February 3, 2015

Time and time again, I find that the schools seeing the most progress with reading are those with a strong culture of reading that reaches into every part of school life. The striking thing about these schools is not just that students are experiencing accelerated growth in their reading ages, but that they’re having fun doing it! There is no single secret to creating a reading culture, but with a healthy combination of inspiration and dedication you can make it a reality in your school.

The link between reading for pleasure and academic success

All the available research suggests that students who read for pleasure achieve greater success with their reading skills. The Guided Independent Reading report (published by Renaissance Learning) shows that students who read for between 15 and 35 minutes or more each day make the greatest growth. In other words, if students are given sufficient time in class to read books (i.e. not just to select books, but actually to read them) they will make more rapid progress with reading.

Independent research from the National Literacy Trust has found that students who use Accelerated Reader are more likely to have favourable attitudes towards reading than their peers. Taking quizzes is fun and motivational for students, and when schools adopt a range of initiatives alongside their implementation of AR they experience a transformation in students’ attitudes towards reading.

What you need in place

A successfully developed reading culture will rest on three essential pillars: time given to reading, access to appropriate books, and support across the staff team.

  1. 20-35 minutes’ daily reading time. A reading culture cannot emerge if students are not reading. Research suggests that the optimal amount of engaged reading time per day is approximately 25 minutes. Any less than this and students are not reading for long enough to experience growth in their reading skills.
  2. Access to the correct books. In order to make rapid progress, students need access to an appropriate number of books within their Zone of Proximal Development and that they will find interesting. Books below their ZPD will not provide sufficient challenge; those above it will be too tricky for them to access. And of course, if students aren’t interested in the books you have, they will not read them.
  3. Buy-in from the staff team. This is often overlooked, but is absolutely crucial to the successful development of a reading culture. Most schools have one particularly enthusiastic leader to spearhead their initiatives, but every member of staff needs to be on board if it is to have a lasting impact.

Creative ways to make it happen

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to establishing a reading culture: some ideas and initiatives that work brilliantly in one school will fall flat in another. These are some of my favourite initiatives, each of which I have seen used very successfully in the schools I work with as part of the Renaissance School Partnership.


Having a dedicated display or shelf of new library stock is a fantastic way to build excitement around reading and increase circulation. But these displays can be victims of their own success – the most sought-after books are borrowed straight away and the display of new books quickly looks more sparse than it should. If you have this problem in your library, why not embargo new stock for a week? It creates anticipation and creates a real buzz around new publications. I have seen students queueing for a library to open on a morning in order to get their hands on a new book!

Book trailers

Publishers are increasingly using digital media – and especially YouTube – to promote new releases. Book trailers are a fantastic tool for creating excitement for books that are on order or have recently been introduced to the library. Some schools show these in the library, in assemblies, or even in the lunch hall. To help inspire your use of book trailers, visit our Pinterest page with collections of trailers for primary and secondary students.

Student voice

Introducing a reading committee can be win-win for busy librarians and literacy co-ordinators. Committee members become much more engaged with the library and its activities, and also provide an enthusiastic volunteer force for any new initiatives you wish to introduce. The committee can help to choose the books purchased for the library, organise reading events, make posters, and keep displays up-to-date.

Use social media trends

Most students, in secondary years at least, are passionate users of social media. New trends and social media memes are finding their place in the classroom. For example, your students might like to show off their shelfies (selfie photos of their bookshelves) or display photos of their extreme reading (showing them reading books in unusual locations, like on a roller coaster or at a football match). These initiatives are even more successful when teachers and teaching assistants get involved!

Risk it for a biscuit

Cover a selection of books with brown paper and label the books only with the AR Book Level. If students are willing to risk reading books without first being able to see the cover or read the blurb, they get a biscuit (or another suitable treat!) for their bravery.

Speed dating with books

‘Speed dating’ is a fun way to get students browsing a wider range of literature than they might normally wish to. Books are set out around a classroom, and each student is given a score card. Students spend two minutes with a book, marking down a rating for it. When the time is up, they need to decide whether or not to commit to reading the book.

Change competitions and prizes regularly

Competitions work best when every student has a chance of winning, but most competitions favour students with particular strengths. To avoid giving out prizes to the same few students every week, and to keep the rest motivated and engaged, it’s helpful regularly to change the emphasis of the competitions you run . For the first half of term, you might want to focus on awarding students who achieve 85% or above in their AR quizzes. The following half term, though, you might want to change the focus to meeting points targets. The amount of engaged reading time, number of words read, growth in reading age – motivating students to increase all of these will help them to make progress in their reading skills and have fun doing it.

Sharing your success

This is really only a taste of the myriad ways you can raise the profile of reading in your school. We love to hear from schools about the initiatives they have put into place to create a reading culture and foster a love of reading in their students. If you have a success story you would like to share with other schools, please get in touch to let us know! You can find details of how to do this at renlearn.co.uk/recognition.

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