By Richard Vardy, Head of English
Students who read the whole text will be in a much stronger position to develop an engaged and detailed personal response – an important indicator of a successful GCSE English Literature essay.
So how can we encourage our students to pick up and read the whole text in their own time, rather than rely on study guides or isolated passages and quotations?
Suggestions for getting students into the all-important habit of reading regularly
- Set up a reading challenge. When a student reads a book, you tick it off on a wall chart. Friendly competition might motivate as well – within a class or even between classes. Liaise with libraries and provide a list of suggested books but avoid being too prescriptive.
- Share and discuss what you are reading. You could explain why you chose that particular book. You could even model your own ‘personal response’. Say whether you would recommend the book and who you would recommend it to. Encourage colleagues in other departments to share their reading as well.
- Invite authors to talk about reading and writing.
- Embrace technology. Remind students of audio books and e-readers. Discuss the many times and places in a typical week in which they could read, or listen to, a book.
- Encourage the school to adopt a whole-school reading initiative, such as Drop Everything And Read (DEAR).
Practical tips to encourage your students to read the set text in their own time
- Reflective reading logs enable you to check students have read the set text. The log should encourage them to respond personally rather than focussing on technical details of the writer’s craft. Include general questions which elicit their own response, such as: What do you think might happen next? Which parts of the chapter did you enjoy or not enjoy? Do you think Macbeth is right to behave this way?
- The completed reading log could then become a useful classroom resource. It can help structure discussions as students share their personal responses to characters and events.
- Set up a class Mini Book Club by having small groups regularly discuss their reading reflections.
- Develop students’ confidence. Many students resist reading because they lack confidence with the book’s language and references. Gloss key words in advance. Frame the text with important contexts and draw attention to the urgent questions the text is asking (such as ‘How should we respond to poverty?’ for A Christmas Carol).
- Tolerate uncertainty. Students can become quickly disheartened if they feel they haven’t understood everything straight away. Explain that all readers, including English teachers, should expect gaps and uncertainties. Create a space for students to ask their own questions about the text.
- Pace the reading. Set a small number of pages to read per week – this helps the less confident to break the text down into manageable amounts. Those who read ahead should be directed towards other texts by the same author or books which explore similar themes.
- Low stakes quizzes. A simple way of checking the students have completed the required reading. Questions should focus largely on details of plot.
- In assessed work, acknowledge and reward fresh and interesting textual details (rather than the more ‘familiar’ quotations and passages). Students should confidently construct their essays around their personal responses to the whole text.
Richard Vardy is a Head of English and freelance writer with 13 years' experience of teaching English Language and Literature.