Reading empowers: the importance of reading for students

Peter Lucantoni

Research shows that students who are reading for pleasure and are reading widely, are more likely to achieve academic success at school and in examinations.

Today a reader, tomorrow a leader

Margaret Fuller, 19th century American journalist

Teaching students why reading empowers

The problem nowadays of course is that there seems to be less of a desire to read than in the past. Teachers often complain that ‘our students don’t read!’ and that ‘reading is not part of our culture’. What’s more, most teachers believe that trying to encourage students to read is an enormous, and often time-wasting, challenge. We know that reading is a source of knowledge and language, but it should also be a source of entertainment, and I think that here lies part of the answer to the problem of our students not reading.

We need to ask ourselves when we last gave our students the chance to read something just for the pleasure of reading it, just for the pure enjoyment of reading it. The fact that reading is so often linked to eight comprehension questions, a test, or another form of ‘checking that my students have understood’, it isn’t really so surprising that there is little enjoyment for students. Therefore, we need to show our students the benefits of reading for fun, by allowing them to have the time to do so during the day.

Witnessing students reading for fun

On a recent visit to the UK I was genuinely surprised by two things I saw. The first was in a bookshop. I went inside because it had started to rain and it seemed a good opportunity to have a coffee and browse some books in the dry. I searched around for somewhere to sit but all the comfortable, easy chairs were occupied – by teenagers with their heads buried in books.

The second surprise was a little later the same day as I sat on the top deck of a double-decker bus. The front three rows were occupied by youngsters, again with their heads buried in books, and all of them oblivious to anything and everyone else around them. In both cases, the readers were not reading school textbooks, but stories written for their specific age group. It was obvious to me that those young people were highly motivated by what they were reading, most likely because they themselves had chosen to read the text because it was of interest to them.

How to get students reading for pleasure

The dilemma we face is how to get our students to behave in this way in the classroom. First and foremost, we need to remove their fear of always being formally questioned during or after reading. Secondly, students have to be given opportunities to read simply for the pleasure of reading, and part of this approach is to give students a choice in what they read.

Teachers may argue that there isn’t enough time to allow this to happen, but I believe that even five minutes of reading for pleasure every day or every lesson will soon increase students’ motivation to want to read through their own choice. Of course, in reality, students cannot choose what to read in a coursebook unit, and it may often be the case that due to lack of resources or funds a school may not be able to supply students with choices in terms of what they read. But a start has to be made somewhere.

Remember, reading empowers! If parents are not encouraging their children to read independently, then this encouragement has to take place in the classroom.

Oscar Wilde said: “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”

The importance of reading for students is no secret. Try and implement these strategies in the classroom and you could find some amazing results. For more information, view our English resources online.

Peter Lucantoni has had a long career in English language teaching and teacher training in Europe, the Middle East, and, since 1993, in Cyprus. He is the author and co-author of several popular coursebooks for students, including Cambridge IGCSE English as a Second Language.