Ideas to get them reading

Written by: Stephanie Horton | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Getting secondary school pupils to pick up a book and develop a love of reading can sometimes be a challenge. School librarian Stephanie Horton explains the three core strategies employed at Smith’s Wood Academy and offers a few ideas and tips...

Over the last two years, Smith’s Wood Academy has been working hard to integrate reading into pupils’ everyday lives, both academic reading and reading for pleasure.

Acknowledging that reading is the foundation for all learning, we support all our pupils to develop both an imaginative and critical view of the world in which they live, through reading. To engage with this vision we have put three key intervention strategies in place.

1 Above and beyond

We have found that reading together really helps our pupils, both those that are natural readers and those that require additional support.

We created an Above and Beyond bi-weekly pupil-led book club for year 9s which stretches and challenges those going above and beyond their reading age.

We purposefully set books that challenge and induce important discussions. For example, reading The Book Thief has resulted in thought-provoking discussions on the difficulties of living in Nazi Germany and the relationship between education and power.

2 Parental engagement

Another group which has proved successful is our pupil-parent reading group, where pupils are invited into school with their parents. This acts as an intervention for pupils who are significantly below their reading age.
In our library we discuss with parents how their child’s reading age and ability could be improved to facilitate and support parents and pupils. We deliver this in four sessions with differing objectives from pronunciation to comprehension.

To help our younger year groups, we train older year groups to act as reading buddies. We train 20 year 10 pupils to act as buddies for struggling year 8 readers. The pupils meet in the library twice a week to discuss books and read together. This has proved successful with more than 90 per cent of the year 8 pupils improving their reading age in three months.

3 Creating a buzz

We wanted to inspire more pupils to find books they enjoy and decided to do this by creating the Recommend a Read challenge. The challenge encourages pupils to write a short review of their favourite book and recommend it to others.

Through the school’s Twitter page we have been tweeting the reviews to a wider audience. These tweets have been very popular and have allowed us to engage with authors and other educationalists outside of the Smith’s Wood community – something that is proving a very exciting prospect for the pupils.

Some more ideas

Our three main interventions work wonders but there are some other ideas that may be worth you considering:

  • Start small and specific. You cannot target all learners at once so choose a target group that you think needs your support immediately. Then create an action plan, set targets, and evaluate the targets before you move on to a new intervention.
  • Inspire pupils with other pupils. However much teachers want to be inspiring, often we are not as inspiring as the pupils themselves are – get them involved in running interventions and assemblies.
  • Use social media and technology. A lot of reading and discussion about reading now takes place online, make use of that to engage tech-savvy teenagers. Twitter is an excellent platform for sharing achievements and book recommendations (especially when the authors themselves can engage in the conversation).
  • Practise what you preach. Adults should be modelling excellent reading and engagement. Encourage staff by setting up a staff library (CPD or fictional), involve them in assemblies by including their favourite books, and most importantly set aside time for staff to share what they are reading and why.
  • Create a clear vision for the library and the reading programme you are devising. Think carefully about what you want pupils, staff and parents to get from the interventions you are putting in place.
  • Achievement for All’s 200 Million Minutes Reading Challenge is worth considering. The initiative encourages children around the world to collectively read for 200 million minutes. We took part in March and our school read the most average number of minutes per-pupil than any other secondary school – clocking up 824,459 minutes in just 26 days!


  • Stephanie Horton is school librarian at Smith’s Wood Academy in Birmingham, part of the FairFax Multi-Academy Trust.

Further information & resources

For details on Achievement for All and the 200 Million Minutes Reading Challenge, visit https://200millionminutes.org/ and https://afaeducation.org/


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