How to keep secondary school students reading for pleasure
By school librarian, Claire Marris
Reading develops rich vocabulary, improved grammar and enriched expression through the written word. Books are an amazing route into discussing many social, emotional and topical issues. We live in a technological world where scrolling and hunting for likes have a negative impact on attention span. Reading is a skill and one that needs to be harboured at an early age.
In my experience, the majority of students arriving in Year 7 are keen readers and it is then the responsibility of both school and parent to foster and nurture this reading habit. Reading can be compared to sport: the more you practice the better you become.
Key-stage 3 reading lessons vary. In our school the students read independently for 10 minutes, whether that be a book from home or the school library. This helps to monitor a student’s reading diet and ensure they are trying different authors and genres. The lesson continues with a ‘teacher led class read’, involving reading aloud and book discussion. Once a class read is completed, an ‘after book activity’ sees the class split into three groups and rotate round three activities including discussing other relatable fiction books, a debate/discussion around the issues of the book and a non-fiction research task to encourage wider reading.
However, there’s then the transition to Year 9, which brings with it an increase in workload, more pressure to perform well in assessments, demanding extracurricular activities and the demise of independent reading. Peer pressure can make some students believe that it is not cool to read, with some also saying they have “no time to read” and “I don’t like reading anyway”. How does the school combat this problem and continue the course to creating life-long readers?
We can’t guarantee that students are reading at home, so it is important to encourage it at school. Therefore, independent reading should be instilled within the school week. A study conducted by Tatro (2020) found that daily Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) time encouraged the majority of students to strongly or somewhat agree that reading a good book during SSR makes them more likely to continue the book outside of school. However, the students didn’t believe the teachers were wholly behind the scheme, emphasising how teachers can influence their students and why it is important that they are seen reading and discussing books.
I initiated a Reading Week in 2019. Years 7 to 10 read independently for the first 10 minutes of every lesson and during lunchtime the school library organises reading based activities such as a Poetry Slam, quiz and further silent reading sessions. During the Reading Week in February 2020, I organised for author Simon James Green to visit the school. Author visits have a huge impact on inspiring secondary school students to read as it gives them the opportunity to meet the person behind some of their favourite books, ask questions and be creative.
At the end of Reading Week, I received favourable feedback from teachers, students and parents:
“[I have noticed] how much more relaxed and engaged students are when they have been reading for the first ten minutes of the lesson”
“My sons have both thoroughly enjoyed this week and the extra reading opportunities it has provided.”
“My daughter really enjoyed the opportunity to read at school. She has talked with her friends about new books and is looking forward to now reading some of their recommendations. After a lull in reading at the end of Primary School maybe this is the catalyst for her to find her love for books again.”
On reflection, stipulating a guaranteed independent reading time has had a positive effect. Time could be utilized during tutor time, the first five minutes of a lesson or select a changing period each week as their dedicated independent reading slot.
Raising the profile of the School Library
School Librarian Lucas Maxwell is an inspiration and wrote a blog called 15 ways to promote your library in school. I have used a few of these ideas to help raise the profile of the school library and promoting reading for pleasure.
It is important the library is stocked with books and resources that the students will want to read. Manga is very popular at the moment, so I try to stock popular titles by asking students what is popular, gaining ideas from Twitter and talking to other librarians and stockist specialists.
I like to create a bright, vibrant and welcoming area that students want to come to. Lots of topical or curriculum-based book displays, a variety of quizzes to encourage wider reading and the choice to complete interesting reading challenges that promote different types of reading; mixed genres, authors and styles.
As previously mentioned, it is import for students to observe teachers reading. A staff summer reading programme encourages the use of library resources. Each staff member takes home a book that is selected for them. A completed book review postcard comes back and a poster with their book, photo and review is displayed in their work area and the library. This helps to inspire students to read books that their teacher has read and have discussions about the book. Setting up a reading challenge using these books can encourage further reading and a prize incentive is always a crowd pleaser too.
Students might not choose to read recreationally; the school can play their part in creating life-long readers by allocating guaranteed independent reading time, an inspiring, well-stocked school library and a school community that is actively reading and sharing with their students to inspire a love of reading for pleasure.
Claire’s top books for inspiring secondary school students to read for pleasure
Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks
This is my favourite YA book, a psychological page-turning thriller. Suitable for older KS3/KS4 students.
One by Sarah Crossan
Verse books are increasingly popular and I enjoyed the characters in this book based on conjoined twins. Suitable for KS3/KS4.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Another excellent verse book, great for reluctant readers. Suitable for KS3/KS4.
Farewell Tour of a Terminal Optimist by John Young
An ‘unsung hero’. A reluctant student in KS3 read this, loved it and read it a further two times. It addresses experiences of living with cancer but has humorous moments throughout. Suitable for KS3/KS4.
Sonny & Me by Ross Sayers
Written in a Scottish dialect, so particularly good for Scottish readers! Explores LGBTQ+ experiences with humorous moments. Suitable for KS4.
Rosie Loves Jack by Meg Darbon
The main character in this book has Down Syndrome and is an emotional read. Suitanle for KS4.
Tatro, K (2020). The Impact of Classroom Practices on Recreational Reading in a Rural High School. ProQuest (Online). (26th August 2021). Available here
Maxwell, L (2021). 15 ways to promote your library within school. Glenthorne High School Library Blog (online). (26th August 2021). Available here
About the SLA
The SLA is a UK focused charity which supports everyone involved in school libraries. We believe that every pupil is entitled to effective school library provision and the educational, emotional and developmental benefits that come with it. The SLA is committed to supporting, promoting and sustaining high quality reading, teaching and learning opportunities for all in a diverse and changing world.