Creating a Reading for Pleasure Culture in School

“We know that teachers are under immense pressure to deliver results, and can find it challenging to make time within the curriculum for fostering reading for pleasure. But the social, emotional and cognitive benefits of reading for pleasure are unquestionable …”

Teresa Cremin Professor of Education (Literacy), Open University

These were Professor Teresa Cremin’s words when she expressed her worry that schools are only finding time to “play lip service” to reading for pleasure, or worse, they see it as an act of “window dressing”.

A child learning to read is embarking on a journey of discovery, complete with challenges, pitfalls and rewards along the way. While the careful teaching of systematic synthetic phonics is vital to showing children how to read the words on the page, we have to acknowledge that this doesn’t necessarily give them everything they need to succeed on their reading journey.

More than giving children skills for comprehension and prosody, we also have to show them the majesty of literature.

It’s the elusive carrot we keep dangling: ‘Learn to read with these books and soon you will be able to read these books’. Why will children want to read those books, you ask? Because we will ensure that our schools are ‘reading schools’, that there is a strong culture of reading in place which forms part of the school identity.

‘A reading school? It’s just… who we are.’

It will take a whole-school effort to create such a reading culture, and every aspect of reading has to be taken into account. How do you celebrate reading? How do the teachers communicate their own passion for reading? How do we entice children to read for pleasure while always keeping in mind both the reluctant and voracious reader?

Here are some top tips for embedding a love of reading in your primary school.

Reading Spaces – Book Nooks and Libraries

Most schools have them but how do they look? Are they inviting?

These spaces need to look loved, well-maintained and stocked to include not just fiction and non-fiction but graphic novels, poetry and magazines too.

How are the books grouped in these spaces? The Dewey system and alphabetising books by author surname may not entice children to explore the books on offer. Try arranging non-fiction books facing outwards in baskets themed by topic. For fiction books, group by genre – again facing outwards as much as possible so children can see the cover and not just the spines (which usually do not spark a child’s interest). Create displays for multiple books by the same author and set-up a ‘recommendations table’ with little review cards for children to recommend their favorites to their peers.

Get Caught Reading

Children benefit from seeing that their teacher loves to read. Let them catch you reading at any given moment, talk to the children about the book you are reading and why you love it. The whole school needs to get caught reading – the business secretary, the site manager and the head teacher.

The children should also ‘get caught reading’. Ask parents to take photos catching their own children reading in funny places and send them in for a brilliant display. Consider creating a wall displaying fun reading challenges such as Extreme Reading – images of children reading in unusual and interesting places and spaces.

Special Books

Bring in books from home that you loved as a child and keep them in a ‘special box’ in the classroom. Children can borrow these books from the teacher under the condition that they read them and treat them with respect.

To entice reluctant readers, keep books aside which you claim are in some way unsuitable: ‘I’m not sure if you should read these books children. They may be too scary for you to read!’.

Making books precious treasures only increases their desirability!


Set up reading challenges around 10 ‘must-read’ book lists for each year group. The lists should feature classics and contemporary novels that come highly recommended for children. Children should try to read as many of the books during the year as they can and receive prizes or awards for doing so in a whole-school assembly.

Whole-school book focus

Choose a book that can be used across the school for half a term. This may seem tricky, but picture books which have underlying themes or messages will work well in any year group, e.g. Into the Forest by Anthony Brown. Class teachers devise schemes of work around the storybook and then each class presents how they’ve explored the book in a whole-school celebration.

Story times – make them cosy and memorable

Children are never too old to be read to and every single child in Primary school should have a daily story time strictly for pleasure. Read books to your children which are beyond their own reading ability to keep drawing them deeper into the world of fiction and to introduce them to more challenging themes and ideas – inspiring them to keep reading.

Make story times cosy and memorable, allow children to sit or lie comfortably so they feel as relaxed as possible, maybe turn the lights low or wear your story cape. Whatever you do, make this time sacred and special.

Year 5/6 Reading Heroes

Many schools will have a reading buddy system whereby Year 5/6 children join Foundation Stage and KS1 pupils in their reading sessions. Also consider allowing your Upper Key Stage 2 children to read to your class during story time. Have them choose a book that they loved when they were younger. It’s a powerful way to inspire younger children to love books. Always ensure the older children feel fully prepared for doing this so both the reader and listener enjoy the experience.

These strategies really are just the tip of the iceberg. Here are so many more things you can do to build a culture of reading in your school. You can also include: setting up a book club, arranging author visits, celebrating author birthdays, organising dressing-up days, story assemblies and of course, participating in World Book Day.

Embed a Reading for Pleasure pedagogy

Advice, ideas and case studies for embedding Reading for Pleasure in your school can be seen on the Open University’s Research Rich Pedagogies website. Key findings include:

  • An understanding that reading for pleasure is not the same as reading instruction. However, it still needs to be planned and developed alongside formal literacy classes.
  • Teaching staff at all levels need to be engaged and enthused by children’s literature. Roald Dahl is great but if that’s a child’s only experience of literature, it’s very narrow. What interests children? What books can be recommended? Encourage staff to read books on prize-winning awards lists, such as the UKLA awards, or book guides, such as the Book Trust.
  • Let children control their own reading, with support and encouragement from teaching staff. Encourage the idea that readers have rights! (Read Daniel Pennac’s Rights of the Reader or put up a reader’s rights poster in your classroom
  • More time to explore books in greater depth is needed for teachers and children. Having informal spaces to talk about books, offer opinions and recommendations (peer to peer and pupil to teacher as well as adult to child).
  • Creating communities of readers across the school community has great impact.

Creating a reading culture takes effort but the rewards are staggering. At Wise Words, we believe that reading for pleasure has the power to change lives.

At Wise Words, we know that the evidence shows reading for pleasure has the power to change lives.

Cambridge Primary Review Trust: Reading for pleasure: just window dressing?