How to nurture lifelong readers from primary school

Students doing revision at school. File
Students doing revision at school. File

The greatest reading challenge for teachers is not merely getting students to read but getting them to enjoy it as well. It is one thing for students to trudge through texts in a lesson, but whether they’ll open another book when they get home at the end of the day is another thing. How can we endear students to read?

To begin with, creating ravenous, lifelong readers doesn’t just happen; it takes a school wide culture to help reach this goal. Often, this is a task thrown to the language teachers who teach set-books, an approach that –without a doubt- is fruitless and detrimental to a balanced literacy program. It is little wonder, our students usually regard reading either as a soft punishment or a partial fulfillment of the requirements in the subjects they do. It takes a concerted effort to nurture a reading culture.

For starters, schools can schedule supervised independent reading sessions within the timetable, during which students shouldn’t be allowed to do last-minute homework. This can be the first 30 minutes in the morning before class or after lunch. Time for reading independently doesn’t just happen; it must be planned by making it a priority in the class schedules across classrooms. It may be hard to fix but schools should find at least 15 minutes a day (20 recommended) for self-selecting, independent reading- assuming that they have a variety of books to choose from.

These scheduled reading sessions would be more fruitful if learners are encouraged to find new books on their own to read. While showing your students books is a good way to build their interest level, a child who finds new books on their own can benefit from an increased sense of independence. Children are more likely to read when their interests are taken into account and when they have control of how and what to read. Schools within Kigali can take the advantage of the various community libraries to provide students with a variety to choose from.

This should be followed by a highly interactive feedback session. Invite students to socialize around reading by setting up book clubs, reading groups, literature circles or any other interactive venture that will allow them to passionately share their readings. Provide your students the opportunity to creatively express their thoughts on books they’ve read-think acting out scenes, dressing up as their favorite story character or making up a different ending to a favorite story. This can greatly enhance their comprehension and make literacy in the classroom so much more enjoyable.

All these can only happen in a safe, comfortable place. Create a space that provides comfortable seating, proper lighting and a variety of books. The surroundings should encourage reading in all its forms and support their choices of reading material. I don’t simply mean putting up a poster which tries to promote reading because it’s ‘cool’; instead, students and teachers could share the name of the book that they’re reading at the moment, and offer a sentence about it. It’s a great way to share recommendations.

Showing students that teachers of all subjects read books, not just the English teachers, is really important. Teachers can always share two or three of their favorite books at the start of every lesson, whether that be geography, math or whatever, they can read to the class for ten minutes. If this happens, students will arrive for their next lesson talking about what their PE or history teacher was reading, and that would spark really interesting discussions.

We want kids to read and enjoy more in order to build vocabulary, fluency, and background knowledge. So let’s do our part to promote and encourage independent reading across our schools.


The writer is a Language Consultant


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