Getting teens to read is a great challenge, but not an impossible one. The key is finding out what interests them. Some may like to read aloud to elementary kids, others may say songwriting is their thing. Whatever the case, the important thing is to make sure that they are reading, and that's what the NEA's Read Across America is all about!

Reading Rocks!

In this age of iPods and Game Boys, webcasts and reality TV, can reading really hold its own among teens? The answer is yes—if you have the resources and support for teen literacy. At NEA's Read Across America, helping teens read and enjoy reading is just as important as helping preschoolers and elementary students. With your encouragement, today's middle school and high school readers will discover a treasure trove of ideas and a multitude of great books. Here are some clever ideas to get you going:

  • Stage a multilingual celebration. Ask the community to get involved. Find out if there are storytellers in your midst and collect their stories and bind them together in your own community book.
  • Have students create a "Survivor" contest or "Amazing Race" scavenger hunt. Using their favorite books, they can create a challenging course with clues related to characters and plots.
  • Nurture their hidden reader in all students by offering a wide diversity of books, newspapers, and publications.
  • Stage a songwriters' summit. Students can use their favorite songs (or even their least favorite songs) as prompts for a dialogue on reading and writing.
  • What do students like or dislike about today's fiction, graphic novels, nonfiction? Why not create a review board or teen advisory group to set up reviews? Take to the air for reading radio programs all about books.
  • Young Adult (YA) librarians are known for their breadth of knowledge about Young Adult books and their insight into the teen world of reading. Talk to the YA librarian in your school or public library and check out the links to YA librarian sites at
  • Let the teens offer up their suggestions for reading motivation strategies. Teen reading becomes even more powerful when word of mouth mot only gets teens reading, but has them coming back for more.

Additional information and tips on teen reading can be found at and at

Slam It!

A poetry slam is a great way to engage teens in writing, reading, and reacting. Once you've got your poets…

  • Set your rules for the slam. Set a time limit, typically three minutes, and announce the judging process. In poetry slams, audience applause and feedback have been used.
  • Find a supportive venue. A comfortable coffee house or non-intimidating venue such as a cafe, deli, or bookstore makes a great environment for a slam. It needs to be a place where teens feel comfortable hanging out.
  • Find a supportive crowd. Most cities and towns have a community of artists and writers. Make contact, perhaps through a bookstore, university, or coffee shop, with writers interested in encouraging young people.
  • Educate the educators. Build a relationship with other teachers — in person, by phones and/or through distribution of registration packets. Send out documents describing the program, including schedules, judging criteria, rules, and fees.
  • Follow up initial info. Two or three months before an event, send a follow-up fax to schools reminding them to register for your slam. Two weeks before the fest, contact those who haven't responded to see if they have questions. Assist them with last-minute registration.
  • Set up a support network. Ask school staff if they'd like veteran performance poets to come to the school to demonstrate slam techniques. Solicit writers to participate. Assist in scheduling the visiting poets for interested schools.
  • Check out the web. Peruse websites devoted to poetry slamming, including and

NEA Today tips for starting a student poetry slam in your school or community contributed by Arizona NEA member Bob Nelson and disseminated by

Stage It!

Drama, especially reader's theater, is a great way to help students build their reading skills. In reader's theater, students begin with a book or story and adapt it into script format, constructing parts for students and setting up dialogue and movement, if any.

In this way, the book comes alive with the voices, expressions and movement of the readers, and the readers realize how much fun it can be to read aloud. Here a just a few tips to help you stage your own reading.

  • Choose your book or short story. You can find books or stories you and your students can adapt or you can find existing scripts on a number of websites specializing in reader's theater. Look for pieces that have strong characters and plots.
  • Have the students listen to and discuss the story. Do this especially if you want students to write the script themselves. Talk about the story line and the elements. Let them talk about the characters and the emotions they feel.
  • Have the students work in groups to work out their roles. Even though they may be reading the piece out loud, students can work together to choose words and expressions that make the piece come alive.
  • Rehearse your reading and play around with the rhythm. Teens are known to be creative — let them play with the words and visual images they create.
  • Talk about the story behind the script. Even a staged reading has a real-life meaning. Find out what students are thinking. The exchange could be rich indeed.
  • Set the stage and have fun!

 Reprinted with permission from