Updated: Apr 3
As a teacher, I always find it heartbreaking to see that secondary school is nearly always the point where students fall out of love with reading. It can be very frustrating when students complain about their results in English, but do not see the correlation with reading. With all this extra time, now is a good chance to try and help them make reading a part of their routine, but we know teenagers are not always ready to do what is in their best interests! Here are a few suggestions about how you can help them over the next few weeks, without falling out!
Go with their interests
Yes, we do ideally want them to be reading “good quality” literature of the correct reading age, with a certain number of high level words and complex sentences, but I firmly believe any reading is better than no reading at all. If they show an interest in a particular book, let them read it. For example, graphic novels (comic books) can really help get reluctant readers to show an interest in literature. Sometimes re reading a book they loved when they were younger can help to rekindle their interest in literature as well. If they are engaged with books, they will be using their imaginations, building vocabulary and developing empathy skills.
Non fiction counts
Biographies can be a great way to engage boys in particular, and non fiction is often an untapped reading resource. Magazines can help, as long as they do have a reasonable amount of text to engage with. At GCSE, students are expected to analyse non-fiction, and often you find many of them have actually very little engagement with nonfiction up until that point, and therefore really struggle with the concepts.
Read the news
I know it is not really the happiest thing to read right now, but spending just a few minutes engaging with the news everyday can really help develop their reading skills. I must confess, I don't really have time to read a full newspaper every day, but I do make sure I spend time on a news app or a website.
I have worked with several A Level students who achieved fantastic results, without actually being particularly wide readers. They enjoyed literature, but were not great at making the time to sit down and read. But they were still highly successful in English, because they engaged with a wide variety of extracts. Extracts give students a means of extending their vocabulary and exploring new concepts and ideas, without the pressure of having to finish a text. Students can really quickly become familiar with a range of different writers and genres, just through extracts. Whilst I do think it is better to read a whole text in order to understand structure and story arcs, from a realistic point of view, extracts are a really helpful option when your students will not/cannot read full texts.
Technically audio books are not the best for reading skills, as they are not making connections between written word and meaning, but again they can be a great way to get teenagers engaged with books. When teenagers have been turned off reading, it is important to remind them about the joy of engaging with a story and character, and to remember the depth that a written text can provide. Audio books will still develop their imagination and broaden their horizons.
Get checked for SEN and seek advice
It is also important to make sure that what seems like a reluctance to read is not actually hiding a problem that needs addressing, such as dyslexia. There are many small adjustments that can be made to help with this, such as the use of a colour overlay. Even though your child may not be attending school right now, there should be members of staff on hand to talk to. If not, there should be other organisations who can help, or feel free to reach out to me for support.
Talk to Them
Make sure that your house is book friendly. Keep books accessible, for example a family book shelf, even if they do not show an interest. And let them catch you reading. Talk about books you love, show them films/TV programmes based on books you love, and create a culture of reading. If they are reading a book, check in with them about it but also allow them to change books if they need to. And try not to harass them too much about it, we all know how teenagers can be when they feel like they are being coerced into something they do not want to do! Forcing them to read only works so far, but gently create a world of reading around them and they may just surprise you.