Motivating Struggling and Reluctant Adolescent Readers from Inside Out

Aug 5, 2015 by

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Reading is a tough sell these days because kids have so many distractions, which includes just getting distracted while they read, losing concentration for all sorts of reasons, and not being motivated intrinsically, or from the inside out.

To help out teachers in the sadly forgotten area of motivation, I compiled a list of “sparks” to inspire adolescent readers with creative ideas and questions. They can be used as meaningful downtime motivators, and if presented over the course of a school year, would have positive effects/affects on the cyber psyches of kids today.

You can use the sparks as triggers or catalysts to jumpstart an inner-motivation to read, where students draw their own conclusions, make judgments and decisions about their reading independently, without someone “making” them enjoy reading. While extrinsic motivation is helpful in getting some kids to read, it is testing mania, the resulting test-anxiety and apathy toward reading that are the ultimate external and internal turn-offs, respectively, to reading, in my opinion. And studies have shown that intrinsic is more effective than extrinsic motivation, but education has come a long way to take inner- and outer-motivation to the next low, negative level: creating fear, anxiety, dread, and doubt into children and adults alike about reading.

Here are three ways you might use to implement the upcoming triggers:

  • Try starting a quick discussion of the given spark (for five minutes, ten max) to get your students thinking about reading and their desire to read.
  • Present the spark as a fast-paced writing lesson where kids write about their ideas, thoughts, feelings, and experiences connected to it and then discuss the responses (five minutes for writing and five minutes for discussion). If you want to go social media/tech, ask them to TWEET their answers in 140 characters.
  • Throw out a spark to the class for brainstorming answers orally. Give the prompt and ask the class: “What thoughts, feelings, ideas, images, and experiences come to mind after you heard the spark?” (Time limit per prompt is five minutes.)

Skim through the list of eighty plus sparks to see which ones you like and would be most effective with your group (according to the particular class, grade and ability level). Some sparks can be used with more than one of the above triggers.

You might feel you’re better off presenting the spark orally, where you would rather hear what the students have to say rather than taking the time to write their answers.

With certain prompts you might want them to write their answers. Writing responses pushes kids to reflect and even contemplate to discover a thoughtful answer. Emphasize to think carefully before writing, or “think twice then write, and to probe their experiences and memories for a deeper response. Discussions and brainstorming sessions are bang-bang, spontaneous thinking and responding, and would favor quicker thinkers. You might be leveling the playing field a little when asking kids to think-about-and-then-write their answers.


With many of the sparks, an extra moment of thought, searching, and digging, can bring the insight you want that will motivate and inspire young people to read. Check out where I’m coming from with my sample responses to the following sparks (in bold):

  • Read and enjoy a good movie: Reading is a show, a production, performance, and if you can’t see the images flashing by quickly on an imaginary TV or movie screen in your mind, you’re missing the point. This is true for fiction and non-fiction reading such as history or social studies where you want these subjects to come-to-life, or for students to see it in the mind’s eye. You’re giving them another way of “seeing reading.” This spark might be best using a written response.
  • Visualize yourself reading in a place where no one would ever read: Take the class to the absurd and they will enjoy the ride. This spark gives them a chance to create a humor through funny mind-pictures of crazy places you would not expect people to read. For example, reading under water, in a cloud, on top of a mountain, or inside a soap bubble are my possibilities.

You can use this prompt orally in a discussion for brainstorming answers, or have kids write their responses and draw quick pencil sketches of absurd places to read. You can ask them how these ridiculous places will affect their reading: What might happen in these environments? This is a fun spark to lighten up reading in a test-obsessed culture.

  • Motivate yourself to read from the inside out: This is a tough question, so I would want the class either to discuss it orally for a collaborative response, or have students figure it out individually in a written response. The spark, in my opinion, is the crux of reading, and if the kids don’t get it, they will not become readers, let alone lifelong readers.

Reading is about an inside feel, what you experience in your mind, imagination, heart, and spirit. If you’re not feeling it on the inside, you’re not going to be motivated to read on your own from the outside. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t…

  • Sticks and stones and words will break my bones and harm me: Yes, for many kids, this will happen, because words are powerful, because words can hurt and/or heal. Words can be teasing words used to bully someone, in real space and time, and in cyberspace. They have after-effects/affects that can sting for years and keep people down.

This is a “triple spark”: use it to stimulate a collaborative conversation with your class, as a writing prompt to find out what individual students think about the power of words, and also, try it as a brainstorming session to get some impromptu responses.

Your words are you, you’re made up of millions of words, the words you speak, write, read, think, imagine, and experience, your life is a dictionary and a thesaurus of words, meanings, ideas, thoughts, and images that can make or break you. Here is a spark that will bring up many experiences students have with words, a discussion that can go on for days and provide some incredible releases of pent-up experiences not spoken about or kept hidden in the children’s minds. Everyone has a story about words…


Please read the following sparks to see which ones will work with your students according to grade and ability levels. If you really get into these ideas, statements, thoughts, opinions, and questions, you can experiment by creating your own sparks based on your own understanding, beliefs, background, and experiences in connection to reading, reading processes, and reading life. I am setting the stage for you to connect with your own creativity and help kids discover reading in a way they might not have realized before.


1) You are what you read.

2) You are what you write.

3) You are what you create.

4) You are words, millions of words make you, you.

5) Everything you read becomes part of you.

6) Here is the magic formula for becoming a good reader: read, read, read for fun.

7) When you read, read.

8) You say all reading is boring? Then ask yourself: Am I boring?

9) Wake up and read, wake up and read.

10) Read and enjoy yourself in thought, feeling, and creativity.

11) Read yourself to sleep and have sweet dreams.

12) It takes a lifetime to create a lifelong reader.

  1. Wherever you read, there you are.

14) Read and enjoy a good movie.

15) Read: Imagine, yeah, imagine…

16) Read to believe in you.

17) Bring yourself a little peace, quiet, and freedom: Read.

18) I read, therefore I think, feel, imagine, wonder, and ask questions.

19) Find the mind’s magic reading theater and you will discover a new reading life.

20) If you can’t visualize what you read, your mind’s eye is somewhere else.

21) Can you hear your silent, inner reading voice reading? If not, maybe your imaginary

inner reading ear stopped or might not be listening.

22) Can’t imagine what you read? So Dial 1-800-IMAGINE to see the inside world.

23) When you read you need your hearts, hearts, hearts.

24) Think about it: Reading is a magical process.

25) Motivate yourself to read from the inside out.

26) Visualize yourself reading in a place where no one would ever read.

27) Reading is about the imagination, a world with no limits and all possibilities.

28) Reading life experiences live inside, expand, and change your Self.

29) Reading is a threedimensional, holographic, virtual reality waiting that can transport

you to untold visual paradises you never dreamed of seeing.

30) Reading is sitting by yourself, thinking, imagining, and feeling things inside you.

31) Reading means reenergizing, revitalizing, and rejuvenating your Self and life.

32) Read: Re-invent your Self over a lifetime journey into an endless universe of words.

33) Read the waves of words cascading from a book like you watch a good movie.

34) Reading is all about mindfulness: Where are you while reading?

35) Books are lifesavers for kids that come in all your favorite flavors.

36) When are you in the mood to read: always, sometimes, or never? Why?

37) Read and feed yourself some delicious, tasty, sweet words.

38) Read it twice and get it right.

39) Rate how relaxed you are when reading on a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 = not

relaxed, and 10 = very relaxed. Give reasons for your rating.

40) You don’t need to read graphic novels because they’re already living in your mind.

41) What happens to the words you read? Where do they go?

42) Read to lose yourself in a book and find yourself again.

43) Reading is about self-discipline, -control, -belief, -confidence, -esteem, and -love.

44) The peace of reading: What’s that?

45) Reading is not about speed, but understanding, passion, and self-motivation.

46) Can a book change your life?

47) Can reading everyday change how you see your world and the world?

48) Reading means being present, alive, awake, alert, and aware. It’s about the NOW,

the HERE-AND-NOW. Now, are you THERE?

49) Reading is about listening, observation, and concentration.

50) Reading is creative like writing.

51) Reading is an inside job, where you take your Self on a tour of the inner landscape of

the mind, imagination, heart, and spirit.

52) You are never alone reading a book.

53) Sticks and stones and words will break my bones and harm me.

54) Read to be free and to breathe fresh air into your head: how sweet it is.

55) Books are like dogs: man’s best friends.

56) Read, writing, reading, writing, reading, writing, and so it goes, round and round.

57) Reading is a “magical mystery tour waiting to take you away.”

58) Reading is like listening to a concert of words playing in your imagination’s theater.

59) Reading is a see cruise: Won’t you take me on your see cruise?

60) Reading takes you on a journey through a dark inner landscape of mind-pictures,

feelings, thoughts, meanings, and experiences to the lights in your imagination.

61) There is an imaginary TV screen in your mind? Where else would you see the 3-D

movies words create?

62) Rate your ability to concentrate when reading on a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 =

poor, and 10 = excellent focusing skills. Give reasons for your rating.

63) Reading is silent communication making lots of noise in your mind and imagination.

64) Have you ever seen a purple apple? Now you have…

65) Reading drops you in the eye of your imagination where you experience a surreal

universe totally different from the real world.

66) Take this book and shove it—inside the imagination’s self-amusement park.

67) Whenever I read, I know who and where I am.

68) TV puts beautiful pictures in your real eyes; not reading, it puts incredible pictures in

your mind’s eye.

69) Picture this: Reading on a cloud floating in a blue sky.

70) Reading-in-the-zone means you zoned everything else out.

71) Wonder, wonder, always wondering, whenever I read.

72) There’s no place like home—like inside a book.

73) “All we are saying is give peace a chance”: Read.

74) Reading means re-creating a writer’s imagination inside your own mind.

75) Reading is talking to your Self while watching pictures flash in your mind.

76) Are words just black-on-white, or are they something else?

77) Rate your ability to change words into mind-pictures: Excellent, Very Good, Good,

Fair, or Poor. Give reasons for your answer.

78) Multiply tornado x snowstorm: What picture do you visualize?

79) Add fireworks and stars: What mind-picture do you see?

80) Divide the sun into ocean: What do you imagine?

81) 1,000 butterflies x 1,000 butterflies triggers what picture in your imagination?

82) Fog + smoke creates what picture in your mind?

83) Sadness + love snaps what photograph in your mind’s camera?

When I finished re-viewing these motivational ideas for adolescent readers, a bunch of questions came to mind, and that is how I will end the article:

  • Whatever happened to motivation in reading?
  • Whatever happened to affective education?
  • Do we really know what a response to literature is?
  • Whatever happened to “Becoming a Nation of Readers” (1985)?
  • Where has the state of reading come since 1968 when I began teaching?
  • Why have we forgotten that reading is a creative art like writing?
  • Where has the magic in reading gone?
  • Why is the achievement gap still a frontier we haven’t crossed?
  • Why can’t we, as educators, educate educators to teach reading?
  • Why are we sill confused about teacher training and PD?
  • Who’s kidding whom?

References and resources for information about motivating adolescent readers:

  • Motivating Teen and Preteen Readers: How Teachers and Parents Lead the Way by Jeffrey Pflaum (Rowman & Littlefield Education, August 2011)
  • Contact author at for GREENLINE newspaper article titled, “Local Educator’s Book: Love of Reading from the Inside-Out” (2/4/12) by Greg Hanlon
  • And for QUEENS TRIBUNE newspaper article titled, “Book Inspires Reading in Cyber Age” (3/1/12) by Ross Barkan
  • For Internet radio interviews about the book, please Google the following, or go to author’s website (listed at the end of the article) for:
  • OnlineWithAndrea” with Andrea Garrison (BlogTalkRadio, 4/23/12)
  • Raising Great Men” with Marie Roker-Jones (BlogTalkRadio, 5/10/12)
  • Healing Through Creativity” with Dr. Desiree Cox (WebTalkRadio, 2/6/2)
  • Jeffrey Pflaum’s blog posts on the reading process, creative reading, deeper reading, inner reading, imaginary word problems, reading as a three-dimensional, holographic, virtual reality, triggering a passion for words, and poetry, can be found at the following link:
  • For more information about Jeffrey Pflaum’s inspirational book on motivating adolescent reading, please check out his website at:
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1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    That was sure a snoozer for an article! ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZz

    Kids HATE the politically correct reading they are forced to read. It’s not rocket science. It’s NOT inspirational. It;s often angry, lots of sex in it, denigrates people as racists for all kinds of crazy reasons, denigrates our country and they can’t WRITE or EXPRESS what they would like to about the FORCED reading material because that wouldn’t be politically correct. Now what child would ENJOY that? NONE of them do!

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