How I teach - Use skills, not thrills, to get kids reading

Reading for pleasure just doesn't motivate some pupils, so try a practical approach

I have a problem with "reading for pleasure" - the widely used phrase that is supposed to convince reluctant readers to engage with books. You see, telling someone who doesn't like reading that doing so will give them pleasure is like trying to tell a nine-year-old boy that he will enjoy broccoli.

Try to imagine how these students feel when they are told to read for pleasure. I compare it to how I feel about gardening: if someone told me to "garden for pleasure", I'd want to tell them where to stick their spades and rakes.

So I don't use the phrase "reading for pleasure". You can't persuade a child that they will love broccoli, but you can encourage them to eat it by explaining its benefits and trying to portray it as some sort of super-vegetable. I use the same approach to get children reading.

I call it Read to Succeed - you'll notice that it breaks down into a mnemonic. It is essentially a list of skills that children will gain from reading and a powerful tool to persuade them of the benefits reading can bring.

Read to Scheme

Reading can teach children to see the "big picture", to work out how everything fits together. You may think that the Harry Potter books are about a boy wizard, but they are more than that - they are also about friendship and courage. Reading in this way allows children to develop strategic thinking skills, to look ahead and consider how things may turn out.

Read to Understand

Children need to be able to understand the texts that are placed in front of them. If they can work out the true meaning of a text, they will be able to respond to it intelligently and in detail.

Read to Communicate

Reading is all about communication. By writing information down, it can be passed on to an infinite number of people. What's more, reading widely will boost children's word power and help them to communicate more effectively.

Read to Create

To be a good writer, you must read a lot: so says legendary horror author Stephen King. Reading will help children to develop their ideas, improving the thinking skills that allow them to create and imagine.

Read to Empathise

Understanding what others are going through is a critical skill. Reading books and empathising with the characters allows children to practise this process in a safe environment. They learn to relate to others.

Read to Enquire

It is important for children to question and investigate things for themselves: an enquiring mind will stand them in good stead as they move through education and into adulthood. This is a skill that is acquired and developed by the process of reading.

Read to Discover

Discovery is one of the most beneficial learning experiences a child can have. You can tell them something a thousand times, but when they discover it for themselves through reading, they will remember it for the rest of their lives.

Martin Burley is an English teacher and literacy coordinator at Noel-Baker School in Derby. This is an edited version of a chapter from his book Read to Succeed: how to get your kids to read, which is available from Amazon and from his website:

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