Library Lifeline part 3: Developing reading for pleasure in your school

11 Feb 2022
pupil librarians

We're thrilled to share with you the third 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 worldofstories@literacytrust.org.uk and your question may be the focus of a future blog!


This week's question focuses on an issue familiar to school staff as they juggle different priorities...

I’d like to increase the enjoyment in reading in my class. What can I do that won’t take up huge amounts of curriculum time?

This is a great question and one that’s being asked increasingly, as research proving the huge emotional, social and economic benefits of reading for enjoyment continues to gain momentum.

Creating a reading culture in your school, where everyone reads for enjoyment, will permeate children’s lives and there are lots of things you can implement in class, without compromising your curriculum time.

Why read for pleasure?

Simply put, reading for pleasure increases mental wellbeing. The importance of this, especially after the roller-coaster years we have experienced, cannot be stressed enough.

The National Literacy Trust’s research has found that children and young people who are the most engaged with literacy are three times more likely to have higher levels of mental wellbeing than children who are the least engaged (39.4% vs 11.8%).

Reading for pleasure naturally increases the literacy levels of young adults too, thereby helping their entry into the job market. It also boosts their confidence in supporting their children’s learning should they become parents.

It also has massive social advantages. Low levels of literacy undermine the UK’s economic competitiveness, costing the taxpayer £2.5 billion every year.

So how to increase reading for enjoyment?

Teachers as readers

Teachers’ enthusiasm for reading current children’s literature is one of the greatest motivators for pupils to read. Both the Open University and Cheltenham Literature Festival run programmes to encourage teachers to model reading behaviour. Both offer book groups where Book Chat plays an important part.

Find informal times in the day to mention what you read the previous evening. Ask pupils what they’re reading too. Not only is this a way to pick up ideas about fantastic titles to recommend to others, but current favourites may surprise you and help build an overall picture of strategies and themes that will help strengthen your reading for pleasure culture.

Ensure you set aside time to read aloud to your class. This helps pupils who are less fluent at reading by modelling intonation and excitement, which can further inspire a love of reading.

Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (2006) says that children and young people must “… spend time with stories, literature and other texts which will enrich their learning, develop their language skills and enable them to find enjoyment.”

The Welsh Framework for Learning (2008) also prioritises reading for enjoyment, highlighting that readers should be given the opportunity to read for different purposes, including personal pleasure. It says that learners should experience a language-rich environment where oracy, reading and writing experiences are connected to ensure they become enthusiastic, independent and reflective readers.

Another way to increase reading for enjoyment whilst working within time constraints is to have suitable fiction titles available to link to your curriculum topics. For instance, Emma Carroll’s Letters from the Lighthouse if teaching WWII, or David Wiesner’s Flotsam when studying islands. This can also kickstart discussions around the facts you need to convey in more memorable ways.

As far as whole school efforts go – what about book assemblies? You can always talk about picture books, which are accessible to most pupils. This acknowledges that we all like a comfort read, and shows that it’s perfectly fine for older readers to pick up a picture book. Mat Tobin’s excellent blog may help justify this.

Choice

Pupils’ right to choose what they read is crucial for encouraging a love of reading, and makes the activity more palatable for reluctant readers. Have a diverse range of books available. School libraries are absolutely vital in offering a healthy selection of great quality, wide-ranging books to every pupil.

See Lifeline Lifeline Part 1 to learn more about where you can find these titles. Support children in choosing books with this fun animation or book choice poster.

All Creatures Great and Small

Peer recommendations too, are a powerful tool when engaging pupils in reading for enjoyment. Invite a child to briefly talk to the class about their current favourite – it may well spark others’ interest in it. If you don’t regularly read graphic novels but have a graphic novel lover in your class, use their appetite for this genre to get others excited about trying it out. The National Literacy Trust Reading Tree Challenge is designed to help share reading recommendations in the library and classroom.

And if your school has the funds and the capacity, you could always consider getting a Reading Dog. These are trained, certified therapy dogs whose presence can lower anxiety and pressure in children, leaving the latter calm and able to simply read for enjoyment.

Activities

Tap into national initiatives that happen throughout the year. Pick a few that are spread out in the calendar to keep that vital Reading for Pleasure flame burning. The Library and Reading Planner on the SLA website is just one of their ready-made, professional-looking resources linking into national awareness days, and it helps you plan displays and book groups while crucially saving time.

The mental, cognitive and societal advantages of reading for pleasure are just too important and far-reaching to ignore. Armed with these handy tips you’re sure to set up a class where this enjoyment becomes a normal, daily part of the school day.

Other useful insights