Inspiring pupils to love reading

Written by: Karen Sullivan | Published:
Image: iStock

Following research showing that many secondary students are not challenging themselves with their reading, Karen Sullivan offers some ideas to inspire reluctant readers

In my last article, we looked at research showing that a significant percentage of secondary school students are reading books that are more appropriate for younger readers, less challenging and, thus, less likely to promote the very real benefits of reading on overall health and cognitive development (The many and varied benefits of reading..., SecEd, June 2017).

While it is undoubtedly good news that kids are reading, particularly at a time when distractions are multitudinous, and we should celebrate the fact that they are taking the time to crack open the spine of a book, we should also be encouraging young people to read further and more widely, outside their comfort zones, and into realms thought-provoking and even challenging.

But how can we achieve this, without dampening the reading mojo? With so many millions of books being published each year, what are the hallmarks of quality?

And given that boys tend to be the worst culprits when it comes to choosing “easy-to-read” books, how can we inspire them to pick up something age-appropriate and widen their reading choices beyond the usual fare?

Online resources

First of all, start with Goodreads. This website is a treasure trove of recommended reads, with millions of reviews, and a good selection of titles suggested specifically for secondary school students by readers. Encourage students to choose two or three books, and provide justification for why they did so. Ask them to write a review upon completion, and set up a network of like-minded readers who can share books that might appeal. They can join groups, and keyword genres, and even ask for recommendations. It’s an incredibly useful site and easy to negotiate.

Social media-savvy students can also take a look at book blogs, which again provide reviews and recommendations from readers themselves. Set up a class book blog, where readers can share their thoughts and provide “if you enjoy this book, you’ll love that one” information.

Research suggests that 88 per cent of readers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, so help them to seek those out. There is a massive online book community, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, with photographs of new reads and discussions going on around the clock, and internationally.

One of the key benefits of this type of forum is the fact that authors often get involved, and students can create a dialogue and engage with people who write and read. This type of personal interaction is invaluable, and students will find their reading experiences are more memorable and satisfying if they have the opportunity to share ideas and discuss, or ask questions of the author. Books and “book post” are photographed and posted on Instagram, a way of modernising the whole concept of reading in young people’s minds. Ask students to look out for some of the key hashtags – for example, #AmReading #BookLove #FridayReads and #BookPost and see if they can find inspiration for reading choices and/or their own account.

Book groups

Set up a series of form (or literacy class) book groups, and ask students to search out titles that no one in the group has ever read. They can use some of the sources above to do this, or ask librarians, teachers or family members for recommendations. Encouraging discussion will help students get the most out of the reading experience, and also help to demystify the concept of reading unfamiliar authors and books. Go for a read every two weeks. If money is tight, print and ebooks can be borrowed from libraries and used copies can be purchased for pennies from online retailers.

Consider approaching a publisher for reading copies. Set up a table at the back of the classroom, where books can be swapped. Ask students to leave a review on sticky notes attached to the books to inspire their peers.

Try a book relay!

Ask students to bring in a recommended read and pass it to the person on their left. Give them a couple of weeks to read and then pass it on to the next person, with a review posted on the class book blog, or written out and tucked inside. If class size is unwieldy, break the students into smaller groups. By the end of the exercise, each book with have a significant number of reviews and these can be shared in the school library or online. Not only will students become familiar with the process of evaluating their reads, but they will be enabled and become more adventurous when guided by a series of recommendations from people they know.

Talk about books

Turn over some time to book discussions. What are you reading? What would you recommend? What did you love when you were their age. What books have you been unable to forget? The most enjoyment is found from self-directed reading – i.e books that are self-selected rather than prescribed.

If you can create a community that provides plenty of opportunities for making choices, their reading world will get that much bigger and more exciting. And with the summer holidays creeping up, what better time to start?

  • Karen Sullivan is a best-selling author, psychologist and childcare expert. Email To read her previous articles for SecEd, including in this series, go to

Further information


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin