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Blog post Part of special issue: To read, or not to read?

Children’s perspectives and experiences of reading for pleasure practices in the UK

Emily Oxley, Research Associate at National Institute of Teaching

Primary school curricula across the UK highlight the importance of reading for pleasure, for example: ‘The National Curriculum for England aims to ensure that all pupils: develop the habit of reading widely and often, both for pleasure and information’ (DfE, 2013, p. 13). While many classroom reading for pleasure practices exist, it is unclear what children actually think of these activities; do they encourage reading engagement?

With this question in mind, the Love to Read team conducted interviews with 59 children (age 8–11) across four schools (two in Scotland, two in England), selecting children with diverse reading attitudes, interests and experiences. In these interviews, children were asked about reading for pleasure practices in their classrooms, and whether, in their opinion, these practices supported their reading engagement.

Drop Everything and Read (that is, independent, silent reading) was most frequently mentioned by children and was often built into daily classroom routines: ‘Our teacher, she does [reading for pleasure] at the start, cos not many people like going to school so at the start of the day we have time to read which a lot of people do like.’ While it was largely viewed as a positive time where children could relax, it was essential children were reading a book they enjoyed, while some children did not enjoy the lack of control associated with it: ‘The thing I don’t like about that is I don’t know when the teacher is going to say stop so I don’t know whether to read another page or not.’ While there is good research evidence that independent reading outside of school is important (Torppa et al., 2019), questions remain about its value in school contexts, although notably this research only focuses on the benefits of independent reading for reading attainment outcomes (National Reading Panel, 2000).

Whole-class reading, where the class comes together to share a book aloud, was also mentioned frequently. Some children reflected that whole-class reading was relaxing: ‘someone reads it and you can sit back, draw and just relax and listen to the book’, with others discovering new genres, authors, or challenging prior beliefs about books: ‘they’re not that boring after all!’ This suggests that whole-class reading can inspire children to read, if the class is engaged with the selected book. However, reading for pleasure in school relies upon a good selection of high-quality books which meet children’s interests, experiences and abilities (McGeown & Wilkinson, 2021). Children should therefore be given the opportunity to participate in new book purchases and decisions about whole-class read-alouds.

Involving children with book selection could also be a way of introducing book-talk into the classroom (Cremin et al., 2014). In our interviews, children discussed giving book recommendations, which were viewed as useful in discovering new authors, genres and inspiring more reading: ‘Yeah like I’m reading a book right now from one of the recommends, and I’m really enjoying it and it’s really funny and it’s making me feel like I want to read more.’ Indeed, it is essential that reading for pleasure practices promote and support children’s intrinsic (that is, internal desire to read) rather than extrinsic (that is, reading to achieve a separable outcome) motivation (Schiefele et al., 2012). For example, reading competitions were mentioned by some, but not positively: ‘Because like it’s a competition and everyone wants to read more books and I don’t think people enjoy reading books when they’re doing rushed reading.’

‘Reading for pleasure practices should respond to feedback from children and should be inclusive, recognising diversity in children’s reading interests and abilities.’

From this project, we have learned that listening to children’s perspectives and experiences of reading for pleasure practices gives us new insights into ways to increase their reading engagement. Practices should respond to feedback from children and should be inclusive, recognising diversity in children’s reading interests and abilities. We would encourage all teachers and school staff involved in supporting reading for pleasure to reflect on the practices they use, discuss different approaches with colleagues, and invite feedback from those at the heart of your teaching practice: children.


Cremin, T., Mottram, M., Collins, F., Powell, S., & Safford, K. (2014). Building communities of engaged readers: Reading for pleasure. Routledge.

Department for Education [DfE]. (2013). The national curriculum in England: Key stages 1 and 2 framework document.

McGeown, S., & Wilkinson, K. (2021). Inspiring and sustaining reading for pleasure in children and young people: A guide for teachers and school leaders. United Kingdom Literacy Association.

National Reading Panel (US). (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. 

Schiefele, U., Schaffner, E., Möller, J., & Wigfield, A. (2012). Dimensions of reading motivation and their relation to reading behavior and competence. Reading Research Quarterly, 47(4), 427–463.

Torppa, M., Niemi, P., Vasalampi, K., Lerkkanen, M. K., Tolvanen, A., & Poikkeus, A. (2019). Leisure reading (but not any kind) and reading comprehension support each other: A longitudinal study across grades 1 and 9. Child Development, 91(3), 876–900. 


Love to Read Team: Sarah McGeown (Principal Investigator), Emily Oxley (Postdoctoral Researcher), Jessie Ricketts (Co-Investigator), Laura Shapiro (Co-Investigator), Christina Clark (National Literacy Trust), Megan Dixon, Helen Fairlie (Education Scotland), Katrina Lucas and Katherine Wilkinson (Scottish Book Trust). Co-design team: Katie Jukes, Carol Ann Neil, Claire Sleath, Chereen Rain, Emily Weston, Chris Youles.

Funder: The Nuffield Foundation

Further information: