Motivating Young People to Read and Write for Pleasure: Approaches and Practice

11 June, 2024
In the light of ever-decreasing levels of engagement with reading and writing amongst children and young people, an understanding of the approaches that nurture reading and writing for pleasure has never been more pressing. Recently published research from The Open University offers some important insights.

In the second of two blogs, Professor Teresa Cremin and Dr Helen Hendry, co-authors of the ‘Reading and Writing for Pleasure: A Framework for Practice’ report, with Professor Liz Chamberlain and Samantha Hulston, explore the practical considerations and pedagogical approaches that promote volitional reading and writing. 

Research informed approaches

The aim of the Reading and Writing for Pleasure Framework is to provide practitioners with a guide to effective, research-informed approaches that promote reading and writing for pleasure. The Framework is the result of a three-year research project that included a systematic review of the existing research literature alongside the analysis of data gathered from six London-based literacy programmes.

Figure 1: Research insights regarding the effective development of reading and writing for pleasure.

The research project identified five interrelated strands that combine to create effective ways of working.  In our earlier blog we explored the first of these: the shared values that underpin a culture of reading and writing for pleasure. These are a commitment to helping young people develop positive reader and writer identities and to promoting their sense of self-efficacy. In this second blog we will explore the way the remaining four strands work together to support these shared values.

  • Texts and Time
  • Individually Oriented Approaches
  • Socially Oriented Approaches
  • Responsive Adult Involvement

 Access to texts

Both the research literature and the data from the literacy programmes involved in the Literacy Special Initiative – Reading and Writing for Pleasure 2020-2023 research project show that access to a wide range of quality texts plays a key role in promoting reading and writing for pleasure. Young people need access to texts that will engage them, that can stimulate discussion and inspire their own creativity if they are to become readers and writers.  In areas of high deprivation, where access to texts at home or in the local community may be limited, it is even more important that schools can provide their pupils with a broad selection of high-quality, diverse texts that reflect their interests.

Time to ‘Just’ Read and Write

As well as providing access to quality texts, it is also important to dedicate time to promoting reading and writing for pleasure. The DfE’s Reading Framework published last year recognised the importance of setting aside time specifically for reading for pleasure, but research suggests that it is equally important for nurturing writing for pleasure.

Time that is dedicated to promoting young people’s will to read and write has a very different feel and structure from normal curriculum time. It is much more informal and collaborative, providing opportunities for vibrant social interactions around reading and writing alongside periods of quiet, individual engagement.

If we are to successfully create an environment that truly nurtures reading and writing for pleasure, we need to understand how to create and maintain a rich balance between these individually and socially oriented approaches.

Individually Oriented Approaches: promoting autonomy and developing self-efficacy

The individually oriented interactions underline the importance of promoting learner choice and helping them to develop a high sense of self-efficacy. Our data shows that when young people have the freedom to choose, they are more motivated to read and write. As practitioners, we may feel that we already give children plenty of opportunities to choose within our English lessons. However, this goes beyond a ‘pretend’ choice between writing a non-fiction report on dinosaurs or invertebrates. This is about offering young people the space to choose how and what they write about and supporting them to write for their own personal purposes.

By honouring their individual choices, reinforcing the value of what they have to say and helping them to express themselves through personalised, supportive feedback, we help young people to see themselves as effective readers and writers and promote that all-important sense of self-efficacy.

Our ability to support young people in this way, however, depends on us first getting to know them – as readers and writers, as learners, as humans in the world. The research literature repeatedly highlights the enormous benefits of making the time to understand our pupils’ attitudes to reading and writing, their experiences outside the classroom and their wider interests.

Socially Oriented Approaches: building relationships around reading and writing

Investing in our pupils by getting to know them not only allows us to support them more effectively as individuals, it also creates a socially interactive space where we can start to develop relationships around reading and writing. Studies indicate, and the literacy programmes involved in the research project clearly demonstrate, that these social interactions between teacher and pupil, and also between the pupils themselves, play a key role in helping young people develop positive reader and writer identities.

The socially oriented approaches are all about recognising and harnessing the power of social motivation. As we build in more opportunities for informal discussions and collaboration around texts, we enable the development of communities that are connected through reading and writing. That doesn’t mean that every member of the community now loves reading and writing, but there is an acceptance that we are all readers and writers, thinkers, meaning makers and communicators. Whether they operate in schools and libraries or online, these communities provide access to a collective experience that encourages young people to engage together.

Our Role as Adults: modelling authentic reading and writing practices

Numerous studies across different countries highlight the importance of positive adult role models when we are developing reader and writer communities. But what does it mean to be an adult role model? It is not enough to be relentlessly enthusiastic about reading or writing. Nor is it about modelling what good reading or writing looks like. Being an effective adult role model is about modelling authentic reading and writing practices. This means reflecting on and sharing our own reader/writer identities – what we enjoy and where we perhaps struggle; how and where we read/write and why. When teachers position themselves as fellow readers and writers, it creates a sense of connection and togetherness that has a powerful impact on young people’s motivation and engagement.

Our Role as Adults: understanding, reflecting, adapting

Being an effective role model is important but our role as a facilitating adult goes far beyond that. It is about listening, engaging and adapting our practice based on our understanding of the children that we are working with. Time and again the research literature highlights the powerful impact of responsive adult involvement. It is not a question of introducing ‘shared writing’ across all year groups, for instance, or delivering a set of formulaic activities in the hope that they work for all. Rather we need to be sensitive to the needs, interests and inclinations or our young readers and writers, and willing to adapt our plans accordingly.

In a world of endless ‘schemes’ and where the role of AI in education is increasingly discussed, it is reassuring and empowering to know that our willingness to engage with the young people that are sitting in front of us and our ability to respond and adapt to their changing needs are our most powerful tools. When it comes to reading and writing for pleasure, YOU make the difference.

 Further  Resources

  • Interested in learning more about the latest research into reading and writing for pleasure? Join us at our Reading and Writing for Pleasure Conference on Saturday 15th June at the Open University, Milton Keynes for a day of engaging talks and evidence-based workshops led by expert practitioners. Only £45!

  • You can read the full Reading and Writing for Pleasure: A Framework for Practice report here.