Creating a Reading Culture

Research shows that reading for pleasure improves empathy and social relationships, contributes to wellbeing and reduces the symptoms of depression and dementia. It’s not surprising that so many schools strive to become ‘Reading Schools’. Find out more about how to implement the four practices suggested by Open University research.

By Sarah Dean on 27 Apr 2020

Research shows that reading for pleasure improves empathy and social relationships, contributes to wellbeing and reduces the symptoms of depression and dementia. It’s not surprising that so many schools strive to become ‘Reading Schools’.

Research by the Open University’s Research Rich Pedagogies group (2019) suggests that to encourage reading for pleasure, schools need to embed four practices:

  1. Reading aloud
  2. Informal book conversation and recommendations
  3. Independent reading
  4. A social reading environment

However, implementation takes time, needing careful planning to stimulate pupils’ excitement in and love of reading.

Teresa Cremin (2011) says that teachers need to obtain a ‘reading identity’ to lead children on their own reading journey and must ask themselves:

What does reading mean to me?

Whatever reading means to you, it is important to reflect and apply this in your teaching. What shapes you as a reader is where you read, what you read, why you read, when and with whom. Do the children know this about you? Do they see you as a reader?

It is important that we are positive role models. We cannot shape our children into avid readers if we do not know our own relationship with reading and what we enjoy. If we do not have a wealth of books under our teacher wings, how can we carefully guide pupils to books and authors that will excite them so much to feel compelled to read via torchlight under the covers at bedtime?

How can we steer them towards beautifully and heart-warmingly orchestrated classic novels that might be hidden gems on their grandparents’ shelves? How can we expose them to the thrilling and enchanting worlds and adventures created by modern day authors such as Vashti Hardy and Abi Elpinstone? If we ourselves are unaware of both old and new texts, then we will struggle to help our children build their own collection of favourites.

The Open University recommends teachers should develop a broader, deeper and more up-to-date understanding of children’s literature to improve what we can offer. Not just books, but multimedia and everyday texts. We must generate interest, curiosity and a desire to explore places and facts they will find unbelievable.

To create such an electric ‘buzz’ about reading, it is critical include all stakeholders. A collaborative approach, including teaching staff, kitchen staff, governors and parents is crucial. With parental engagement a struggle for some schools, this can be a challenge certainly, but it can be achieved.

Creating a shift in attitude

With reading, there most definitely is not a ‘one size fits all’ and this can look very different across schools, key stages and classrooms. What we must recognise is that children and adults enjoy different reading experiences. We need to strive to provide an environment that enables each and every pupil to enjoy that experience.

My personal experience shows that the schools which have successfully embedded a reading culture are those that have prioritised it. It is a passion shared by all the staff, supported by their own personal values. Reading is the foundation that cements the entire curriculum.

On Tuesday 28th April 2020, One Education will be hosting a FREE webinar on how to use the shifting attitudes towards reading to create the foundations of a passionate reading culture. Please email for joining instructions.

We will present an opportunity to explore ideas for developing a whole school passion for reading. We will also discuss the Open University’s research and implications for schools and settings.

Informal ‘book talk’ and recommendations:

The research also highlighted the importance of “book talk” between pupils and teachers and importantly, between pupils themselves. Talking with children about their favourite books, plot lines and characters is time well spent, strengthening both our and the pupil’s understanding of their personal reading identities.

Often conversations about books occur in formal situations in schools and are very teacher led, either during guided reading or in other curriculum aspects. Book talk (a phrase developed by Aidan Chambers) should be spontaneous and natural, but will only occur if teachers model what this looks like sharing their own reading habits and talking about the books they cherish. Creating this spark of curiosity, alongside having the books available in the classroom, will, over time, encourage children to pick up and read them. This will then create a ripple effect in where pupils recommend texts to each other and have a desire to talk about them outside of the classroom. This enhances children’s reading experiences, improving their experience of illustrators and authors and encourages teacher/pupil empathy.

Reading Aloud:

Reading aloud can take many forms in school: reading assemblies; children reading with other children; children reading to a group of friends.

To encourage children to become ‘hooked on books’ we must first and foremost introduce them to the wonders of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, comics, fact-files and the rest of the wide range of reading material out there. Children must be introduced to reading aloud from a very early age through nursery rhymes, short tales and stories. This is a vital part of their development in speech, understanding of the world and building relationships.

Stories read aloud in class, by teachers or by children, create a social reading community, a space shared, providing a reading model for less confident readers. Showing them how expression and intonation in your voice can change. It also enables conversations to take place to share our reader thoughts, not necessarily unpicking the comprehension, but the curious questions we might have, e.g. ‘how could she do that to him?’.

Social environments:

Enabling children to read for pleasure requires space and time dedicated to it. With timetables crammed, schools often find this difficult to fit in. However, having small areas dedicated to reading around school, inside and outside, not just in classrooms, is essential. Locating unused space within your school could be the perfect place for creating a relaxing area that child can use spontaneously - a reading tipi, den or small sanctuary.

Schools that have been really successful in developing reading for pleasure have given children ownership when it comes to the environment, often asking them for their input into designing and creating comfortable and appealing areas throughout school.

To create a real buzz about reading, social events can be organised to encourage children to become immersed in reading and talking about books. We will explore a whole range of activities that can be planned into your school calendar during our webinar.

Independent reading time:

A child frequently needs guidance when selecting a book to read independently. Understanding children’s reading identities, teachers can suggest texts that will suit the child. Material readily available and accessible in a well-stocked and well-presented and diverse library is important. We must help children to develop a breadth and depth of reading, enjoying books they love but also willing to try something new.

The National Literacy Trust’s report Children and Young People’s Reading in 2019 showed that in 2019 just 26% of under-18s spent some time each day reading. This is the lowest daily level recorded since the charity first surveyed children’s reading habits in 2005. It is our job as teachers to provide children the key to enjoying reading and inspire them with our passion as role models.

Take the first step to helping children discover the world and reading and join us on Tuesday 28th April 2020 where we will explore this in more detail including the latest research-based evidence and a wealth of ideas. Please email for joining instructions.

Asking yourself and your staff the questions above will help you to start a wider conversation about reading in your school. We have a wealth of resources for promoting Reading as part of our One Education Reading Award. For more information please visit our Reading Award webpage

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