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Reading for pleasure – We set up a book vending machine in school

Here’s how we’ve kept our pupils excited about stories during lockdown…

Olivia Bartlett
by Olivia Bartlett
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Our school community has transformed over the last 18 months. We’ve established a reading culture where every child has the opportunity to accelerate their skills and discover the joy of becoming absorbed in a book.

During lockdown, staff thoroughly enjoyed the experience of recording daily lessons for pupils to take part in from home. It also gave the team a fantastic opportunity to develop our parents’ and carers’ understanding of our curriculum and the way in which our lessons are delivered.

As many of our families showed a keen interest in learning from their children we set up an online grammar course, led by an external provider, which introduced parents to the grammar content expected of primary-age pupils in a friendly, non-threatening way.

In addition to this, we also led virtual phonics workshops so that the families of our youngest children were fully equipped to support their children during their daily phonics lessons. This is something we’d usually carry out in school at the beginning of the school year, but this was a great alternative.

Being able to watch their children’s daily phonics lessons supported parents with their understanding. One parent said that she’d never been an avid reader, yet after being in the same room as her son’s daily whole-class reading sessions, she stole his book and read it overnight!

It was great to see lessons having an impact on whole families. We plan to continue providing community workshops to help families immerse themselves in their children’s learning.

Virtual library

During the school closures we created a virtual library, offering a range of online books. The titles were chosen by our English leader to support our wider curriculum but also our pupils’ mental health and wellbeing.

We reached out to our local councillor, Maddi Bridgeman, who had supported us with previous reading initiatives, and she was able to provide financial support to help us purchase digital copies of these texts.

Marine Academy Primary in Plymouth kindly shared their virtual library template with us and staff also filmed themselves reading some of the texts.

The whole library was contained within a PDF document that was sent to families, posted on Facebook and added to our school website. It was set out to look similar to our actual school library, and we even included avatars of staff members for that personal touch.

We’re going to continue to update and use the virtual library – it’s reassuring to know that our children have access to a huge variety of texts that they can then listen to as audiobooks from home at any time.

Book raffle

Another way we combatted the problem of children having a limited amount of books in their homes was to introduce a book vending machine. We reached out to local councillors and companies to see if they would be willing to support the idea, so that all our children could have access to a wide variety of high-quality texts.

We were successful with this and we now use the books as part of our reading reward system. When pupils meet a reading target – anything from reading a certain number of times a week to more personal goals such as confidently reading aloud to the class – they get entered into a half-termly raffle.

While school was closed we drew the raffle live on Facebook. Winners were then able to come to school and select their book from the vending machine. Children were so excited to hear their names called out on Facebook that sometimes they arrived to pick up their prize within ten minutes!

The books come at no cost to children’s families but add excitement and give each child a sense of achievement on their reading journey.

As we navigate the school return, we’re pleased to be able to offer children a wider range of books to read than they had access to at home. This variety makes a huge difference to children’s levels of engagement.

We were thrilled to be recognised in the Renaissance Lockdown Learning Awards for our staff’s commitment to maintaining children’s love of reading during lockdown. We’re so pleased to have the children back in the classroom, continuing their reading journey, and will be looking at how we can build our reading culture even further.


Olivia Bartlett is an SLE and assistant headteacher at Tor Bridge Primary in Plymouth, Devon. The school won the Wrapped Up in Reading Award at the Renaissance Lockdown Learning Awards 2020. Follow Renaissance on Twitter at @renlearnuk.

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