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Encouraging reading... one book at a time

Updated: Jan 19

Every week in school, it’s truly wonderful to celebrate the achievements of the students in Friday assemblies. Whether excelling academically or going out of their way to demonstrate great resilience, it’s a real highlight to share successes with the whole school community. Amongst the plethora of certificates on offer, there is one that I am always particularly keen to see awarded: as an English teacher, I’m sure it comes as absolutely no shock to learn that I love seeing the joy of reading celebrated.

Reading is one of those skills that I think is massively taken for granted – we all do it daily without even considering it, and, sadly, it is one of those subjects that many of us struggle to find an element of ‘cool’ in.

I consider myself extremely fortunate that I was the perfect age when the popularity of a certain boy wizard was at its absolute peak. Through the Harry Potter novels, I found an absolute joy in reading, which continues today, and I try my utmost to instil in my students in school. My English group are currently engrossed in that classic of Victorian literature, Oliver Twist, and I’m thrilled by the level of engagement in the text (a major highlight recently was seeing a student return to the kitchen one lunchtime, empty plate in hand, pleading “Please sir, I want some more!”). Hopefully, my enthusiasm in my reading, is encouraging them to see reading in an enthusiastic light.

But what if you find that, no matter how hard you try, you feel that reading is just ‘not for you?’ I’ve heard this frequently over the years and to that I say, “keep looking”. There seems to be an overwhelming pressure on students to engage in ‘hard literature’, what is commonly referred to as ‘the literary heritage’. My personal opinion has always been that all reading is good reading! Whether you’re flicking through a magazine on your favourite subject, catching up on a blog you’re fond of, reading an autobiography on the life of your favourite musician, or maybe checking out the adventures of your favourite superhero in a graphic novel, you’re building up this essential skill for life that can be transferred to school studies with ease. Just as an athlete must continue to train and exercise the right muscles to compete in their chosen sport, the more reading you do, the better you get at it.

A few personal recommendations:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – funny, irreverent science fiction with a range of great characters. Perfect for teenaged sci-fi fans.

  • Always Looking Up by Michael J. Fox – the life story of a Hollywood actor fighting against his incurable Parkinson’s Disease doesn’t exactly sound ‘laugh a minute’, but don’t be fooled. This book is uplifting, motivational and frequently hilarious.

  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel – The story of a young boy surviving alone on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger. Sounds absolutely mental. Is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Ben Mitchell.


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