Create a thriving reading culture in your school - turn your students into bookworms with our ten expert tips!
What do we mean by a reading culture? Simply put, it is an environment where reading is valued, promoted and actively encouraged.
Teachers have long known that children who read for pleasure perform better in school. This is borne out by research which shows that reading makes a dramatic difference to literacy and educational achievement. Reading also introduces new perspectives and ideas to young people, which helps them make connections across the curriculum.
One study of 17,000 people from birth showed that reading for pleasure improved maths ability as well as literacy. Dr Alice Sullivan, one of the study’s authors, says, “Our findings emphasise how important it is for schools and libraries to provide access to a wide range of books and help young people discover authors they will enjoy.”
So how can we inspire and support students to read independently?
Well, a strong reading culture in school is the first step. Here are ten suggestions to help get you started. Some can be implemented tomorrow in your class and some are more ambitious, requiring a whole-school effort. But all are tried and tested ways to get your students excited about reading!
DEAR—Drop Everything And Read—was started in the US by children’s author Beverly Clearly. In some schools it’s a part of the school day, where a special bell rings and everyone in the school - pupils, teachers, management and auxiliary staff - stops what they are doing and reads for half an hour. This reading isn’t part of the curriculum, and children aren’t tested on it. It’s purely for pleasure. Of course, it doesn’t have to be school-wide. Start off small with DEAR time in your own classroom - and if your students react positively then maybe the idea can be rolled out across the school.
As a teacher, you are a role model for your students. Apart from their parents, you’re probably the adult that they see the most. This means you can set a powerful example when it comes to reading for fun. Take a few moments each week to talk to your students about what you’re reading in your free time. Create a list on your classroom wall of all the books you’ve read so far this year. When it comes to DEAR time, get out your own book, so your students can see you reading.
By pairing different subjects with books on relevant themes, your school’s reading culture will flourish across all subject areas. For example, if you’re a PE teacher, you could take five minutes of class time to read a section from Bend It Like Beckham. If you teach Food Preparation and Nutrition, encourage your class to read recipes and articles about food. If your subject is History, your students could read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Reading doesn’t have to be confined to English class!
Encouraging your students to read across genres offers them a multitude of entry points into reading for pleasure. Graphic novels, biographies, memoirs, poetry, picture books, short stories, essays, articles and blog posts all offer stimulating and enriching alternatives to classic books. You could even set a challenge for your class to read from five different genres in a month. As well as encouraging individual students to read more, it will also expose the class to the many options available to them.
In addition to the school library, set up an informal classroom library that your students can borrow books from. Group books by topic - animals, mountains, etc. - so it’s easy for your students to find books they are interested in. If you don’t have a lot of books to start off with, it’s time to get resourceful! Keep an eye out in charity shops and car boot sales for secondhand books, and ask parents to bring in old books that their children have outgrown. Get in touch with local bookshops and ask if they’d like to donate a bundle of books. Local companies might consider sponsoring a book bundle. This way, the reading culture becomes a community effort.
As well as making books available to your students, it’s important to provide students with a place to read them. Look at where students can read in your school. Are there reading areas in the common spaces? Is there anywhere to read outside in the playground? You can create a reading nook in your classroom - decorate a corner with some posters and bookmarks, put some beanbags or comfortable seating there and encourage your students to use the space for their own reading.
Inviting an author into your school is an exciting experience for students and teachers alike. It’s a chance for your students to hear about the creative process, which in turn can spark their own creativity, encouraging them not only to read more but also to write more. If finding a local author to speak is challenging, you might be able to find a talk or a lecture by a writer online to show your students.
Adding a competitive edge to the reading culture can encourage even reluctant readers. Setting reading challenges - where students have to read five books in a month, for example - will help motivate your students. Include all books to make the challenge accessible for the whole class. Encourage your students to think outside the box. For example, they could read a picture book at home to a younger sibling. And the prize - a book of course!
Make these days a part of your school calendar. From Winnie-the-Pooh day to Jane Austen’s birthday, there is a literary holiday for all ages and stages. Celebrating these days, even in a small way, is a reminder to your students that reading is something that is celebrated far beyond the walls of the classroom. And this can make them feel like they’re part of a reading community.
Put a whiteboard up in the library or in your classroom. Encourage your students to write their personal book recommendations, along with a one line review, for other students. This encourages your students not just to read, but also to talk about reading to one another.
So you’ve created a healthy, thriving reading culture in your school. But what happens when school breaks for holidays? Primary school teachers often see a dip in their students’ reading abilities after the summer reading gap.
The Bug Club reading challenge aims to tackle that dip by motivating students to continue reading and making progress during holidays. You can set your students e-books to read during the break. When they come back to school, you can reward them with their very own Bug Club certificate.
Find out more about the Bug Club reading challenge.
When you work to create a reading culture, you’re not just supporting your students’ academic progress. You’re also giving them a gift which will last far beyond their school days - the gift of imagination and creativity - and a love of reading.
How do you encourage learners to read for fun? Let us know in the comments.
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