As an English teacher one of the questions I was most frequently asked by parents was ‘what can my son/daughter do to improve their English?’ It’s a difficult question to answer succinctly as there are so many aspects to mastering the study of English and most often the answer is a combination of any number of them. However there is one simple thing that any child can do to help them improve their English and the one piece of advice I used to give to almost all of my students – read.
Reading is one of the easiest and best ways for any student to increase their vocabulary, improve their spelling and grammar and expand their knowledge of any subject. Reading improves a child’s literacy, improves their writing skills and improves their verbal communication skills; in turn building confidence. Indeed, it is difficult to underestimate the impact of regular reading on a young mind. Certainly, its impact is seen far beyond the English classroom.
The problem is, of course, no matter how important reading is many children just don’t enjoy it and don’t choose to do it in their free time. This is an issue for many children, but across the whole age range it is a particular problem for boys. The knock-on effect of this is demonstrated in their academic progress. The Boys’ Reading Commission report published in 2012 suggesting that 76% of UK schools reported that girls outperformed boys in reading.
All students of English will cover the texts and poems required of them by their teachers and the courses they study, but how do you motivate reluctant secondary age readers to pick up a book beyond what they have to study in class?
For students to read beyond their set texts and read for pleasure they need to get into a ‘habit’ of reading. This can be encouraged by teachers but needs to be reinforced at home and beyond.
In school, teachers can be great examples of adult readers. If students see evidence of teachers reading via reading walls or ‘I’m currently reading…’ signs on teacher’s doors as I saw in a local school recently, it provides positive reading role-models for students who may not be exposed to reading at home. It also provokes conversation between teachers and students about current reads and recommended books.
In order to really promote reading it must be part of the curriculum. It sounds basic, but too many crowded timetables don’t make enough time for reading and discussion or reflection on the books being read. Time should be set aside as part of the school day to encourage students to explore the library and develop an interest in books and reading.
Reading should never be used as a punishment or just to keep students quiet. I have seen it used in this way and the negative effect cannot be underestimated. Reluctant readers become even more reluctant and even keen readers can resent the fact that they are being ‘forced’ to read just to keep them quiet.
Finally reading material must be made appropriate to the reader. Regardless of a child’s ability what they are reading has to either challenge them sufficiently or be accessible enough for them to read to really enjoy what they are reading.
Readers looking for inspiration only need to look online for a plethora of reading lists for young adults that recommend new books covering a huge range of themes and subjects. Librarians are also an invaluable and underused resource who will always be happy to offer up to date recommendations for new books and must-read classics.
To a certain extent it doesn’t actually matter what a child reads. As a long as they enjoy reading and do it regularly it can be a book, magazine, newspaper or a webpage. As long as they are reading something it will be benefitting them and their overall academic and personal development.
Edward Stokes - Subject Specialist - English and Creative
Ed joined OCR as a subject specialist in the English and Creative team in February 2015. Ed is responsible for Entry Level English and Living Texts, and works on the commissioning of new resources and CPD events for these qualifications and the new English GCSEs. Ed also helps to look after the OCR English twitter account and other social media including blogs and customer case studies.
Prior to working at OCR Ed was a Year 9 Progress Leader and English Teacher at a secondary school in the East of England. Ed has taught GCSE and IB English and Media Studies in a range of schools in the UK and abroad and has taught ESOL as part of the International Development Programme.
In his spare time Ed enjoys cycling and anything to do with motorbikes.