Research shows that reading for pleasure improves a child’s ability to read, write and progress at school, as well as having a positive impact on their mental wellbeing and empathy.
However, not every child in the UK has access to books and stories and libraries are suffering from a chronic lack of investment: 44 per cent of schools serving the UK’s most disadvantaged communities don’t even have a school library.
Lockdown meant finding new ways of encouraging reading for pleasure, and the education world stepped up. Puffin World of Stories has collated six top tips from teachers around the country on how to engage and support children with their reading outside of the classroom.
1. Engage parents through live reading sessions
Throughout lockdown, we continued to prioritise reading throughout our school. As a school we trialled many different strategies including live reading sessions of our class text; this allowed children to engage in discussions around the text and also opened up a conversation on our school Dojo page around the text.
It was great to see parents joining in with the discussions, which contributed to our school priority of increasing parental involvement in reading. We also posted the Oak National Academy's library link to our Dojo page and the children used the post as a blog to discuss the chapter they were on.
Britany Parker, English lead at Brandling Primary School, Gateshead
2. Bring stories to life
We made a BookFlix library where all teachers and teaching assistants recorded videos of themselves reading the children’s favourite books. We encouraged the children to build reading dens in which to enjoy their favourite books and also encouraged them to engage in live lessons by an author.
For World Book Day, we held secret reader competitions where children had to guess which members of staff were reading the mystery books and identify the well-known titles. We encouraged the children to read in interesting places and send videos of their most dramatic reading voices.
Laura Shepherdson, literacy coordinator at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Blaydon, Gateshead
3. Offer a variety of formats
Reading for pleasure is the heartbeat of our school and we were determined to continue to bring books to life over lockdown. We held Covid-safe book swaps to ensure that children had access to good quality books.
Children also had access to online platforms such as Rising Stars and Epic! to allow unlimited online reading at home. We also uploaded a virtual library on to our school website which allowed children access to a range of beautiful books chosen to support their wellbeing while at home as well as enjoy reading for pleasure.
Julie Doyle, reading lead at Sneinton St Stephen’s CofE Primary School, Nottingham
4. Support children in choosing the right book
Choosing a book is one of the most magical elements of reading: browsing covers, sampling blurbs, taking a sneaky peek inside. During Covid, our pupils were allowed to take one book home weekly from a small "bubble" of books and return it the following week for quarantining.
While our safety is crucial, this stifled the exciting choosing process that allows children to critique and amend their reading choices.
Then I was introduced to the Epic! online library. Epic! re-introduced the opportunity to make exciting reading choices again, with their wide and diverse range of books. We launched Epic! schoolwide and since February, my class have read 580 books between them, by reading on the app from home. It has completely revolutionised the way our pupils access and engage in reading for pleasure – and the magic of choosing has returned.
Lauren Townsend, class teacher at Ambleside Academy, Nottingham
5. Introduce real-life writers
Over lockdown, we worked hard to ensure that our children continued to have opportunities to read widely, and to access a wide range of texts and author experiences.
To continue to show our children the huge benefits of reading for pleasure, and to give them aspirational experiences of reading, we worked with our established partners at the National Literacy Trust, Seven Stories and our local indie bookseller to give a range of author chats, live interviews and collaborative experiences to all the children in our school, tailored to their key stage and experience.
Daniel Mount, reading lead at Pennyman Primary Academy in Middlesbrough
6. Build a reading community through shared texts
At St Wilfrid's, we were conscious that children weren't accessing quality texts so a copy of a book that linked perfectly to our Victorian topic was delivered to each member of my class.
Every English lesson, I would upload an audio file of me reading a chapter on to Google Classrooms so children could read along and listen to the book simultaneously. This helped boost their reading fluency, picking up on the tone of voice and flow of the book which acted as a great support for the less confident readers in the class.
The work produced was of a much higher standard than the English lessons I delivered before re-adopting a text-based approach to teaching over lockdown so it was definitely worth it. I've been told that lots of parents and siblings were listening in too!
Daniel Fenwick, deputy headteacher at St Wilfrid's RC Primary School, Gateshead