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Developing Reading for Pleasure: engaging young readers
Developing Reading for Pleasure: engaging young readers

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5 Finding out about children’s reading practices

Educators are often surprised by what they find out when they really focus on noticing the reading behaviours of the children they work with. There are different methods with which to obtain this information, which you will look at in turn in this section.

Informal observation

Informal observation and conversations during reading times in the school day highlight children’s reading practices in the classroom. For example, you might notice that your reluctant readers are laughing along to funny poems that you read aloud, or that a child shows an interest in the front cover of a science fiction novel, even though they do not read it independently. Such observations might help you know where to start with recommendations or reading conferences. These observations can be kept over a period of weeks, perhaps with the teacher or teaching assistant noting the behaviours of a small number of children that are struggling to engage as readers.

Reading conferences

Reading conferences involve group discussions with children about their reading preferences and the texts they like or dislike, both at home and at school. They often work best when the group shares a particular interest in a theme/genre or a common attitude to reading. Scheduling regular reading conferences adds to information about children interests and attitudes to reading.

Book blanket

Another useful strategy to help discern children’s interests, is to create a book blanket either from the classroom bookshelves or from a focused collection of non-fiction or poetry. The books can be laid out on tables or on the floor. Children are then invited to explore the collection. Close observation alongside regular invitations to find ‘a book that interests you’, ‘a book by a poet you’ve heard of’ or ‘a book you’ve read before’ can help you notice individuals reader behaviours and preferences.

A book blanket: books laid out partially overlapping each other on the floor.
Figure 4 A book blanket

Optional resource

Read what Ben Harris learnt about his readers through undertaking a book blanket [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

Learner visits

In the ‘Building Communities: Researching Literacy Lives’ project, teachers made visits to the homes of children in their classes and met with parents to understand more about the children’s reading beyond the school gate (Cremin et al., 2015). This experience changed some teachers’ perceptions of children as readers, widened their understanding of home reading opportunities and improved the relationships between home and school. This could be built on with a ‘Reading at Home’ display, where pupils regularly add example texts and extracts.


You may also want to use a survey across the school or key stage to establish a ‘baseline’ of information about pupils’ activities and attitudes to reading at school and home before you seek to develop your pedagogy. You could develop your own or use one of The Open University team’s RfP surveys.

Reading rivers

Reading rivers is an activity first applied to reading by Cliff-Hodges (2010) who asked keen adolescent readers to document their reading histories. This was later reshaped by Cremin et al. (2014) into a strategy for adults and children to appreciate the wealth of reading materials they encounter in everyday life. These can be created using drawings, writing, photographs or even clips of reading material and can document reading practices in general, or capture just ‘24-hours of reading’.

Mrs H’s reading river display showing different types of reading, e.g. websites and social media.
Figure 5 Mrs H’s reading river

By undertaking your own reading river and sharing this with children, you will be modelling the variety of reading undertaken across life. This may help you begin to widen what counts as reading in school beyond an assigned or chosen ‘reading book’. The reading river shown in Figure 5, by headteacher Lisa Hesmondhalgh from Peover Superior Primary School, captures her reading across 24 hours, but you can capture a longer period, such as during a half-term holiday.

Activity 4 Learning from reading rivers

Timing: Allow approximately 20 minutes for this activity

Read the case study below, which describes how Jon Biddle, a primary school teacher from Moorlands Primary Academy in Norfolk, England, used the reading rivers strategy in order to get to know the everyday reading practices of the children in his class.

As you read, make a note of three things Jon learnt about his class’s reading practices, how he built on this new knowledge and the actions he took as a consequence.

Jon’s reading rivers case study (content starts on page 2)


You might have noted that reading rivers showed Jon that the children read comics and graphic novels at home, which led him to review and improve the range of texts on offer for them to read in the classroom.