World Book Day is coming. I know this, not because of some tingly English-teacher Spidey-sense, but because the supermarkets have started selling their WBD costumes. Cashing in on parental panic and guilt, stores have cottoned on to the fact that every March there is a spike in sales of dressing-up costumes.
But what about the books?
World Book Day should be about encouraging reading. This can feel like a hard sell. We have to fight for our students’ spare time against the smartphones and gaming consoles that can consume their attention. However, the benefits of reading include increased vocabulary, heightened empathy and improved concentration, which is why we shouldn’t let World Book Day become a commercialised fancy-dress competition.
So, here are some alternative World Book Day celebration ideas from schools that are already breaking the mould.
1. Send a story around the world
This is based on the simple concept of one story being written by schools around the world. In a kind of massive game of consequences, one school starts the story, then sends it to the next school to add to and so on. This year, Colchester High School is starting the story, and Fiona Ritson will be posting the results on her blog. You can download an information pack about how to take part here.
2. Focus on books at bedtime
Primary schools are where the dressing-up day phenomenon seems to be most rife, but the English specialists at Market Field School have decided to veer away from costumes and towards the celebration of bedtime stories instead. All the children will be taking part in activities centred around books at bedtime. This is such a straightforward idea – and if parents haven’t got to worry about handcrafting a special dressing-up costume, they are more likely to have time to read with their kids.
To make this work for secondary, lose the parent aspect and talk about the books that students might want to curl up with in bed alone.
3. Make every day World Book Day
Down in sunny Kent, Claire Hill is acknowledging 4 March in a cursory way, but has also made the decision to make every day World Book Day. Each unit of work that students study in English has a linked fiction or non-fiction text that students can read for pleasure, with huge displays using student work promoting the books. For Hill, it isn’t about paying lip service to the day, it’s about creating a school where reading is valued by every student, every day.
4. Organise a book drive
Involve students, parents and staff from different departments on 4 March by putting out a call for any unwanted books. Contact a local charity who would be able to accept the donated books. Not only is this good PR for the school within the local community, you will be helping to spread the gift of reading.
5. Share quotes around the school
Ask every member of teaching staff to stick a quote about reading or books on their classroom door for the day. This is a really easy way to involve all staff in the celebrations and requires very little effort on their part.
6. Make reading your starter
Suggest that every adult in the school brings in their favourite book – or favourite book to read to their child – and reads a section of it as a starter activity in all their lessons that day, or talks about their favourite book to the children they interact with.
7. Send out reading ambassadors
This is one for your older students. Arrange for sixth formers to deliver 'virtual stories' to the local hospital and read over a video call to children in the wards. Students have to be over 18, but the visits can be arranged with your local trust. You could also look into doing something similar at nursing or care homes.
8. Create photo reading displays
Challenge students to bring in a photo of themselves reading to someone, be it younger siblings, older relatives, or even the family pet. The photographs can be used to create a display to promote reading in different contexts – and you could even give a prize for the best picture.
Grainne Hallahan was formally an English teacher in Essex for 10 years. She is part of the #TeamEnglish Twitter group