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5 top tips to encourage reading for pleasure

man reading a book

People usually read in their mother tongue. Foreign language readers encounter many obstacles that wipe all the pleasure out and can make it a real pain! On the other hand, reading in English undeniably enhances the learning process.

What does reading for pleasure mean?

It is everything that drives us to read and read again, all the reasons why we say ´I like reading books,´ everything that helps us immerse ourselves in the content! We like reading because it encourages our curiosity, our fantasy, our desire to know more. What’s more, we enjoy reading in a safe environment without any stress, pressure or assignments.

Reading for pleasure in ELT is invaluable for developing communicative competence. With the proper material it improves students´speaking and writing skills, social skills, cognitive and pragmatic skills, and much more. Furthermore, students build a positive attitude towards language and develop their critical thinking and creativity.

How can you encourage students to read for pleasure?

My idea of how to incorporate this into the school syllabus is to establish a readers club.

It offers students the chance to spend their free time with a good book, reading in English.

What can students do in a reading club?

  • Cocktail reading: illustrations, segmented text, reading aloud, silent reading, key words in bold, dramatized audio recordings – all these features help readers grasp the content of the text. They understand better, they imagine the scene and predict the text, they experience the feelings of the characters. Graded readers eliminate barriers and provide high quality language input.
  • Chain game: What is… the most interesting information you have read today?/the nicest thing XX did in this story?/What have you learned from this book?/What do you think about …? Asking for personal opinion capitalizes on students´engagement. Everyone is involved and practices expressing an opinion.
  • Quiz exchange: groups read different chapters of a book and prepare a quiz about the content. Then they swap chapters, read the text and complete the quiz . Students always learn something new and get practice in teamwork.
  • Activity time: graded readers usually contain fun activities focusing on content and vocabulary. Students can develop their critical thinking through activities like: true and false, answer the questions, complete the sentences, label the picture etc. They work intensively with the information from the text.
  • Real projects: This is good practice in interpreting the text. Students make projects using surveys, searching for the information, evaluating collected data, etc. Projects can take many different forms: poster, presentation, art work, picture book, school play.
  • Tricky cards: After reading a few books in club, students prepare a set of tricky cards with indications for others to guess which book it is. Names, dates, numbers and places shouldn´t be included – just to make it a bit more challenging!

I know that their attitude might be: ´Why should I stay at school for longer than I have to?´… ´It´ll be a drag. I can´t be bothered sitting and reading for the whole lesson.´… ´What for?´. So – how do we get over these objections and encourage students to give up their free time for reading?

Here are some tips for a readers club that can attract them:

1) Make sure the content is appealing

Good texts are essential – they need to be comprehensible but still challenging enough to make students work to understand them. Graded readers, such as Oxford’s Dominoes series, are perfect for maintaining a reading library that is appropriate for many levels. And it‘s important for club members to read real books, not photocopies, to give them a real sense of achievement and satisfaction.

2) Membership privilege

Members of the readers club will most likely   improve their English. This should be taken into account in the end-of-term evaluation by giving them a wildcard: a privilege to give a presentation on what they have read or created in the club.

3) Membership badge with a logo

Wearing the badge at school or on special occasions could provide the members with  sense of prestige for working harder than others.

4) Reading club council

Set up positions of responsibility for the members – e.g. chair – the teacher; custodian – a member responsible for the room and keys; secretary – a member responsible for keeping on the club rules, checking attendance, librarian; interlocutor – responsible for publishing info about club activities for the school.

5) Motivation for high achievements

Word count – a long-term competition for the highest  number of the words read in the books; read books grid with members´ names – for entering the titles of the books being read, reward – e.g. a voucher for choosing a book in a local bookshop.

Have you set up a reading club at your school? If so, how do you keep it interesting? What reading materials do you use? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Eva Balážová, an ELT Consultant for Oxford University Press in Slovakia, highlights the importance of encouraging students to enjoy reading in English as a way of improving their communicative competence.

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