Reluctance to Read

One of the most frustrating things that I experience as a catechist is young people who are fully capable of reading but are reluctant to read. I’m not talking about reading aloud…I understand that some people don’t like to read aloud in front of others. I’m just talking about following along in the book as someone else reads aloud.

I especially notice this in the boys. As we read, some of them will just stare straight ahead, look around, doodle on the page, or fiddle with their pen, pencil, or other distraction. As we read, I’ll walk around and direct them to pay attention to the place on the page where we are, and they will “pretend” to read along for a while and then go back to the above mentioned behaviors.

I can only think that they are so conditioned to being entertained by images on video screens that they idea of reading words on a page is becoming foreign to them.

To top it all off, we don’t read out of the book for more than a few minutes at a time. We are constantly doing activities that embellish what we are reading. For example, on Monday, we read about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, one gift at a time. The text described each gift in 2 or 3 short paragraphs. After each gift was read, the young people thought of someone in their life who is an example of that gift. They wrote the initials of that person on a small tag and got up from their desks to hang the tags on small “trees” (branches) labeled with that gift of the Spirit.

One would think that this activity, moving back and forth between reading and moving about, would prevent the kind of boredom that reading alone might cause. Even so, getting them to focus on the reading for each gift of the Spirit was a task.

I experience the most success in keeping them focused on reading when they have to simultaneously (or immediately after reading) fill in a worksheet based on the text.

I’d be interested in hearing if others experience this phenomenon and what you do to respond to it.

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at


  1. I’m not sure that it’s a reluctance to read (I’ll bet a lot of those same students have no problem spending hours reading web pages) or even being bored; they may simply dislike reading what is already being read aloud.

    I was/am certainly that way — I hated reading along in class, and even today my biggest pet peeve is when speakers just read their PowerPoint slides at the audience (it doesn’t help that I’m a fast reader and can typically finish well before the speaker).

    Your worksheet trick is a good one; I work mostly with adults and have found that asking questions about the reading will a) reveal if they’ve absorbed the material and b) signal that I expect them to pay attention (I also have no qualms about calling on individuals to answer).

  2. J Sullivan, thanks for your input. I think I could stomach that if I knew they were listening to the reader or had read the material quickly before the reader began but I don’t think either is happening.

  3. For my students, it seems they don’t like what they are reading. What is profound to me is boring to them. The worksheet/quick quiz after or during the reading helps a little, but they are only reading in order to succeed at the task, not because they are genuinely interested in what they are reading.

    I have actually found that if I want to read a certain page or two from the textbook, it helps if I make copies of it and present it to them as something I “found” and thought was relevant to our class. (Rather than, let’s continue reading in the textbook.) Some would say it is a waste of paper, but besides seeming more interesting to them, it’s also in a format they can write on/highlight/underline, and keep for future reference if they want. We reuse our textbooks and keep them in the classroom, so the copies for me have many advantages.

    My 7th graders also seem to like the “I Believe” essays from NPR and other memoir-style writing that relates religious ideas to real peoples’ lives.

  4. Marie, thanks for sharing. You are so right about the notion of what is profound to us is boring to them. I find that quite often my over-arching goal is to reveal the profundity of what we are learning.

  5. My students get to keep their books, so I have them highlight things in their books to keep them focused. We are doing Old Testament, so we look up things and read them out of Scripture as well. Those that bring their own Bibles get a Bible marker from me at the beginning of the year, so they can mark that too, if they wish. The present class is very creative in what they do to help them remember things (one girl told me she was making a list of characters we talked about in Exodus). The classes vary in how well they can keep up with what I am presenting; this particular class is doing very well.

  6. The best piece of advise I ever got from our DRE was to have my students take everything off their desks expect for the book we are reading. This has helped tremendously to keep the focus on the book.

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