The passages I’ve written about LeBron James, Cam Newton, Lionel Messi, Usain Bolt, or Simone Biles will light a spark under some of your reluctant readers because they will finally be reading about a topic they care about.

I’ve been pleased to hear from many teachers that these passages engage even their most reluctant readers, students who sound just like me when I was in school!  Here are some of the things teachers have said after using my paired texts with their students:

“It really peaked the interest of my 4th graders, especially the boys…kids were asking to do extra!

“Students loved these and begged for more!”

“My students cheer when they see these selections.  The question that comes after is, ‘Can we have more?  We love reading about sports figures.'”

“All of the texts are full of great information.  Finally, I’ve found something that my kids will read!!”

“We used it for center time and they were talking about the players long after!”

“My students really enjoyed reading them which makes teaching a whole lot easier.”

“Boys in my middle school intervention class loved this!  Something they would finally read about willingly!”

“I can’t wait to use this! Best student engagement ever.”

“It really makes reluctant readers want to read.” 

“The kids loved how they could relate to the topic.  They’re much more engaged when they love the topic!”

“All of my students enjoyed the passages and they sparked lively discussions.”

I started by writing these passages on a 5th-6th grade reading level.  Then I had several teachers say they needed these passages written on lower reading levels.  So I have also created several sets for kids who are reading on a 3rd-4th grade reading level and 1st-2nd grade reading level.

These three images show passages about the same players that are written on a range of reading levels.  Click any of these three images to download a free sample that best suits your needs, or grab them all so you can differentiate!


If you’d like to see more, click any of the three images below to browse my selection of paired texts for the reading level you want.  Most sets are either $3 or $4.

If you need passages for Google Classroom, be sure to grab this free resource about LeBron James and Steph Curry (grades 5-6).  The passages are in a Google Slides file and the quiz is in a Google Forms file so you can assign these activities digitally.  You must have Google Classroom to use these.

Paired passages about famous basketball players for Google Classroom







I include stories about these athletes working hard, overcoming challenges, and dealing with criticism.   Your students will learn a ton about hard work, perseverance, and helping others by reading about these athletes.

I spent 30-40 hours researching, writing, and proofreading each set of paired texts.  I have ensured all of the quiz questions are standards-based.  I triple checked facts in the passages for accuracy.

I’ve been a huge sports fan my whole life.  These passages will help some of your students become a huge fan of your reading lessons.


Athletes Who Are Awesome Role Models For Kids

Athletes who are great role models

I started writing informational texts about famous athletes in August 2015.  My goal is to create high-interest nonfiction passages for students who normally don’t like to read.  But after researching over 70 athletes, I have realized that young people can learn a lot of important life lessons by reading about these athletes’ lives!  Yes, there are athletes who make bad choices.  But there are so many who set awesome examples for our students!  Here are my main takeaways after a year of reading about famous athletes:

** Lots of them are INCREDIBLE ROLE MODELS FOR YOUR STUDENTS for reasons that have nothing to do with their athletic ability!!

** They are really smart!  The “dumb jock” stereotype needs to be done away with forever!

** Your students need to read how hard they have worked their entire lives.  When they face challenges and criticism, they don’t quit.  They use it as fuel to work harder.

These are four athletes who have really impressed me while I researched them.

Aaron Rodgers  

Life lesson:  Small kids from small schools can achieve big things!

During my 14 years of teaching, I’ve taught several boys who think they can’t play sports because they are short.  But Aaron was small when he started high school.  He attended a small high school that produced few college football players, much less future NFL stars.  Aaron put up incredible numbers playing quarterback in high school, but no big colleges offered him a scholarship.  So Aaron went to tiny Butte Community College, where he continued putting up incredible stats.  Finally, after years of hard work and persistence, he was offered a scholarship to play football at the University of California Berkeley.

Even then, people doubted him.  Aaron says a college professor laughed at him when he said he was going to play in the NFL.  Then when Aaron was drafted into the NFL, he had to wait three years as a backup to Brett Favre before he got to play.  But Aaron never complained.  He took notes on what Brett did every day in practice.  He observed the questions Brett asked in meetings.  Aaron refused to get discouraged.  Now he is one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.  Aaron also does a ton of charity work to help raise awareness and money for childhood cancer research.  Once, he surprised a 12-year-old girl whose younger brother had recently died from cancer.  When Aaron heard how much this girl was doing to raise awareness for cancer research, he wanted to help her.  He spent the day  helping her with her project.  Aaron’s heart is as big as his talent.  Click below for passages your students can read about Aaron.

Aaron Rodgers Brett Favre Paired Texts

Simone Biles

Life lesson for your students:  Years of hard work can pay off in “golden” ways!

Simone Biles has dominated gymnastics in a way that has never been done before!  She won four gold medals at the 2016 Olympics.  She dominated the World Championships for two years before that.  But Simone missed out on the 2012 Olympics because she was just barely too young.  That meant training for long hours every day for nearly four years to achieve her dream of competing in the Olympics.  It’s really tough for gymnasts to stay at an elite level for that long, but Simone was up to the challenge!  More importantly, Simone’s coach said she kept an amazing attitude during all these years of training.  This incredible attitude was on display during the 2016 Olympics when Simone made a mistake that cost her a gold medal on the balance beam.  But she cheered like crazy for fellow American Laurie Hernandez as she won silver in that event.  Her attitude and work ethic are just as incredible as her talent.  Click below to see my paired texts about Simone and Shannon Miller.

Simone Biles Shannon Miller Paired Texts

LeBron James

Life lesson for your students:  Sports can provide stability when life gets tough.

LeBron James was raised by his mother.  They didn’t have much money, so they moved a lot.  LeBron thinks he moved six times when he was 4th grade!  Do you have students who are being raised by just one parent?  Or students who move a lot?  They need to read LeBron’s story!  Once he got involved with football, his coaches became father-figures.  They encouraged him to stay in school and get his homework done every night.  One of these coaches taught LeBron how to dribble a basketball.  Before he became a basketball star, LeBron needed stability in his life.  You probably have students who could use sports as a stabilizer in their life, just like LeBron.

Kids also need to realize that the man who is currently king of the NBA was one of the most hated and mocked athletes in the country from 2011-2012 when he went to the Miami Heat.  But he used it as motivation to work hard.  He also does a TON of work promoting education.  He has an awesome program that helps at-risk kids from elementary school all the way through high school graduation.  He gives awesome rewards for kids who have perfect attendance and good grades.   There are many reasons Cleveland should be proud of LeBron.  Click the image to see the passages I wrote about LeBron and Michael Jordan.

LeBron James Michael Jordan Paired Texts

Carlos Correa

Life lesson for your students:  Set goals and work like crazy to achieve them!

Of all the athletes I’ve written about, I’ve been most impressed with Carlos.  One of MLB’s brightest young stars grew up in Puerto Rico.  His dad worked construction jobs and made Carlos help him starting when he was eight years old.  Carlos learned what it meant to work hard.  So when he decided he wanted to become a pro baseball player, he worked as hard as he could to improve every day.  He also worked hard to learn English.  He saw many MLB players who needed a translator when they were interviewed.  So when Carlos was in third grade, he asked his parents to send him to a school where he could learn English.  He wanted to be able to speak for himself when he became an MLB player one day!  Carlos was an awesome student who graduated with the best grades in his high school class.  He scored a 1560 on the SAT!

He also has a huge desire to help others.  He started helping homeless people in Houston just a few weeks after joining the Astros in 2015.  He says God has blessed him with an incredible talent, so he has a responsibility to give back to his community.  Carlos is an incredible person for your students to learn about!  Your students will learn a ton about hard work if they read these paired texts about Carlos and Cal Ripken Jr.!

Carlos Correa Paired Texts