A teen reading

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As teens lives become increasingly digital, books compete with the compelling lure of social media, games, smartphones, screen media and schoolwork for teens time. Find inspiration, and strategies to encourage teens to read for pleasure.

  • Teens changing reading habits

    For teens reading may take the form of e-books or articles online, but the dopamine pull to just ‘check’ the latest from Youtube, messages or social media feeds is strong.

    It’s not surprising that research shows teens (and adults!) are reading fewer books than before. So, as the concept of reading broadens to encompass the digital and bite-sized, we need to ensure teens reading opportunities are also broadened.

    "...What we need to do is not just honor all reading – as CSM suggests – but to keep offering new doors, new opportunities, and new options to teenagers. A graphic novel one day, a cool app the next, a novel on a third day, or a poem, a play, an investigative article, a description of a new discovery. The idea is to keep opening doors, so occasional readers recognize that there is something of interest–something appealing, stimulating, or unexpected–waiting for them when they do take time to read."
    — Marc Aronson

    With such stiff competition, it becomes even more important for teachers and library staff to work together to engage each and every student with reading.

    Are teenagers reading less? Consider the source — School Library Journal
  • Teens changing reading habits

    For teens reading may take the form of e-books or articles online, but the dopamine pull to just ‘check’ the latest from Youtube, messages or social media feeds is strong.

    It’s not surprising that research shows teens (and adults!) are reading fewer books than before. So, as the concept of reading broadens to encompass the digital and bite-sized, we need to ensure teens reading opportunities are also broadened.

    "...What we need to do is not just honor all reading – as CSM suggests – but to keep offering new doors, new opportunities, and new options to teenagers. A graphic novel one day, a cool app the next, a novel on a third day, or a poem, a play, an investigative article, a description of a new discovery. The idea is to keep opening doors, so occasional readers recognize that there is something of interest–something appealing, stimulating, or unexpected–waiting for them when they do take time to read."
    — Marc Aronson

    With such stiff competition, it becomes even more important for teachers and library staff to work together to engage each and every student with reading.

    Are teenagers reading less? Consider the source — School Library Journal
  • Why it's important for teens to read

    Schools aren’t just about teaching children to read, but teaching children to be social beings.
    — Michael Rosen

    The New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) paper Growing independence: a summary of key findings from the Competent Learners @14 project shows that teens who enjoy reading are more likely to succeed in school and in their engagement with their various communities.

    Continuing the habit of reading, widely, into teenage years helps teens to:

    • deal with their increasingly complex world, and understand some of the adult issues they will have to grapple with
    • know they are not alone – that others may be thinking and feeling the way they do
    • open lines of communication, particularly if parents, teachers, librarians provide opportunities to discuss what teens are reading
    • share and see how others have found solutions to problems
    • develop their vocabulary
    • broaden their imaginations
    • improve their writing
    • deal with the increasing demands of school work
    • gain confidence when speaking.

    Growing independence: a summary of key findings from the Competent Learners @14 project

  • Why it's important for teens to read

    Schools aren’t just about teaching children to read, but teaching children to be social beings.
    — Michael Rosen

    The New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) paper Growing independence: a summary of key findings from the Competent Learners @14 project shows that teens who enjoy reading are more likely to succeed in school and in their engagement with their various communities.

    Continuing the habit of reading, widely, into teenage years helps teens to:

    • deal with their increasingly complex world, and understand some of the adult issues they will have to grapple with
    • know they are not alone – that others may be thinking and feeling the way they do
    • open lines of communication, particularly if parents, teachers, librarians provide opportunities to discuss what teens are reading
    • share and see how others have found solutions to problems
    • develop their vocabulary
    • broaden their imaginations
    • improve their writing
    • deal with the increasing demands of school work
    • gain confidence when speaking.

    Growing independence: a summary of key findings from the Competent Learners @14 project

  • Understanding teenage reading motivation

    To better engage students with reading, it's helpful to understand the benefits, motivations and types of reading they engage with. Everyone needs a reason to read. Are students reading because they:

    • have to, for instance, answer an assignment
    • want to, for pleasure and relaxation, they are curious and interested in the subject/theme, to relax or to escape from the everyday
    • need to, where reading is like breathing for them?

    Right book, right hands, right time, right reason

    Understanding what motivates teens to read will help you put the right book in the right hands at the right time for the right reason. Peer validation of reading choices should not be underestimated either — if you can tap into the current ‘cool’ books, you can add to students’ reading mileage with ease.

    It’s important to note that, understanding your own reading ‘profile’ — your reading habits and preferences, reading plans and motivations — helps a lot as you help students to find the books and reading that will fuel their passion.

    ‘The potency of relevance’

    All of us read with ‘me’ in the background – how does what we read relate to our ‘self’? Gibb and Guthrie (2008) call this the ‘potency of relevance’ and emphasise the need for teens to be able to make real-world connections with what they read. This is true no matter which delivery mechanism they use to read.

    School staff as readers

  • Understanding teenage reading motivation

    To better engage students with reading, it's helpful to understand the benefits, motivations and types of reading they engage with. Everyone needs a reason to read. Are students reading because they:

    • have to, for instance, answer an assignment
    • want to, for pleasure and relaxation, they are curious and interested in the subject/theme, to relax or to escape from the everyday
    • need to, where reading is like breathing for them?

    Right book, right hands, right time, right reason

    Understanding what motivates teens to read will help you put the right book in the right hands at the right time for the right reason. Peer validation of reading choices should not be underestimated either — if you can tap into the current ‘cool’ books, you can add to students’ reading mileage with ease.

    It’s important to note that, understanding your own reading ‘profile’ — your reading habits and preferences, reading plans and motivations — helps a lot as you help students to find the books and reading that will fuel their passion.

    ‘The potency of relevance’

    All of us read with ‘me’ in the background – how does what we read relate to our ‘self’? Gibb and Guthrie (2008) call this the ‘potency of relevance’ and emphasise the need for teens to be able to make real-world connections with what they read. This is true no matter which delivery mechanism they use to read.

    School staff as readers

  • What do teens read?

    Books they've chosen themselves!

    Scholastic’s 2016 Australian Kids and Family Reading Report found that 92% of 15-17-year-olds and 90% of 12-14-year-olds most enjoy books they've chosen for themselves. They are also much more likely to finish reading them. The same report also found around 70% of teens would read more if they could find more books they liked.

    In terms of preferences 12–17-year-olds want to read books that (in order of priority):

    1. will make them laugh 54%
    2. let them use their imagination 47%
    3. have a mystery or problem to solve 42%
    4. have characters they wish they could be like 38%
    5. tell a made-up story (fiction) 36%
    6. teach them something new 35%
    7. let them forget about real life for a while 35%
    8. tell a true story (non-fiction)
    9. are a little scary 28%
    10. are about things they experience in my life 24%
    11. have characters who are in love 18%
    12. have a character that looks like them 14%

    Australian Kids and Family Reading Report — Scholastic, Australia

  • What do teens read?

    Books they've chosen themselves!

    Scholastic’s 2016 Australian Kids and Family Reading Report found that 92% of 15-17-year-olds and 90% of 12-14-year-olds most enjoy books they've chosen for themselves. They are also much more likely to finish reading them. The same report also found around 70% of teens would read more if they could find more books they liked.

    In terms of preferences 12–17-year-olds want to read books that (in order of priority):

    1. will make them laugh 54%
    2. let them use their imagination 47%
    3. have a mystery or problem to solve 42%
    4. have characters they wish they could be like 38%
    5. tell a made-up story (fiction) 36%
    6. teach them something new 35%
    7. let them forget about real life for a while 35%
    8. tell a true story (non-fiction)
    9. are a little scary 28%
    10. are about things they experience in my life 24%
    11. have characters who are in love 18%
    12. have a character that looks like them 14%

    Australian Kids and Family Reading Report — Scholastic, Australia

  • What is young adult fiction

    Young adult (YA) fiction ranges across themes and styles. The definition of YA (also known as youth or juvenile fiction) differs across organisations, but generally, covers the ages 13–18.

    It's a growing segment of literature. Nielsen reported that children’s share of the print market is almost 50% with YA fiction forming a large chunk of that.

    'Adult' authors writing young adult fiction

    A number of well-known ‘adult’ authors are now writing for this age, such as:

    • John Grisham
    • Jodi Picoult
    • Kevin Brooks, and
    • even children’s fiction writer Julia Donaldson.

    These and other writers have produced some exemplary pieces of literature to address the gap that used to exist between child and adult fiction.

    Storylines in young adult fiction

    Many storylines in YA fiction deal with social and personal issues teenagers identify with and have main characters in their teens. The settings though vary wildly from the present 'real' world to the dystopian domains of the Hunger Games to the supernatural and historical. As a result, there are books for the discerning, the mature and even the most reluctant of teen readers.

    Keep your finger on the teenage reading pulse

    Given the value teenagers place on relationships, culture and peers, an understanding of the genre is critical if you want to engage them in reading. The trick is to provide easy access to an array of enticing material to students. To keep your finger on the teenage reading pulse by:

    • knowing your students
    • listening to their recommendations
    • reading yourself
    • immersing yourself in the world of teen reads.

    Genres and forms for young adult and young fiction — including sources for book titles

  • What is young adult fiction

    Young adult (YA) fiction ranges across themes and styles. The definition of YA (also known as youth or juvenile fiction) differs across organisations, but generally, covers the ages 13–18.

    It's a growing segment of literature. Nielsen reported that children’s share of the print market is almost 50% with YA fiction forming a large chunk of that.

    'Adult' authors writing young adult fiction

    A number of well-known ‘adult’ authors are now writing for this age, such as:

    • John Grisham
    • Jodi Picoult
    • Kevin Brooks, and
    • even children’s fiction writer Julia Donaldson.

    These and other writers have produced some exemplary pieces of literature to address the gap that used to exist between child and adult fiction.

    Storylines in young adult fiction

    Many storylines in YA fiction deal with social and personal issues teenagers identify with and have main characters in their teens. The settings though vary wildly from the present 'real' world to the dystopian domains of the Hunger Games to the supernatural and historical. As a result, there are books for the discerning, the mature and even the most reluctant of teen readers.

    Keep your finger on the teenage reading pulse

    Given the value teenagers place on relationships, culture and peers, an understanding of the genre is critical if you want to engage them in reading. The trick is to provide easy access to an array of enticing material to students. To keep your finger on the teenage reading pulse by:

    • knowing your students
    • listening to their recommendations
    • reading yourself
    • immersing yourself in the world of teen reads.

    Genres and forms for young adult and young fiction — including sources for book titles

  • Include teens in collection development

    Teens value the opinion of their peers above nearly anything else. Danah Boyd (2008) suggests teens go to social media as a first ‘mode of delivery’ choice so they can talk to each other without adults involved.

    With this in mind, libraries need to provide opportunities for teens to give input into collection development. Ways to do this include:

    • surveying their interests
    • taking current themes into account — vampires this year, future worlds the next
    • using media-derived material such as movie tie-ins.
  • Include teens in collection development

    Teens value the opinion of their peers above nearly anything else. Danah Boyd (2008) suggests teens go to social media as a first ‘mode of delivery’ choice so they can talk to each other without adults involved.

    With this in mind, libraries need to provide opportunities for teens to give input into collection development. Ways to do this include:

    • surveying their interests
    • taking current themes into account — vampires this year, future worlds the next
    • using media-derived material such as movie tie-ins.
  • Library also social space for teens

    To get teens reading libraries should be social spaces with reading material available in a range of formats. Along with traditional library resources such as books and magazines look at providing:

    • a wide range of relevant and appealing books including both fiction and non-fiction
    • sophisticated picture books
    • graphic novels
    • eBooks
    • computer and internet access
    • video games
    • databases
    • mix and mash equipment - such as video/audio/image editing stations

    Provide opportunities to promote and share what students are reading through social media, podcasts, Youtube and social book sharing sites like Goodreads. A popular activity is creating book trailers or having a book trailer competition, which you could display on your website or blog.

  • Library also social space for teens

    To get teens reading libraries should be social spaces with reading material available in a range of formats. Along with traditional library resources such as books and magazines look at providing:

    • a wide range of relevant and appealing books including both fiction and non-fiction
    • sophisticated picture books
    • graphic novels
    • eBooks
    • computer and internet access
    • video games
    • databases
    • mix and mash equipment - such as video/audio/image editing stations

    Provide opportunities to promote and share what students are reading through social media, podcasts, Youtube and social book sharing sites like Goodreads. A popular activity is creating book trailers or having a book trailer competition, which you could display on your website or blog.

  • Strategies for engaging teens with reading

    Strategies for engaging teens with reading in your library are set out below.

    Access and time

    Schools need to provide the resources and opportunities for students to engage with reading such as:

    • generous opening hours for libraries
    • a mix of quiet, comfortable spaces with busy, social hubs that allow for different types of reading engagement
    • reading time scheduled into students' busy days — even short sessions for personal, leisure reading will encourage the habit of reading
    • reader friendly library policies, such as liberal borrower limits.

    Discussion, group activities and response

    Stephen Abram notes that 'Reading is a social act...'. Social activities you could consider are:

    • Reader response — students also need opportunities to participate in reader response. Reader responses can be by: blog posts, competitions, mix-and-mash or book raps.
    • Speed booking is another popular activity, which puts a literacy spin on speed dating.
    • Book discussion groups — can be a powerful motivator as peers play a crucial role in developing attitudes to reading. Set up book discussion groups, these can be informal, maybe a lunch-time session and make reading cool. Be prepared to discuss and acknowledge the reader’s ideas — respecting their opinions and encouraging sharing.

    Speed booking

  • Strategies for engaging teens with reading

    Strategies for engaging teens with reading in your library are set out below.

    Access and time

    Schools need to provide the resources and opportunities for students to engage with reading such as:

    • generous opening hours for libraries
    • a mix of quiet, comfortable spaces with busy, social hubs that allow for different types of reading engagement
    • reading time scheduled into students' busy days — even short sessions for personal, leisure reading will encourage the habit of reading
    • reader friendly library policies, such as liberal borrower limits.

    Discussion, group activities and response

    Stephen Abram notes that 'Reading is a social act...'. Social activities you could consider are:

    • Reader response — students also need opportunities to participate in reader response. Reader responses can be by: blog posts, competitions, mix-and-mash or book raps.
    • Speed booking is another popular activity, which puts a literacy spin on speed dating.
    • Book discussion groups — can be a powerful motivator as peers play a crucial role in developing attitudes to reading. Set up book discussion groups, these can be informal, maybe a lunch-time session and make reading cool. Be prepared to discuss and acknowledge the reader’s ideas — respecting their opinions and encouraging sharing.

    Speed booking

  • Reading role models for teens

    Role models are a key reference for adolescents because they provide a window into the future. Adolescents read more when they see adults such as parents and teachers reading. It's particularly powerful for boys to see adult males engaged in reading, for example:

    • ‘Dads and Lads’ sessions help endorse the value of reading
    • getting reading champions (the captain of the First XV?) to inspire others, or
    • enlisting reading mentors to support other students.

    All help consolidate a reading culture in the school.

    Creating a reading culture in teens' lives

    Here are some other ideas you might like to try in your school:

    • Don't do it alone! Pull in others who love to read, use a whole school approach
    • Employ all of the digital and social media tools possible.
    • Read alouds are vital at all stages of a child’s life — from birth right through their teens.
    • Displays are an important way of luring teens towards books. Pinterest has some great collections of displays to inspire.
    • Know your stock — read books, read reviews; discuss and share books yourself.
    • Putting the right resource in the right hands at the right time — teachers and library staff not only have to know their stock but also know their students.

    Young adult library displays on Pinterest

    Teachers creating readers

  • Reading role models for teens

    Role models are a key reference for adolescents because they provide a window into the future. Adolescents read more when they see adults such as parents and teachers reading. It's particularly powerful for boys to see adult males engaged in reading, for example:

    • ‘Dads and Lads’ sessions help endorse the value of reading
    • getting reading champions (the captain of the First XV?) to inspire others, or
    • enlisting reading mentors to support other students.

    All help consolidate a reading culture in the school.

    Creating a reading culture in teens' lives

    Here are some other ideas you might like to try in your school:

    • Don't do it alone! Pull in others who love to read, use a whole school approach
    • Employ all of the digital and social media tools possible.
    • Read alouds are vital at all stages of a child’s life — from birth right through their teens.
    • Displays are an important way of luring teens towards books. Pinterest has some great collections of displays to inspire.
    • Know your stock — read books, read reviews; discuss and share books yourself.
    • Putting the right resource in the right hands at the right time — teachers and library staff not only have to know their stock but also know their students.

    Young adult library displays on Pinterest

    Teachers creating readers

  • Evidence-based practice

    Always remember to record what your actions were for any library initiative, for example, summer reading and monitor the outcomes. This creates evidence of practice, which you can then report on — and probably some good stories as well, to go into your report for the principal and Board of Trustees.

    In a report on teenage reading in your school consider:

    • what was the initial level of library use
    • what do the school's reading scores show, and
    • do your teenage students feel well served or poorly served by the kinds of reading resources you offer?

    Then outline:

    • what actions you took
    • who else was involved in the planning and implementation
    • what changes took place over a given time period
    • what the results were.
  • Evidence-based practice

    Always remember to record what your actions were for any library initiative, for example, summer reading and monitor the outcomes. This creates evidence of practice, which you can then report on — and probably some good stories as well, to go into your report for the principal and Board of Trustees.

    In a report on teenage reading in your school consider:

    • what was the initial level of library use
    • what do the school's reading scores show, and
    • do your teenage students feel well served or poorly served by the kinds of reading resources you offer?

    Then outline:

    • what actions you took
    • who else was involved in the planning and implementation
    • what changes took place over a given time period
    • what the results were.
  • Find out more

    Find inspiration from the resources below.

    Research, articles and reports

    A nation addicted to smartphones — United Kingdom Office of Communications (Ofcom), communications regulator in the UK.

    All about adolescent literacy: how parents can encourage teens to read — a list of tips to encourage teens to read see: from Reading is Fundamental.

    PISA low-performing students: why they fall behind and how to help them to succeed — OECD (2015) report

    Teens today don’t read books anymore — Jessica E Moyer, a study of differences in interest and comprehension based on reading modalities: Part 1, Introduction and methodology (2010). Evidence-based research into how teens interact with text. It’s not just about books anymore

    Teens, social media and technology overview (pdf, 887KB) — 2015 Pew report, the first in a series of reports examining teenagers’ use of technology

    The online reading habits of New Zealand Intermediate school students and the significance of web-based fiction — M Harnett (2013), Thesis, Master of Science Communication, University of Otago

    Why can’t we read anymore or, can books save us from what digital does to our brains? — this piece by Hugh McGuire is an entertaining great read on the lure of the digital

    Why youth (heart) social network sites: the role of networked publics in teenage social life (pdf, 1.28MB) — Danah Boyd, University of California, Berkeley, School of Information

    YA Lit 2.0: How YA Authors and Publishers Are Using Web 2.0 Tools to Reach Teen Readers — Buffy Hamilton’s conference presentation gives a succinct account in Slideshare format on reaching young adult readers

    'You've changed my life': teenagers, reading and libraries — Anne Harding

    Books

    Gibb, Robert L. & Guthrie, John T. (2008). Interest in reading: potency of relevance. In Guthrie, John T, ed. Engaging adolescents in reading. Corwin Press.

    Guthrie, John T, ed. (2008). Engaging adolescents in reading. Corwin Press.

    Irvin, Judith, et al. (2010).Taking the lead on adolescent literacy: action steps for schoolwide success. Corwin/International Reading Association.

    Krashen, Stephen. (2004). The power of reading: insights from the research. 2nd ed. Heinemann.

    La Marca, Susan and Macintyre, Pam. (2006). Knowing readers: unlocking the pleasure of reading. School Library Association of Victoria.

    Layne, Stephen. (2009). Igniting a passion for reading: successful strategies for building lifetime readers. Stenhouse.

    Miller, Donalyn. (2009). The book whisperer: awakening the inner reader in every child. Jossey-Bass.

    Journal

    Magpies: talking about books for children — the Australian-published children’s literature journal is an invaluable source of reviews, articles and author interviews. Sections on
    • older picture books
    • independent readers
    • extending readers.

    Online communities and social media

    Australian librarian teacher network — online discussion group accessed via login

    GottaBook — a list-in-progress of twitter hashtags relating to kids/YA literatureTeens changing reading habits

    Literacy online community — Te Kete Ipurangi's online mailing list for secondary school English teachers

    Schoollib listserv — the School Library Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (SLANZA) has a lively online discussion forum for school librarians, useful for discussion of suggestions for teen services.

  • Find out more

    Find inspiration from the resources below.

    Research, articles and reports

    A nation addicted to smartphones — United Kingdom Office of Communications (Ofcom), communications regulator in the UK.

    All about adolescent literacy: how parents can encourage teens to read — a list of tips to encourage teens to read see: from Reading is Fundamental.

    PISA low-performing students: why they fall behind and how to help them to succeed — OECD (2015) report

    Teens today don’t read books anymore — Jessica E Moyer, a study of differences in interest and comprehension based on reading modalities: Part 1, Introduction and methodology (2010). Evidence-based research into how teens interact with text. It’s not just about books anymore

    Teens, social media and technology overview (pdf, 887KB) — 2015 Pew report, the first in a series of reports examining teenagers’ use of technology

    The online reading habits of New Zealand Intermediate school students and the significance of web-based fiction — M Harnett (2013), Thesis, Master of Science Communication, University of Otago

    Why can’t we read anymore or, can books save us from what digital does to our brains? — this piece by Hugh McGuire is an entertaining great read on the lure of the digital

    Why youth (heart) social network sites: the role of networked publics in teenage social life (pdf, 1.28MB) — Danah Boyd, University of California, Berkeley, School of Information

    YA Lit 2.0: How YA Authors and Publishers Are Using Web 2.0 Tools to Reach Teen Readers — Buffy Hamilton’s conference presentation gives a succinct account in Slideshare format on reaching young adult readers

    'You've changed my life': teenagers, reading and libraries — Anne Harding

    Books

    Gibb, Robert L. & Guthrie, John T. (2008). Interest in reading: potency of relevance. In Guthrie, John T, ed. Engaging adolescents in reading. Corwin Press.

    Guthrie, John T, ed. (2008). Engaging adolescents in reading. Corwin Press.

    Irvin, Judith, et al. (2010).Taking the lead on adolescent literacy: action steps for schoolwide success. Corwin/International Reading Association.

    Krashen, Stephen. (2004). The power of reading: insights from the research. 2nd ed. Heinemann.

    La Marca, Susan and Macintyre, Pam. (2006). Knowing readers: unlocking the pleasure of reading. School Library Association of Victoria.

    Layne, Stephen. (2009). Igniting a passion for reading: successful strategies for building lifetime readers. Stenhouse.

    Miller, Donalyn. (2009). The book whisperer: awakening the inner reader in every child. Jossey-Bass.

    Journal

    Magpies: talking about books for children — the Australian-published children’s literature journal is an invaluable source of reviews, articles and author interviews. Sections on
    • older picture books
    • independent readers
    • extending readers.

    Online communities and social media

    Australian librarian teacher network — online discussion group accessed via login

    GottaBook — a list-in-progress of twitter hashtags relating to kids/YA literatureTeens changing reading habits

    Literacy online community — Te Kete Ipurangi's online mailing list for secondary school English teachers

    Schoollib listserv — the School Library Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (SLANZA) has a lively online discussion forum for school librarians, useful for discussion of suggestions for teen services.

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