How to Start a Project to Encourage Recreational Reading
- a note to teachers

Bill Jones, TEAA
Commitment  The procedures I recommend to put in place a program of recreational reading for students in secondary schools are simple ones. First, language teachers and school administrators should commit themselves to the success of the program. This may, of necessity, entail countering any tendency in their own ranks to regard the project as an additional responsibility that further complicates already difficult teaching situations. They should see the reading as an essentially self-sustaining, student-driven activity that offers invaluable benefits to both students and teachers. Language teachers can readily accept the truth of the observation that, however hard they and their students work, the benefits of both their laboring are best realized when students are individuals who have developed the habit of regular reading on their own. It is the truth of this observation that prompts the carrying out of the second step in initiating the program, informing students of the project.
Who Participates  Language teachers should decide whether the project should be a school-wide program initially or one that begins with, for instance, the lower forms, form one or both forms one and two, and works its way up, over time, into the upper forms. An assessment of conditions in individual schools will determine this matter. What is likely to be a constant, however, in any circumstance, is the need to convince students of the value of recreational reading, given the ongoing, year-to-year, sustained pressures that students feel in preparing for national examinations. Language teachers should have little difficulty, however, talking about the pleasures and benefits of reading. Their own experiences, both as students and, now as teachers, offer rich content for carrying out this second step. On their side in this endeavor is the fact that the project only requires that students read twenty minutes daily, no longer.
The Books  An aspect of the second step is deciding what books are suitable for students. This is a local decision. Those who teach or have other meaningful relationships with students are best suited to decide what is appropriate. However the selection is made, the largest number of titles should be tried for. Seventy different titles, for instance, are better to have available than ten copies each of seven different books. In the first instance, a determined student might read all seventy. In the second, diligence would only net the reading of seven. Whatever the number, local conditions will determine whether graded texts should be included along with full texts. What should students read, only novels, short stories, plays, biographies, autobiographies and memoirs? Or is other reading material appropriate as well? Should the ethnicity and national origins of writers be considered? If so, how? What titles can be acquired locally? What will have to be shipped?
The Log  Putting in place a system to monitor the students' reading is the third step. A simple weekly log is needed here. Click to see an example as a web page or as a Word document or pdf document. Feel free to copy and use these files. The main purpose of the log is to track the daily twenty-minute reading times and to record the number of pages that students read then. Ideally, the log also includes spaces in which students write a daily response - evaluative comments of one or two sentences - to what they have read. This writing is not absolutely necessary, but it has value. My own practice is to asterisk all sentences that contain errors and require students to rewrite them and resubmit the old log with all the rewritten sentences when they hand in new log at the end of the week. Not wanting to rewrite and resubmit logs, students most often exercise increased care in writing their responses to their reading. A reminder: The logs function principally to track the time and number of pages students read. Language teachers should not allow the tedium of monitoring the written responses to undermine the success of the project. The actual reading that students do is more important than the responses they, in fact, write.
A Culture of Reading  This simple project can be the prompt for extended activity related to literacy and building a culture of reading. Imagine a poster contest touting the wonders of reading. Consider the quality of school spirit if upper form students become assistants to language teachers in championing recreational reading to junior members of the student body. The student publication might include short reviews of some of the books students have read. Teachers themselves might undertake the reading of complete short stories to their classes as an after-class or weekend activity. Language teachers and colleague from other departments might present the reading of one-act plays in assemblies. Similar activities might include local citizens or visitors to the school, all aimed at generating interest in reading. And as a continuing stimulus, at the end of each term, the students who have read the most might be given new books as prizes. Perhaps the honor could be extended to the top two or three readers in each form.
Back to the top
See the reading Report
Back to What's Hot