A school I work with has asked me to help them promote a love of reading that spans beyond World Book Day. Now there’s nothing wrong with World Book Day; in fact, there’s a lot that’s right about promoting books and reading. But I do understand the reason behind the school’s request. They want to think about sustainable, everyday things they can do to promote a love of reading in their school. Naturally, I’ve written on this subject before but in this article, I’ve added a few more ideas and as many links as I could think of. As the school are based in Warwickshire, I’ve made mention of organisations and initiatives in this part of England, but not exclusively so. I am of course only one of several educators who talk about developing a love of reading in school. Whilst much of what I discuss here is from my own work, I am indebted to those other reading enthusiasts for their ideas and inspiration.
If you’re looking to promote a love of reading in your school, you need to ensure that the books you have are worthwhile. When you consider that ‘UK publishers released more than 20 new titles every hour over the course of 2014,’ (The Guardian 22nd October, 2014) it can be rather daunting to start looking for books to suit the wide-tastes of all readers. This is where recommendations come into play. Your local School Library Service (SLS) should be right at the top of your list for support and guidance but there are other valuable outlets worth exploring too. I’ve listed a few below:
Coventry SLS (because I’m based in Coventry and they are in my opinion the best SLS around)
Warwickshire SLS (because Warwickshire is my neighbouring authority and they are also rather splendid and great people to work with)
Pupil to pupil recommendations
Online recommendations are helpful. But there’s nothing like someone you know and respect telling you about a great read. Encourage children to recommend books to one another. Now let me stress: please don’t make children write lengthy book reviews after every book they ready. Do though, consider short quick and easy ways to encourage book reviews, such as:
- Designing and printing some bookmarks and asking children to complete these and leave them in a book when they’ve enjoyed it. This could include a 5* rating and a short recommendation.
- Print off and display some shelf recommendations. You’ll have seen these in Waterstones. They’re handwritten and just a few sentences long. A few words that speak volumes.
- Create book postcards. Design these so that one side has the cover art from the book: the other side has a recommendation. These could be created by hand or using IT. Simply display them in the library or send them to other classes as recommendations.
- Share pupil recommendations via the school newsletter or on the school website/blog. This could be a regular feature with book related awards for having your recommendation published.
Adult recommendations and adult role models
Positive adult role models are an important part of promoting a love of reading. Ways you can use adults as role models include:
Photographs of members of staff reading books. Ensure you ensure a wide range of texts (fiction, non-fiction, magazines, newspapers, illustrated texts, digital texts). Also, ensure you include a cross-section of the adults seen in school (teachers, TAs, lunchtime staff, cleaning staff, sports coaches, governors, the local religious leaders). It’s essential that children see all adults as readers and not just a section of school society.
Reaching out into the community
Make the most of your local sporting clubs and associations. Many now recognise the significant role their players can have in promoting reading and specifically with boys. Wasps Rugby have been particularly proactive in doing this in the Coventry and Warwickshire area.
The National Literacy Trust’s Premier League Reading Stars is a hugely successful initiative for promoting reading in schools. Find out more here.
Children’s book awards
Getting involved with the various children’s book awards, provides you and your pupils with the chance to read a selection of expertly chosen books. Following the children’s book awards opens-up the opportunity to read books that you may otherwise overlook. Many of the book awards also have shadowing or voting opportunities. Book award shadowing also encourages children to discuss and evaluate the books they have read and to offer these critiques to a wider audience through online discussion groups and voting procedures. Getting involved in children’s books awards ensures that reading becomes as social rather than solitary activity.
Book groups and reading circles
Set up book groups to encourage children to read together and to read book that they might otherwise not choose. There are as many ways of selecting children for these groups as there are children. It could be based on those who put themselves forward, or you may want to target key groups such as avid reader, reluctant readers, quiet children, children in receipt of the Pupil Premium. Just think carefully about the personalities involved and the number of children in each group. You need enough children for a good conversation but not so many that it’s hard for children to contribute. For a truly focussed and inspirational book group for able readers, take a look at Reading Gladiators developed by reading legend Nikki Gamble. This programme combines high quality children’s literature with expert pedagogy which will inspire, engage and promote a love of reading in your school.
And what books should you choose? Well, you could ask the pupils, you could shadow one of the book awards, you could select a book you think they will enjoy… Just be flexible – if everyone hates the book you’re reading then it may mean choosing another (don’t ever forget the rights of the reader).
Getting reading visible
Ensure that visitors can tell yours is a reading school from the moment they step into the entrance hall. Develop regular themed displays with artefacts, labels and children’s reviews alongside the books.
Refresh the classroom selections regularly. Why not have boxes of books that spend a month in a classroom and then move onto another room? This is a really cost-effective way of presenting different texts to children.
Don’t necessarily throw away books that are a little past their best. Establish an ‘outdoors book box‘ of older books that finds its way onto the playground for a bit of al fresco reading.
Magazines and comics
Don’t overlook the literary complexity of comics and magazines. The sophisticated interplay of text and pictures in many comics is astounding. They’re also enjoyable, and that should not be overlooked.
I love The Phoenix. It’s a traditional story comic which keeps you coming back each week to discover the fate of your favourite characters. The illustrative style is stunning and the storytelling superb.
I also really like Storytime magazine. Again, this is a traditional publication that avoids adverts and free toys in exchange for high-quality stories and beautiful illustrations. The lovely people at Storytime told me how schools use multiple sets of their magazines for Guided Reading and also how schools have used subscriptions to the magazine to support children in receipt of the Pupil Premium.
Other publications worth having in your reading school are Aquila for those really curious children who like challenging reads and bags of information and The Week Junior for current affairs in an accessible and engaging format.
Bringing in the experts
Every year, around the time of World Book Day, I’m asked if I know some good authors to bring into school. I do. But a word of caution. Authors are busy people so if you want one to come to school and inspire your pupils you need to be ahead of the game. Book in advance. As I said at the beginning of this article, your SLS needs to be your best friend. They will know good local authors to invite into your school. Warwickshire SLS even have this incredible FREE directory of authors based in The Midlands.
Real writers bring experience and authenticity to promoting reading in school. Another programme worth exploring is Patron of Reading which links schools and authors for a long-term literary relationship. Also check out Authors Abroad for a considerable list of authors who are able to work with schools across the UK and Ireland.
Other important considerations for promoting a love of reading in your school
Always check out what’s taking place on the National Literacy Trust website.
Become a member of the UKLA so that you’re part of a community of educators and librarians working to improve reading.
Never forget your SLS. With that in mind keep up to date with announcements from the School Library Association.
In writing this article I’ve been influenced by the work of many people including: Joy Court (UKLA), Isobel Powell (Coventry SLS), Hannah Thompson and Stella Thebridge (Warwickshire SLS), Nikki Gamble (Just Imagine Story Centre), James Clements (Shakespeare and More), Julia Etheridge (St. Augustine’s RC Primary School, Coventry), Janette Catton (Frederick Bird Primary School, Coventry).
Rachel Clarke, Director – Primary English Education
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