Effective practices to create readers
In 2004, Dr Warwick Elley studied 13 New Zealand schools that had produced high mean literacy scores relative to their decile levels. Following the study, Elley outlined some of the most effective practices:
- The teachers’ main aim was 'to develop a lasting interest in reading' – skills were seen as subsidiary to interest.
- The teachers were enthusiastic readers themselves.
- High achievement came as a result of greater reading mileage.
- Their classrooms offered attractive reading environments with abundant reading resources.
- The basic formula: interest created effort which generated greater achievement.
- Teachers read aloud every day.
- Some of the teachers had Reading Recovery training.
Reading for pleasure can easily sound like some kind of wishy-washy, soft option, while instructional stuff like learning to read through 'synthetic phonics'... sounds tough and purposeful. In actual fact ... research shows children who read for pleasure achieve better school performance than those who don’t.
— Michael Rosen, The Guardian
Young adults and reading
When it comes to young adults and reading, teacher Chris Crowe (1999) focuses on the reading preferences and attitudes of his own teenage children. Written as a plea to his children’s teachers, his advice has stood the test of time:
- Help them realise that reading books can be a refreshing and rewarding alternative to TV, movies, shopping, or hanging out with friends.
- Help them discover, or remember, the pleasures of reading.
- Allow them to exercise Daniel Pennac’s “Reader’s Bill of Rights” whenever possible.
- Require and encourage outside, elective reading, and steer them toward good Young Adult books.
- Help them connect with what they read, and nudge them to works related to what they’ve just read, or, if they’re in a reading rut, nudge them into something different.
- Read yourself and talk to your children and their classmates about what you read.
- Read some of what they read.
- Read aloud in class, and give them time to read in class.
Engaging teens with reading
Free voluntary reading
Teachers making time for independent, free-choice reading is a powerful way to create readers. Key features of 'free voluntary reading' are to:
- provide access to material that will engage student readers in the classroom and during out-of-school time
- allow 'easy reading' that is engaging, enjoyable and effortless. Ideally, 95% of text as known words is optimal. The increased reading volume will compensate for the lack of extension in individual texts, and readers tastes do gradually develop and broaden. Avoid the idea that 'if it isn’t challenging it isn’t good for you'.
A school-wide reading culture
Give students free choice about what they read
Talk with students about how we read and our right to read in different ways. Daniel Pennac's book the Rights of the Reader (beautifully illustrated by Quentin Blake) makes a plea to parents, teachers and librarians to instil the joy of reading by ensuring everyone has the right:
- not to read
- to skip
- not to finish a book
- to read it again
- to read anything
- to mistake a book for real life
- to read anywhere
- to dip in
- to read out loud
- to be quiet.
Provide access to a variety of reading material
If you provide access to a variety of reading material students have greater opportunities to start reading. Things to consider are:
- Is there a bountiful, well-displayed accessible classroom library?
- Does your school request books from National Library for additional classroom resources?
- How often and how well do you use the school library with your students?
- Is there a range of resources to read - fiction, comics and magazines, graphic novels, sophisticated picture books, non-fiction, poetry?
- Explore the potential of eBooks.
Make time for independent reading every day
Reading volume plays a key role in shaping the mind. It is a powerful predictor of vocabulary, comprehension, general knowledge and cognitive structures.
Make time each day for students to read. Encourage students to read at other available moments during the day. These opportunities might include:
- during Sustained Silent Reading (SSR)
- while eating lunch
- when they have finished class work early
- at various waiting times during the day, on the bus.
Set a reading challenge
Sometimes setting an individual or class challenge encourages reading mileage and illustrates how small amounts of reading can have great impact. For example, 3 x 6 minutes per day, can add up over a year to a large amount of reading mileage.
Variation in Amount of Independent Reading (adapted from Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding)
|Minutes per day
||Words read per year
Keep track of reading mileage
Here are a few ideas for keeping track of reading mileage:
- Set up a class blog for your students to post up book reviews.
- Share relevant websites and blogs with students such as Goodreads and our Create readers blog.
- Reading logs that include a simple record of a title and rating work well. Reading logs can become onerous if they require too many details and may even hinder rather than foster the reading habit.
- Reading mileage challenges are good incentives as students aim for milestones such as 'the 50-page club' or 'the 200-page club'.
- Choose relevant and engaging titles for 'school assigned reading'. Consult with your school librarian and teaching colleagues for new suggestions.
- Encourage reading across the curriculum (at primary and secondary school). Identify particular reading strategies needed for different subject areas.
Create readers blog
Be a reading role model
When you read you show children how and why it is important. In secondary schools, it is also important that all school staff read and share books with students and don't just leave it to the English Department. For example, if you are a science teacher share biographies on great scientists and science fiction.
"In schools that have success with their pupils’ reading, teachers read, talk with enthusiasm and recommend books, the results of which are seen not only in test results but also in an enthusiasm for reading which extends beyond the classroom."
— Excellence in English, Ofsted, 2011
School staff as readers
Read aloud every day
Read aloud regularly and often to all students — at primary, intermediate and secondary school.
Book and reading promotion
Develop a plan for integrating various reading promotion strategies into your literacy programme. Collaborate with your school librarian and other teachers, to develop an effective book and reading promotion ideas for your school.
Reading is not just a solitary activity. The social aspect of reading with peers can be a powerful motivator. Encourage informal discussions about reading and books. Ensure students can express opinions freely and safely.
Ideas for discussions include:
- Book talk in the class. Encourage students to talk about aspects of the book they have been reading, such as setting, time, characters, plot, ideas and themes. Aidan Chambers Tell me: children, reading, and talk offers practical suggestions for encouraging book talk.
- Prompt a brainstorm and discussion with students with a list of questions. What stood out for you? What puzzled you? What reminded you of something else you’d read? What did you like or dislike about the book? How did you feel when you were reading this section or this book? Try getting them to share this with a partner, rather than report back to the whole group.
- Set up a book club (or get the students, in particular teens to set one up). Book clubs are great for encouraging students to talk informally to each other about books they've read.
“Teachers who know first hand the pleasure of reading literature relax. They love reading, they trust that kids will find the same satisfaction as they do, and they ask questions that go beyond what is in the text - but they always come back to it.”
— Nancie Atwell in Side by side: essays on teaching to learn (1991)
Using your online presence, for example, blogs and social media, as they can be a powerful tool for promoting reading and books.
Initiatives such as NZ Read Aloud are great ways to introduce new books and discuss them with other classes across New Zealand.
NZ Read Aloud — have a focus on New Zealand authors writing stories in New Zealand settings
Author and illustrator studies
How about focusing on a particular author or illustrator — maybe one a week, or a few a term, selected by the teacher, librarian or students? Spend time reading one author or illustrator's books closely. Visit their website, share favourites and identify common themes or styles.
Schools can subscribe to New Zealand Book Council’s Writers in Schools scheme, which entitles your school to a visit from a New Zealand writer. The website has a list of authors, author interviews and other information.
Writers in Schools
Find out more
10 reasons to do an author study — Reading Rockets
81 generalizations about free voluntary reading (pdf, 231KB) — Stephen Krashen
Becoming a classroom of readers — Donalyn Miller describes the key elements of her classroom practice (middle school level)
Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) pays big dividends — William Marson, an elementary teacher in California, found that Free Voluntary Reading revolutionised his students’ attitudes to reading
Reading for pleasure — This website for teachers provides research based guidance and materials to help you build a community of readers
Seven rule of engagement, what's most important to know about motivation to read (pdf, 307KB) — Linda Gambrell, great tips and suggestions about motivating readers
Anderson, R. C., Wilson P.T., Fielding, L.G. (1988). Growth in reading and how children spend their time outside of school. Reading Research Quarterly, No.23, pp.285-303
Atwell, N. (2007). The reading zone: how to help kids become skilled, passionate, habitual, critical readers. Scholastic.
Atwell, N. (1991). Side by side: essays on teaching to learn. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann & Concord, Ont: Irwin Publishing.
Elley, W. (2004). Effective reading programmes in the junior school: how some schools produce high literacy levels at year 3. Set 1.
Chambers, A. (1996). Tell me: children, reading, and talk. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers & Markham, Ont: Pembroke Publishers.
Collins, Fiona. Safford, Kimberly. Mottram, Marilyn. Powell, Sacha. and Cremin, Teresa. (2014). Building communities of engaged readers. Routledge.
Gladwell, M. (2009). Outliers. London: Penguin.
Grimes, S. (2006). Reading is our business: how libraries can foster reading comprehension. Chicago: American Library Association.
Harvey. S. and Goudvis, A. (2007). Strategies that work: teaching comprehension for understanding and engagement. 2d ed. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers & Markham, Ont: Pembroke Publishers.
Krashen, S.D.(2004). The power of reading: insights from the research. 2d ed. Westport CT & London: Libraries Unlimited & Portsmouth NH: Heinemann.
Layne, S. (2009). Igniting a passion for reading: successful strategies for building lifetime readers. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.
Kittle, P. (2013). Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers. Heinemann 1st Edition.
Miller, D. (2009). The Book Whisperer: awakening the inner reader in every child. Jossey-Bass.
Miller, D. and Kelly. S. (2013). Reading in the wild: The Book Whisperer's keys to cultivating lifelong reading habits. John Wiley and Sons Ltd Publishers.
Miller, D. (2002). Reading with meaning: teaching comprehension in the primary grades. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
NZ Ministry of Education. (2003). Effective literacy practice in Years 1 to 4. Wellington: Learning Media.
NZ Ministry of Education. (2006). Effective literacy practice in Years 5 to 8. Wellington: Learning Media.