Motivating children to read is one of the biggest challenges that teachers and parents face. It remains the hottest topic in education, with even the most competent readers often shunning reading as a hobby. Let’s face it, reading for pleasure is up against some pretty hot competition for children’s attention, so we educators have our work cut out.
The issue, of course, is that reading is such a crucial part of learning that if children never catch the reading bug, reaching their full potential becomes a far greater challenge.
Here we’ve outlined some tips that will hopefully put children on the road to becoming a reader for life. The sooner children embrace books the better, but it’s never too late – there are always gains to be had from reading more widely, at any age.
Stories and books need to be an integral part of a child’s life. Readers promote reading, so if a child comes from a house where books aren’t part of the everyday paraphernalia of life, it’s unlikely that they will get the reading bug from home. So it’s important to present regular reading as the norm at school.
You need a school library. Even if it’s a mobile one, on wheels (like those book fairs we all know and love), a library is an essential part of the fabric of a school. It shows that you care about books and reading, not to prospective parents but to children.
A good place to start, especially with a new class, is to take some time out to talk about stories and reading. This will help you know whether your school and class library have the right stock of books for your class. Ask children the following questions to get the discussion going:
- What is your favourite story?
- Do you have a favourite book?
- Do you have a favourite author?
- Who has ever taken a trip to the library?
- Who likes reading? (Challenge children who say they don’t like reading to find out why. Could it be that they have just not found a kind of book they like?)
- Do you like fiction or non-fiction?
Sensitively draw reluctant children into the conversation and focus on the fact that the reason they don’t read is just that they haven’t found the right books yet.
If you have a class library – and you should have – make sure that you cater for your class’s needs and wants. This may mean fundraising, so check out school librarian Anne Thompson’s tips for stocking school and class libraries in her ‘A beating heart’.
You might also want to talk about some children’s films that started life as books, for example:
- War Horse
- The Harry Potter Series
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid
- The Tale of Despereaux
- Fantastic Mr. Fox
If there are children who have read a book and seen its film version have they noticed anything about the difference between the two? It’s pretty much guaranteed that if children like the film then they will love the book.
What makes a story?
Do you have a film club? Film education is a fantastic resource www.filmeducation.org and great for resources that help you talk about films that started life as a book.
Know your enemy
Also talk about any barriers to reading. A combination of reading ability, demands on time and not seeing reading as important are all obstacles to catching the reading bug. ‘Reading is boring’ is a common cry. It’s often not seen as cool – you might want to check out our Pinterest ‘Get caught reading’ page for some photos of cool people reading!
Now to start the work
Children model what they see
If you want children to read then books need to become an integral part of their school life. Use the ‘Make reading the norm’ posters. Get spotted reading! Choose a class read and set aside a little time and read aloud to your class.
Run a competition matching the teacher to their favourite children’s book. Use our ‘Teachers’ favourite’ template (see Resources section) and remember publishers don’t mind you using the covers of their books so you won’t be infringing any copyright by sharing a book cover.
Well-resourced school and classroom libraries are important. If money is tight, ask for book donations. Sometimes Year 6 pupils have books that they have grown out of, that they might, with parental consent, donate.
If time is tight make mini librarians by asking the children to help with sorting and cataloguing. The more children handle books the more likely they are to dip into them. Remember that magazines are as important in a library as books. Children are more likely to read when their interests are taken into account and they are given control of what they read. @ALibraryLady recommends Wrd about Books, Aquila, Discovery Box, Storytime, Anorak, Phoenix Comic, The Week Junior and First News.
A win, win, reading result! Just buddy up beginner readers ‘Little Reading Buddies’ with ‘Big Reading Buddies’. It’s best, but not essential, to pair reading buddies of the same gender. Get them together once a week or once a fortnight. Sessions can include:-
- Reading aloud – Big Reading Buddy reads as Little Reading Buddy follows along.
- Partner reading – Big Reading Buddy reads a sentence, paragraph or page, and then Little Reading Buddy reads a sentence, paragraph or page.
- Popcorn reading: Big Reading Buddy reads most of the material, pausing occasionally to let Little Reading Buddy read a few words.
A low-maintenance Reading Buddy could also be a cuddly toy or family of cuddly toys.
Have a ‘Recommend a read’ session – Mrs Turner, the librarian from our story, recognises the importance of spreading the word about books that children enjoy. It’s all well and good being told about a good book by a grown up, it’s so much better to hear about a book from a friend or class mate. So, ask the children to talk about the books they are reading. Encourage rather than force and make sure they mention:
- Book title
- What was the book about (don’t give away the ending)
- What opinion of the book do you have?
Have a reading treasure hunt
Create some treasure hunt story cards from your favourite class reads or use our ‘Story treasure hunt cards’ for some book puzzle fun. Cut out and laminate and see if children can piece together the stories.
eBooks are a real boon to anyone who doesn’t want to advertise what they are reading. It’s an especially useful tool that will allow slower readers to go at their own pace.
It’s a good idea to get new books throughout the year, either new, donated or from charity shops. Get excited about any new books that you get so that children will get motivated to take a look.
Find the right book
Use the ‘Choose the right book’ resource to discuss how to best to pick the perfect read.
Create book trailers
Book trailers are not only a great way to get reluctant readers engaged in reading they are also brilliant at spreading the word about best-loved books.
Set up book clubs
Book clubs harness the power of the crowd and a straight ‘read a book and talk about it’ is of course, a great idea – especially if you make it a real social occasion. However, if you’re one of those children who thinks that they don’t like reading, a book club is not going to be a particularly attractive proposition. So, think about having books or book suggestions around at other clubs. There are lots of great football-themed sports novels, biographies and even football joke books, that would fit right in with a football team. The drama club might be the perfect place for books such as, The Shoes Series by Noel Streatfeild, Miss Lina's Ballerinas by Grace Maccarone or Ella Bella Ballerina by James Mayhew.
It can be tricky choosing the right book and sometimes children can be put off if they pick a book that they struggle to get in to. Our infographic helps you talk through some strategies to help them choose that perfect book and explains that if they get it wrong it just means they're becoming a discerning reader and that their next book might just be a perfect fit.
Make reading the norm – home
Use these editable posters to shout about all the reading that goes on at home.
Make reading the norm – school
Show children that everybody reads with these editable ‘I’m reading...’ posters.
Cut and laminate these cards for a literary treasure hunt game.