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Library Lifeline 14: How do I help pupils see themselves as readers?

02 May 2023

Readers in library3.jpg

We're delighted to share with you our latest blog in our series, Library Lifeline, written in association with the School Library Association. This series is designed to support anyone working in a school library by answering their questions directly. If you have a question that you’d like to ask our ‘agony aunt’ – the SLA’s Member Development Librarian, Dawn Woods – then please email us at and your question may be the focus of a future blog!

This week's question comes from a teacher who would like pupils to form positive beliefs about themselves as readers which in turn will influence their behaviours towards reading for pleasure.

Although our school library is a well-stocked, welcoming space and pupils read when they’re in there, when asked if they are readers, pupils don’t seem to recognise that they are. It remains a struggle to encourage them to read for fun and convince them that it’s something they already do. I know that if pupils identify themselves as confident and willing readers, they’re more likely to engage in beneficial reading practices and attitudes. Do you have any suggestions as to how to reinforce this self-belief so that pupils can start to view themselves as enthusiastic and able readers and go on to form positive reading habits?

Primary School Teacher

This question sometimes comes up when teachers and librarians want to establish a culture of reading for pleasure in the school and for some reason a welcoming physical space alone is not making a significant impact.

Ideally speaking, the entire school community needs to be on board reading for pleasure and engaging in book talk so that pupils are immersed in stories and acknowledge the pleasure that sharing and enjoying stories brings. Check out this blog to get more ideas on how to do this.

On a smaller scale however, and to address your question more specifically, it’s a good idea to look at what and how children are reading on a more individual basis and see how they regard those practices.

What does “being a reader” mean?

If you ask that question of primary age children - they will say something like “someone who reads books”. They identify books but fail to list anything else. I was always a reader. I had to be reading something rather than sitting doing nothing. At breakfast time I read the cereal boxes, and I knew that that was still reading.

Children are surrounded by print and only a small proportion of that is in book format, or indeed longform fiction. Phone, tablet and PC screens are all read by children who may not recognise that they are reading. At long last comics and graphic novels are becoming accepted as valid reading material. Listening to an audio book absolutely counts as reading. We cannot hold onto a narrow view of reading.

If a child does not identify themselves as a reader, it is because they are comparing themselves to others, or to perceived notions of reading against which they think they do not measure up. It is our responsibility as adults to emphasise a wider view of a reader so children don’t consider the narrow view of fluency as the ability to read longer books only. That encouragement and confidence needs constant reinforcement.

Many pupils resort to comfort reads of a lower reading age than their ability. That is perfectly acceptable and can even form the basis for feeding in new suggestions of similar titles to expand that range and increase confidence. Be mindful not to tell children they should have ‘grown out of’ their reading choices, unintentionally shaming them, thereby putting them off reading.

What role does book talk play in forming reader identity?

Book Ttalk should be promoted and encouraged throughout the school, with the library setting an example. Being able to talk about what you have read and share your thoughts and opinions is not just for elite senior book clubs. Having the confidence to express your opinion in front of others needs to be encouraged, and school staff, as well as carers, are powerful role models for this.

Donalyn Miller in The Book Whisperer recounts how early on in her career a child asked when they could look at the books, so she said ‘now’ and started to recommend various books, with other children including reluctant readers, generating enthusiastic book talk.

It is that excitement around reading that needs to flourish in every school which will help give pupils confidence to read their choice of reading material and know that they too are readers.

Using the school library to form a reader identity

The library obviously helps enormously in this goal by offering a choice of media including book, graphic novel, manga, e-books, audio books, as well a variety of formats including non-fiction, poetry, and fiction.

Library time can be timetabled with fun, educational games to explore what is on offer creating positive associations around choosing reading material and reading.

A treasure hunt around the library, with clues to discovering different types of reading material can demonstrate the different formats available.

A library bingo game which includes a ‘text message’, a TV schedule, a cereal packet alongside a ‘funny book’, a book by X author can encourage the whole class to read. Templates for Book Bingo can be found at the SLA website, or via a simple web search.

There will always be people who prefer to do other things than read, but above all it is our job to provide that validation of reading choices, a wide menu of genres and formats and encourage and instil confidence in pupils so they know they are readers.

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