Note: While this article is aimed at literacy for immigrant boys,
we at Red Apple Reading believe the tips provided can be helpful for any child.10 Tips to Promote Literacy: New Immigrant Boys

Guest Post by Michael Gurian

New immigrants face particular challenges and can struggle with English language literacy. While what works for all boys will generally work well for new immigrant boys, try adding these practical steps as well.

1. Keep High Expectations. If your son is having problems, sit and learn with him; support him however you can. Make sure he does not give up on literacy to go play video games. “If you read _____ chapter, you can play your video game; if not, you cannot,” may become your mantra so that high reading/writing expectations trump entertainment. You can assess your child’s literacy needs by taking a short quiz from the Gurian Institute.

2. Use Technology. Watch television with your son, play video games with him, go onto the Internet with him, and have him verbally critique and explain. Have him read aloud what is written on the game package; have him verbally report the action. Have him write you an email—even if it is a short one—about what the story was that he saw or gamed. Do what you can to link language and literacy learning to visual imagery.

3. Use Subtitles. Have your son read movie subtitles aloud. Pause at various places so he can explain to you what the subtitles mean in English. Linking English language to the audiovisual stimulant of the movie helps his brain store words, vocabulary, and grammar. If the movie has a book associated with it, read the book with your son.

4. Use Comics and Graphic Novels. Use newspaper comics, comic books, and graphic novels as “books.” Anything he reads in English is good for his literacy development, so if some of what he reads are comics or graphic novels that is OK. You can get a few minutes of good dialogue in English from a newspaper comic he laughs at.

5. Find Free Literacy Resources. Use the services of pediatricians, counselors, and other professionals who provide free books and takeaway magazines at well-child or counseling visits. Wherever you can, take advantage of free books and magazines in English. A number of programs nationwide are now funding an effort to get more free materials to immigrant families.

6. Connect Literacy With People He Trusts. Rely on people your son trusts to help him push through walls and discomforts as he increases his literacy. A boy who is having trouble reading is more likely to take coaching from someone he trusts than from someone outside his family-friendship circle or someone who constantly criticizes him. Seek trusted people who hold your son to his tasks, but encourage him according to his unique personality.

7. Let Your Son Choose. Let your son choose at least 60 percent of the books and magazines he reads in English. When he finds a genre he likes, set up timetables for him to read a book in that genre, then get him another book in that genre. If he likes a series, focus on getting him the next books in that series. Your son knows what he likes, and even if it is gory, reading it can be good for his literacy development.

8. Use Male Mentors. Help your son find a male mentor whose first language is English. If possible, find a mentor who works in an interest area your son has and can not only guide your son in how to do the specific task—such as a craft, a sport, or an art form—but will also encourage your son to speak and read in English with him. Encourage him to read Boys’ Life magazine, which features stories about great men who have also been great readers.

9. Write in English Every Day. Have your son write in English every day for a short period of time (perhaps for 15 minutes). Let him free-write at first—don’t correct his grammar or spelling. After he has free-written for some time, then you can review grammar and spelling with him.

10. Advocate for Your Son in His School. Quite often, teachers are not trained in how the male brain learns language and literacy. Boys’ brains develop language skills at their own tempo. As much as you can, expose your son to teachers who understand how to teach boys. If his teachers don’t understand how to teach boys literacy skills, your son can end up in special education classes regardless of whether he has a learning disability.

Boys’ Life magazine is written for them and can assist a boy’s literacy level and encourage a love of reading. To review sample articles that would interest your child, visit

Copyright Michael Gurian 2013