How to encourage pupils to fall in love with reading

James Bell

James Bell has worked in the education industry for Renaissance Learning for more than 10 years. Over this time he has worked with the National Foundation for Educational Research to assist them in completing an independent correlation study to confirm the reliability and validity of Renaissance Learning’s STAR Reading, STAR Maths and STAR Early Literacy products.  He also piloted Accelerated Reader in the United Kingdom with great success, and an independent research report was subsequently written by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust confirming outstanding results

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A recent study by the National Literacy Trust has revealed a sharp increase in the number of pupils aged between 8 and 18 who read regularly outside of the classroom. In 2014, 41% of pupils read outside the classroom, a 32% year-on-year increase from 2013, and this is a hugely encouraging sign for literacy development.

"“If we place books upon children that they do not enjoy as much, they will simply lose interest."

Reading outside of the classroom can undoubtedly accelerate a child’s progress, in the same way that a learner driver improves quicker by practising outside of lessons. Children however are notorious for resisting anything that they do not enjoy, so being forced into reading books that they don’t like or enjoy can have a negative impact on literacy.

There are many ways in which we can encourage pupils to be more proactive in their reading and take learning outside of the classroom with them.

Let children read genres they enjoy

We often see a discrepancy at both primary and secondary levels between the books that students are reading most often and the ones which they enjoy the most. The books that students are enjoying the most are moving dramatically away from “classic” titles by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and Roald Dahl, and more towards new genres and authors like Cassandra Clare, David Walliams and John Green.

If children are reading books that they are fully engaged with, it will spur them on to regularly take their books home with them. However, if we place books or genres upon children that they do not enjoy as much, they will simply lose interest and see reading outside of the classroom as a mandatory chore rather than a fun pastime.

Many schools with whom I work have programmes in place that celebrate achievements in reading, for example word millionaires – those who have read over a million words in a specific time. Word millionaires might be allowed to wear a special shirt or badge, or be recognised in assembly.

Initiatives like ‘drop everything and read’, where everyone in the school will stop what they are doing and read for a set amount of time, help foster a love of books and show students that reading is for everyone.

Encourage non-fiction titles as well as fiction

It is important that we engage pupils in the world of reading at a young age. While fiction is the easiest way of doing this – by unlocking their imaginations and sense of wonder – non-fiction sources are just as valuable in developing child literacy, and are in many cases preferred by children.

Reading shorter articles can help to overcome the common problem of short child attention span, and small doses of information on a particular subject of interest can improve a child’s comprehension skills. Stocking school libraries or making recommendations to parents with more modern titles that have been rated highly by children of a similar age group will encourage a love of reading at home.

It’s also important to make sure pupils are reading books at the right level for them. If books are too difficult and they might be frustrated and give up, whereas books that are too easy students will be under challenged and uninspired.

Set interesting work around classroom titles

Some of the most popular books for children are fantasies involving heroes and villains. This opens up a range of other available activities for children to test their comprehension and engages them in the stories themselves such as acting out scenes, drawing characters and other work which involves imagination.

Engagement in a story away from the actual book itself can motivate children to take a wider interest, which in turn leads to wanting to read outside of the classroom for enjoyment.

How do you boost reading for pleasure in your school? Let us know in the comments!

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