Student reading interests

Explore strategies to help you match each student with the book that might spark their interest in reading.

For students of every ability and background, it's the simple, miraculous act of reading a good book that turns them into readers, because even for the least experienced, most reluctant reader, it's the one good book that changes everything. The job of adults who care about reading is to move heaven and earth to put that book into a child's hands. - Atwell (2007)


The 'one good book' that can change everything
Surveying your students for their interests and reading preferences
Student choice of books - what and how they read
Use existing evidence generated within your school
Further reading

The 'one good book' that can change everything

"Have I got a book for you!" or " When I saw this book, I thought of you..." or "I think you'd enjoy reading this..." These are the voices of teachers or other "enabling adults" who know the literature and their students, and can successfully bring them together.

"Home run" books: "The term "home run" book is taken from Fadiman (1947), in reference to his earliest experience in reading, a book entitled The Overall Boys. "One's first book, kiss, home run, is always the best." - Krashen (2004): 82.

We use the term here not in reference in one's first reading experience, but one's first positive reading experience, the one that sets you on the reading path. The Home Run Book: Can One Positive Reading Experience Create a Reader?

Read School staff as readers for the other part of this equation - teachers knowing the literature.

Surveying your students interests and reading preferences

A survey can produce some very useful information about your students reading preferences. Some questions to ask might include:

  • fiction choices
  • what series they enjoy
  • what their non-fiction reading preferences might be
  • questions about other leisure and online reading preferences.

You can download and adapt PDF and word versions of some sample surveys at the end of this page.

Rather than administering surveys as paper copies, you might find your students enjoy completing an online survey. Tools like Survey Monkey (which is free to use up to a certain level) are easy to set up, provide automatic collation, statistics and graphs.

Steven Layne suggests that "coaches who know their players win more games" and that what is true on the basketball court is true in the reading classroom too. Short, friendly surveys of students can be one way to find out about their reading preferences and general interests.

Steven Layne, in his book Igniting a Passion for Reading (2009) on p.16 and in Appendix D provides examples of the reading and interest surveys he does with his students. His strategy is to observe the students who need help the most. And then, using the survey, and with the librarian's help:

"start to do our thing - pulling books, finding, hunting, searching for any type of print that matches a given student's targeted interest... then we pull him or her aside and deliver the message in both word and deed: I thought of you..."

Student self-perceptions as readers

The UK National Literacy Trust (NLT) has done some interesting research on how young people feel about themselves as readers. Existing research has already shown that the way “an individual feels about him or herself as a reader could clearly influence whether reading would be sought or avoided”. Taking this into account the NLT research investigated influences on children’s perceptions of themselves as readers. Looking at family, peer groups and the school, the research looked into the materials pupils were reading, and assessed which materials pupils felt they were encouraged to read. As well as reinforcing existing research findings and policy directions, the research also highlighted areas of concern in less explored areas.

Student choice of books - what and how they read

"The book which you read from a sense of duty, or because for any reason you must, does not commonly make friends with you." William Dean Howells.

The school library can play a key role here, in helping teachers and individual students, to find books they will enjoy. When teachers and school librarians create partnerships, school library collections (books of all kinds, including e-books, audio books, graphic novels, magazines) can be built up with the needs, abilities and interests of students in mind.

Students will often want to read the book you are reading aloud to the class, or others by the same author. Alerting the library to this allows the librarian to either buy another copy if demand is high, or build up the range of books by particular authors.

Use existing evidence generated within your school

Reading data from the testing of students (AsTTle, STAR, PATs, whatever your school uses) gives you detailed information you can use to ensure there are plenty of books at the broad reading levels encompassed by your students. Giving the library team a summary of the data analysis, and discussing the implications with teachers (along with findings from student survey results) will help your school to build a great library collection.

Your library management system or Integrated Library System (ILS) will also have records of what each of your students has borrowed. Bearing in mind that 'books borrowed' does not necessarily mean 'books read', you will still be able to view reading trends over time for your students. Working with your school librarian, you will be able to generate your school's "top ten" fiction, or your class's "fifteen favourites." You can then find ways to use this system-generated data to hook in the interest of your students.

Free voluntary reading (FVR)

  • Free voluntary reading means reading because you want to: no book reports, no questions at the end of the chapter, and you don't have to finish the book if you don't like it.
  • Types of in-school FVR: sustained silent reading, self-selected reading, extensive reading.
  • Those who say they read more, read and write better.
  • Each time an unfamiliar word is read in context, a small increase in word knowledge typically occurs.
  • In-school FVR results in better reading comprehension, writing style, vocabulary, spelling, grammatical development... and those who read more, know more.
    Krashen (2004): Chapter 1.

Light reading

"Perhaps the most powerful way to encourage children to read is to expose them to light reading, a kind of reading that schools pretend doesn't exist, and a kind of reading that many children, for economic or ideological reasons, are deprived of.  I suspect that light reading is the way nearly all of us learned to read....There is [some] evidence that light reading can serve as a conduit to heavier reading: It provides both the motivation for more reading and the linguistic competence that makes harder reading possible." Krashen (2004): 92 & 116.

School assigned reading

In What Should Students Read? (PDF) Steven Wolk explores the reading that schools assign - and what they don't assign... It includes lots of up-to-date suggestions of reading material across the curriculum and age range to engage students with reading.

"When looking at what students are required to read in school in 2010, it might as well be 1960. We need visionary educators who see bold purposes for school and who understand that what students read in school has profound, lifelong effects, both good and bad."

See also: Boys and reading

Further reading

Atwell, N. (2007). The reading zone. Scholastic.

Johnson, N.J. & Giorgis, C.(2007).The wonder of it all: when literature and literacy intersect. Portsmouth NH: Heinemann.

Krashen, S.D. (2004). The power of reading: insights from the research. 2d ed. Westport CT: Libraries Unlimited & Portsmouth NH: Heinemann.

Layne, S. (2009). Igniting a passion for reading. Portland ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Miller, D. (2009). The book whisperer. Jossey-Bass & Wiley. See also her blog The Book Whisperer

Image by nooccar on Flickr