Children who read for pleasure do better in school. It’s a fact. According to researchers at Malaga University in Spain and the University College London, recreational reading almost always improves a child’s academic performance. Schools should not only teach students HOW to read but create an environment that promotes a love for recreational reading as well.

The Western International School of Shanghai (WISS) knows how important it is to instill a love for reading and literacy from a young age. “Literature is the foundation for personal growth. We learn to be human through literature. We can dissect books and learn so much about the world at large and how humanity works. When schools provide access to books, they are giving their students a springboard to be global citizens, and understand how to be good people,” said Jenelle Kirchoff, Head Librarian at the Western International School of Shanghai.

This leading international school in Shanghai, China has implemented many programs, events, policies, and activities that promote literacy for all students year-round, from the school’s youngest learners in IBPYP all the way up to the school’s eldest IBDP students. If your school is hoping to promote a love for reading, the school must create a school culture that supports a love of reading through attention to facilities, policies, and opportunities.

Make Reading Fun

Think outside the box, and find creative ways to get students passionate about reading. Fun events, activities, and projects that support reading and get students excited about books are crucial. One of the favorite events at WISS for students, and staff alike, is the annual book parade. Students and staff dress as literary characters from their most loved books.

Other events and activities that the school organizes are:

  • Author visits, where famous authors come and speak passionately about their stories, helping students feel even more connected to the books.
  • Celebrating students as authors by having them write and share their stories during literacy month and year-round.
  • Annual literacy month favorite events such as Hats Off to Reading, a bookmark decorating competition, and a Snuggle Up and Read PJ day!
  • Hosting book fairs where students can shop for books at school.

A Well-Stocked, Diverse Library

A well-stocked library is crucial so that students can have their book of choice readily available at school.

In addition to a large collection of digital subscriptions, WISS currently has 69,353 books in the library in a variety of languages: English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, German, Italian, Hebrew, French, Polish, and Thai. By proving books in their mother tongue, or native language, students can connect with their own culture and roots and ensure they are learning their language.

Reading in a target language helps students become more comfortable and confident in the language by exposing readers to new grammar and vocabulary. When schools provide books in many languages, it gives students opportunities to expand their language development.

Make Books Accessible

Easy access to a variety of books is one of the most fundamental things a school can do to promote reading. Students at WISS can check out as many books as they want, even if they have overdue books. There are no limits put in place that restrict a students’ reading.

“The books do no good sitting on the shelves. Putting restrictions on reading has long-term consequences. Punishing students for overdue books is a mistake because it restricts students’ access to reading,” says Kirchoff.

Well-resourced classroom libraries mean students are surrounded by books and opportunities to read.

Recreational Reading, Not Just Curricular Reading

Build free time throughout the school day when students can read, whether it be when students finish their work, during recess, or during meal times. There is always a great time to Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R). Literacy cannot just be curricular related. Make books an option for leisure time. Once you create a school culture where reading is only curricular, many students lose interest and passion for reading.

“Books should bring joy, and reading is not a punishment. One of the amazing things at our school is that walking around during recess, you will see students reading together and discussing their books together. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Having options of multiple genres to choose from is helpful as well. Not every student will be interested in reading classic literature. Offer up genres such as graphic novels, poetry, memoirs, picture books, short stories, and more to ensure there is something for everyone.

“Let students read what they are passionate about. Many students are interested in graphic novels. They are engaged and interested in the characters and building a love for reading. This year we have added 4x more graphic novels than in past years because students want to read them. That love for reading grows and develops into students wanting to read new things. Recreational reading, when we allow students to choose to read anything they want, grows over time into a love for reading.” Kirchoff shares.

Celebrate Literacy Year-Round

Instead of solely honoring Literacy Day, the school has implemented an entire month of literacy-based activities. Literacy Month is celebrated with a book fair, author visits, fun out-of-uniform days, competitions, and activities that promote a love for reading. By holding exciting events throughout the month, and more throughout the year, the seeds of loving reading are planted.

A year-round, consistent, and sustained focus on literacy is crucial. There are so many fun, inspiring, and engaging literary events and celebrations that can be celebrated school-wide. Poetry Month, National Library Lovers Month, International Thesaurus Day, D.E.A.R (Drop Everything and Read Month) are just a few. Looking for more ideas? check out this awesome list full of book-related celebrations.

Schools that create a reading culture, where reading is encouraged, appreciated, and enjoyed, also create a lifelong love of reading in their students!