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Reading for pleasure – 4 ways to help children want to pick up a book

Young people don’t always think of picking up a book for pleasure, says Stephanie Horton – but there are ways for schools to help it happen...

  • Reading for pleasure – 4 ways to help children want to pick up a book

At Smith’s Wood Academy, we have been working hard to integrate reading – both academic and for pleasure – into pupils’ everyday life.

Acknowledging that reading is the foundation for all learning, we support all our students to develop both an imaginative and critical view of the world in which they live, through engagement with books.

To engage with this vision, we’ve put a number of strategies in place which not only progress our pupils’ ability to read but also make it a more enjoyable experience:

Book clubs

We’ve found that reading together really helps our pupils, both those that are natural readers and those that require additional support.

We created an Above and Beyond bi-weekly pupil-led book club for year 9s which stretches and challenges those going above and beyond their reading age.

We purposefully set books that challenge and induce important discussions.

Book buddies

However much teachers want to be inspiring, we often are not as inspiring or as much fun as the pupils themselves are.

To help our younger year groups, we recruit older students to act as reading buddies.

We train 20 year 10 pupils to act as ‘buddies’ for struggling year 8 readers. The pupils meet in the library twice a week to discuss books and read together.

This has proved extremely successful with over 90% of the year 8 pupils improving their reading age in just three months!

Creating a buzz

We wanted to inspire more pupils to find books they enjoy and decided to do this by creating the Recommend a Read challenge.

The challenge encourages pupils to write a short review of their favourite book and recommend it to others.

Through the academy’s twitter page, we have been tweeting the reviews in an aim to infiltrate twitter with reading.

Using social media

A lot of reading and discussion about reading now takes place online, so we make use of that to engage tech-savvy teenagers.

Twitter and Facebook are excellent platforms for sharing achievements and recommendations and have allowed us to engage with authors and other educationalists outside of the Smith’s Wood community, which is proving to be a very exciting prospect for pupils, especially when the authors themselves can engage in conversation.

These simple strategies have worked wonders for our school. Mix them with the basics below and you may just find yourself in a secondary school with many happy, willing readers:

  • Start small and specific. You can’t target all learners at once, so choose a target group that you think needs your support immediately. Then create an action plan, set targets, and evaluate the impact before you move on to a new intervention.
  • Practice what you preach. Adults should be modelling excellent reading and engagement. Encourage staff by setting up a staff library (CPD or fictional), involve them in assemblies by including their favourite books, and most importantly, set aside time for staff to share what they are reading and why.
  • Create a clear vision for the library and the reading programme you are devising. Think carefully about what you want pupils/staff/parents to get from the interventions you are putting in place.

We are constantly inspired by the success and motivation of our pupils to engage in the reading initiatives designed for them.

In 2019, we took part in Achievement for All’s 200 Million Minutes Reading Challenge and read the most average number of minutes per pupil than any other secondary school, clocking up 824,459 minutes in just 26 days!

In turn, we’re constantly committed to ensuring that all pupils are able to become competent and confident readers.


Stephanie Horton is a librarian at Smith’s Wood Academy, Birmingham, part of the FairFax Multi-Academy Trust. For more information on Achievement for All, including the 200 Million Minutes Reading Challenge, visit afaeducation.org.

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