Literacy: Top tips for instilling a love of reading

Written by: Dr Sarah McGeown | Published:
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Summer reading learning loss is a common issue that primary schools face every autumn term, exacerbated this year in the wake of Covid. Dr Sarah McGeown shares some tips to help teachers instil a love of reading this academic year


Summer learning loss is a common issue that schools, teachers and parents are met with in the new academic year.

While some pupils may take part in summer reading challenges and are encouraged to read at home with parents and siblings, others without such opportunities and support experience a stalling or decline in their reading abilities over the summer.

This year, any summer learning loss is also coupled with the lasting impact of pandemic disruption – making it more important than ever for schools to have an active plan on how to address the gap and boost reading engagement.

Research by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and Renaissance for the Department for Education (DfE) found that by the end of the first half of the 2021/22 autumn term, primary school pupils were on average 0.8 months behind in reading compared to where they would be in a typical, pre-pandemic year (DfE, 2022a).

In addition, the research shows that the majority (76%) of teachers feel literacy learning loss will be the hardest attainment gap to close this academic year.

To tackle this loss and build on the hard work that schools have done to date, there are a number of initiatives that can be put in place to boost reading levels, and reading enjoyment, this term and beyond.



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Provide access and choice

Ensuring pupils develop a passion for reading will support them throughout their primary school years. According to the National Literacy Trust (NLT, 2020a), in 2020, levels of reading enjoyment among children and young people had reached a 15-year low.

Access to books which align with students’ interests and abilities and supporting and encouraging independent book choice are the first steps in getting students hooked on reading.

Children should have access to books which reflect diverse genres and characters and be given opportunities to read familiar and favourite genres, in addition to encouragement to explore new ones. Bear in mind, younger students and less experienced readers may need more support to find books aligned with their interests and abilities. Teachers and class-mates can be the best book match-makers to support pupils to find books they love.

Schools can also explore the different online libraries available. Digitally enhanced books also allow pupils to make use of features such as audio read-along support, sticky notes and quizzes. Quizzes can help feed a child’s curiosity and the reward-based approach can build a love for reading.


Prioritise reading for pleasure

Introducing a regular time for children to read for pleasure in school each week is a great precedent to set at the start of the school year and encouraging children to take these books home will support leisure time reading. This approach could even form part of the school’s wellbeing strategy where pupils are encouraged to find a book that resonates with them – whether escaping into an imaginary world, finding a book that makes them laugh, or catching up with their favourite fictional friends.

Furthermore, research by NLT (2020b) reported that children who read daily in their free time are twice as likely to read above the level expected for their age than children who do not read daily.

Other research (Torppa et al, 2019) shows that reading books is particularly important for developing reading comprehension skills, compared to all other text types. Therefore, regular reading throughout the week will not only help tackle summer learning loss but prompt pupils to sustain the habit of independent reading.


Diversify your books

Research (Calarco et al, 2017) demonstrates that if a pupil develops a personal connection to a story or a character within a book, this can increase engagement and support comprehension. When pupils read fiction books, they often identify with characters to whom they feel similar. This can help them engage with the text because the more the story resonates with the child, the more motivated they are to read. Diversity of characters, lives and experiences within fiction books is essential to consider when adding to your school library or book collection, and the research is increasingly demonstrating its importance (Best et al, 2020).


Make reading social

Book clubs, reading groups and book assemblies are all great ways for children to share their opinions and experiences of what they have read recently. However, approaches should always be inclusive to allow all children the opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences in ways that they feel comfortable with. Speak to children and find out from all of them what would work best before offering different options for social activities. Social reading activities are a great way for children to share and learn from others, including getting recommendations for their next read.


Keep it going

For sustained success, a whole-school approach to promoting reading for pleasure is important. This could include forming a reading leadership group and considering whether reading for pleasure should be included in school strategy documents or improvement plans. A further tactic could be to encourage reading across the curriculum by making a book the centrepiece of an interdisciplinary project.


On-going reflection

It is a challenging time for teachers and senior leadership teams, with learning loss still showing its effect on pupils’ attainment, as demonstrated by the decline in the SATS results this year (DfE, 2022b). It has been concerning to see the drop in children’s reading levels which is only exasperated by the summer holidays.

This makes instilling the love for reading even more important for the upcoming autumn term. Senior leaders and teachers should continue to reflect on and evaluate the reading practices they are encouraging in school and at home. Are the reading practices effective and supporting all students, or do barriers exist for some pupils? Are solutions available to tackle this?

To help evaluate and continuously improve policies, teachers could request feedback from colleagues, parents and the students themselves on the school’s approach to reading for pleasure. Based on this feedback, school practices can then be refined to ensure all students’ reading experiences and development are optimally supported.

Promoting book reading is so important – it develops reading and language skills, promotes knowledge and understanding of the world, ourselves, and others, and offers children a wide range of rich and diverse experiences.

  • Dr Sarah McGeown is a senior lecturer in developmental psychology at the University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on children's and young people’s reading motivation and engagement, and how to encourage more children and young people to choose to read in school and at home. She currently leads the Love to Read project (https://blogs.ed.ac.uk/lovetoread/) and is author of a UKLA minibook for primary and secondary teachers and school leaders to support reading for pleasure (https://bit.ly/3xgM1wi).

Further information & resources

  • Best, Clark, & Picton: Seeing yourself in what you read: Diversity and children and young people’s reading in 2020, National Literacy Trust, December 2020: https://bit.ly/2VSb1H2
  • Calarco et al: Absorption in narrative fiction and its possible impact on social abilities, in Narrative Absorption, October 2017.
  • DfE: Understanding progress in the 2020/21 academic year, Renaissance Learning, Education Policy Institute, March 2022a: https://bit.ly/3qrfKil
  • DfE: Academic year 2021/22 key stage 2 attainment, September 202b2: https://bit.ly/3BkMAYh
  • NLT: Children and young people’s reading in 2020 before and during the Covid-19 lockdown, July 2020a: https://bit.ly/3B6ECR9
  • NLT: Children and young people’s reading in 2019, March 2020b: https://bit.ly/3ajlvam
  • Renaissance Learning: A guide to reading enjoyment, undated: www.renlearn.co.uk/reading-enjoyment/
  • Torppa et al: Leisure reading (but not any kind) and reading comprehension support each other, Child Development (91,3), May/June 2020.


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