Four new ways to get families involved in boys’ reading and writing

Gary Wilson

Year after year, when SATs and GCSE results are announced, the headlines shout about girls outperforming boys, but there is very little or no explanation for parents as to why this might be happening.

As educators, we owe it to parents to show them what the issues are, what their school is doing about it, and what parents can do in order to support their boys. Here are four practical ways to help engage parents in support their boy’s development in literacy.

boys reading

1. Hold a parent evening

Parent meetings are still a simple and effective way to engage parents in their children’s learning. They allow you to give background on why boys might underachieve and practical advice on how to help.

  • Since some of the parents you want to see are the ones that never come, rethink how you might approach them. For example, hold your meeting twice on the same day (before they pick up their child and when they’ve had chance to go home and return). This also helps send out the message that you have 100% expectation that they will attend.
  • Face to face invitations or invitations over the phone are always more effective.
  • Consider a change of venue.
  • Ask parents beforehand what questions they want answers to.

You can find advice, step-by-step guidance and a downloadable parent evening presentation in the Raising Boys’ Achievement Pathway on Oxford Owl for School, free in April 2017.

Alternatively, you can show parents my 5 simple tips on Oxford Owl for Home, providing ideas on praise talk, building independence, encouragement and practice

2. Engage older males in the family in reading at home

According to a recent study by BookTrust, only around 51% of children at Key Stage 1 are read to at home. It is often the case that mums tend to be the ones that do this. It is therefore no surprise that a lot of boys think reading is a ‘girly’ thing to do as they may never be read to by an older male at home. Here are a few ways in which you can encourage older males in the home to read to boys:

  • Provide a regular list of hints and tips that will help older males support boys’ reading, such as: joining a children’s library together, reading with enthusiasm, using characters’ voices, and continuing to read to boys even after they are able to read for themselves.
  • Check out these fun storyteller videos on Oxford Owl for Home, which are a source for ideas and include lots of helpful notes.
  • Suggest that grandads or uncles who live far away read stories via video call – a simple Skype call or FaceTime session can provide a fun new story time.
  • Give parents/carers a set of stickers to reward good listening, reading or writing at home.

boys reading 2


3. Engage older male family members in reading at school

If boys see other boys reading, they are more likely to think it is a worthwhile activity. There are many different ways to encourage this in your school:

  • Invite older males who drop off their youngsters at school to stay on, if possible, for ten to twenty minutes to help with reading or to read stories.
  • Invite dads, grandads, older brothers and uncles from all walks of life to talk to a class about their own reading as they were growing up and the significance of reading in their day-to-day lives.

It’s worth asking your guest speakers if they are happy to be filmed or photographed during these activities. You can then get the most out of these sessions by sharing this via posters in your school, or as stories in your school newsletter, or maybe in a WhatsApp group or private Twitter stream.

boys reading 3


4. Engage siblings or older males from within the wider school community

In a recent project, part-sponsored by Oxford University Press, we created twenty small groups of peer police cadets. We gave them the name ‘THE TRANSFORMERS’ (Check out the film on Oxford Owl for School) and gave them responsibility to help out younger boys with their reading, and taking charge of eco-projects around the school.

There are so many different ways you can set up similar activities in your school, including:

  • Engage Year 6 boys (and girls as well of course) in writing books for Year One, having discussed with the younger children what kind of stories they enjoy and what kind of story they would like the older ones to write.
  • Encourage Year 6 pupils to donate a book when they leave school and to write a bookplate for it. A public end-of-term ceremony at which they officially donate the books, followed by a display in the school library, can have a strong impact.
  • Invite your local high school to nominate some of their older boys to lead a writing project such as the one described above.
  • Whenever you have a visitor, for example a police officer, encourage them to ‘get caught reading’. Give them a book (or even better, ask them to bring one in) and ask them to be ‘caught’ reading it avidly as the children come in. If they can say a bit about what they are reading and what they like about it, even better!

I have provided just a few tips in this post, but you can find additional advice guidance and ideas in my recent book “100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Raising Boys’ Achievement” Bloomsbury Press 2017 and on my website or in the Raising Boys’ Achievement Pathway on Oxford Owl for School, available for free in April 2017.



About Gary Wilson

One of the country’s leading authorities on raising boys’ achievement, Gary Wilson is currently a freelance consultant and author of several books. A teacher for twenty-seven years, he began work on raising boys’ achievement in his own cluster of schools in West Yorkshire in 1993. He has advised and delivered training in over a thousand schools and over thirty LAs across the UK, a double national award-winning campaign to raise boys’ achievement across Kirklees LA.

About Project X

Project X, published by Oxford University Press, has been specifically developed to address the gender gap in literacy and meet the needs of boys as learners through design, content and structure. Find out more here.

About Oxford Owl

Oxford Owl is an award-winning home to free online teaching, learning and assessment resources, eBooks, expert support and subscriptions for Primary Schools.

FREE SUPPORT FOR YOU: From 27th March to 8th May 2017 we will be making our award-winning Raising Boy’s Achievement Pathway free so you can explore the fantastic support available to help you raise achievement in your school.

To find out more, click here.