Encouraging reading for pleasure

Imagine you have just finished reading a chapter of the rather gripping novel you got for Christmas. You are just about to turn the light off when your partner presents you with the task of writing a diary entry by the main character. Would you do it? Of course you wouldn’t. You’re tired and if you were going to do anything at all, you would read the next chapter because you’re dying to know what happens. Similarly, how would you feel if you were rationed to ten minutes reading at a time?

This is what we do to students in the English classroom. I hear teachers say that they start every lesson with ten minutes of reading or that they read at least one chapter of the class reader before they do an activity. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for using extracts to elicit responses, to teach language analysis and to reinforce skills. In fact, selecting a really well-crafted couple of paragraphs and picking them apart is no different from a scientist putting a nit under a microscope in order to see its knees. We need extracts to exemplify the essence of good writing. However, we have a responsibility to introduce students to the pleasure of reading and with the arrival of the new curriculum, we should explore ways of meeting the reading for pleasure requirement. Herewith a few ideas.

Consider introducing at least one lesson per week where you and the students read quietly – as the teacher it is your responsibility to model reading for pleasure. What about lesson observations? I know at least one teacher who got very positive feedback for a quiet reading lesson. You could try some of these approaches:

  • Model being absorbed in a book.
  • Ensure students have ability-appropriate readers, which also engage them. You may have to work on this over a period time but every student will eventually get there in my experience.
  • Circulate and talk quietly to individual pupils about their reading.
  • Use Q&A to identify their enjoyment (another word for progress in this context).
  • Create a range of tasks or worksheets that students can use if they have finished their reading or if they want to take a break. These could include an internet search for other books by the same author, writing a review for an on-line book retailer, exploring the way punctuation is used in a particular paragraph or chapter, defining unfamiliar words, finding their favourite vocabulary. It doesn’t have to be “Write a book review” or “Draw Character A”.
  • Deploy a TA effectively by using them to undertake shared reading with particular ability clusters.
  • Encourage students to share what they have experienced in their reading that lesson during a plenary.

When you decide to use a class reader, avoid working mechanically to any lesson by lesson scheme of work– in my experience schemes of work rarely dare to say “Read for 5 lessons this week”. Read all, or substantial amounts, of the book before you analyse it closely:

  • Set a chapter for them to read in small groups, pairs or individually – some may not manage the whole chapter in the allocated time but you, or the ones who do, can summarise what has happened.
  • Encourage every pupil to read aloud but aim to maintain pace and fluency by allocating harder passages to more skilled readers.
  • Make sure you model reading with passion and expression. Move around the room so that all students sense the presence of the spoken voice.
  • If this is a book you are likely to revisit with other classes in the future, record yourself reading certain passages. You can use the time when the recorded passage is on to gauge students’ attention spans and reactions. (You could even mark a book or two.)
  • Don’t insist that students sit up straight and listen. Allow them to rest their heads, close their eyes or doodle as they listen. Adults don’t read or listen for pleasure bolt upright at a desk.
  • Vary the lesson with mini-plenaries in the form of discussion and reaction.
  • Make up a class set of pastel-coloured plastic overlays with one clear, black line across them so that students who like to reduce the glare or use a line marker can do so. These can be useful for dyslexic students – try out different shades to see which works best.

Talk about reading. Book the library for your quiet reading lesson. Ask teachers of other subjects such as PE (stereotyped as actioneers not readers) and SLT to come along for five minutes and talk about a book they are reading or read a passage from the class reader themselves. Encourage students to bring in books they loved as younger children, such as Mr Men or The Gruffalo and revisit what was magical about them.

Lastly, make the time to read yourself. You can’t beat the DIY approach to teaching (as every teacher I have ever trained will tell you…).