Developing reading for pleasure

Suffolk New College

This project sought to address the negative feelings that some of our students have about reading. We wanted to nurture a love of reading and ‘reading for pleasure’ throughout our college by introducing a student book club. We found that the book club inspired a love of reading as well as improving students’ confidence and establishing new friendships.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Many studies cite big reductions in the amount of time that young people spend reading, and ‘daily reading levels have fallen for young people aged 16 to 18’ (National Literacy Trust, 2020). At Suffolk New College we can see that most of our students are still not reading for pleasure, which results in them having a limited vocabulary that inevitably holds them back from achieving higher grades in English. There is a growing body of evidence that illustrates the importance of reading for pleasure for both educational purposes as well as personal development (Clark and Rumbold, 2006).

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme and took place within our FE college. Ten students joined the book club during the course of the project. They came from different vocational areas and had varying levels of English. Two were studying Functional Skills, seven were resitting GCSE English and one had completed GCSE English in November.
For the purpose of this project the definition of ‘reading for pleasure’ has been defined by the National Literacy Trust as:

Reading that we do of our own free will, anticipating the satisfaction that we will get from the act of reading. It also refers to reading that having begun at someone else’s request we continue because we are interested in it.
– Clark and Rumbold, National Literacy Trust, 2006

When this report discusses a ‘reading culture’ it is an ‘environment where reading is championed, valued, respected, and encouraged’ (Hawthorne, 2001).

Approachphoto of a book

We promoted the book club to all students at the college from the start of the new academic year. We made a PowerPoint presentation and sent it to the vocational teachers at the college, who then shared this with students as part of the college induction week. The PowerPoint included a contact email address and students were asked to send an email if they were interested in joining. We ensured that it was advertised to all students in induction week, regardless of their level of English. We wanted to nurture that love of reading they may already have had to promote a shift to a whole college reading culture.

Our first meeting was in the college library. We used A3 paper and post-it notes to gather information about the students’ reading habits and preferences and why they wanted to join the book club (see Appendix 2b). We also asked them where they would like to meet and how they would like to keep in touch between meetings.

At the students’ request, we set up a Google chat and Google classroom for everyone in the book club to keep in touch between meetings. We also used the poll function within Google chat to ask students’ views about book choices and meeting times (see appendices 2c and d).

We met once a month during the college lunch hour in a free classroom (as the students wanted somewhere quieter than the library). The meetings provided a friendly, inclusive space (complete with biscuits!) where students could discuss specific questions relating to the book, and then choose the next one to read. This provided an opportunity for students to voice their opinions in relation to the issues and topics that feature in the books. We used dialogic teaching to address social injustice and to empower our students (see Appendix 2f).
Questions that were very open and encouraged discussion worked well; they often focused on the characters’ morals or how the students would react if they were placed in similar situations. Sometimes the questions would be more challenging for example: “How does the need to endlessly move and consume create inequality?” (based on the Mortal Engines novel).

Before the first meeting, we had chosen four books that we knew were accessible, explored open themes and were available on Kindle and as PDF and audiobook versions to ensure accessibility. The project leader chose the first book (Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo) as students were quite shy at the start. We purchased enough copies of the books to ensure that everyone had their own.

We continually took on board students’ views on the running of the club and the literature we would read. Their ideas were captured on Google chat as well as being recorded in the monthly meetings. This allowed all participants to feel involved throughout the project.
Students were encouraged to tell their friends about the book club and, as a result, the number of students attending increased from five to ten as the word spread.
Between October and March, the students in the book club had read four different books (see Appendix 2e).

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Promoted from the start of year, the opportunity to attend a book club provided a more accessible approach to the teaching of reading, which can often be seen as an intimidating aspect of English. A dialogic teaching structure was needed, to ensure that the conversation was focused on the books we read. Questions taken from sites (see Appendix 2f), allowed teachers to create a more question and answer- based discussion with the students. Once the students had seen this modelled, teachers were able to ask one student each month to lead the questions themselves. This had a positive impact as this ensured that the meetings were less like a teacher-led lesson and more like a relaxed conversation between like-minded peers.

The teachers’ promotion of the book club gave students access to good quality, contemporary books. Some of the students worked collaboratively after having read the book and were able to offer suggestions to their teacher and fellow students on the text in question. Students offered suggestions about what books to read next, these were based on books they had heard of or were keen to read themselves.

While we envisaged that the students would complete more peer learning outside of the classroom as a result of the book club, this was not easily assessed and social interactions were the main interactions that continued, with students sharing what they were reading outside of the book club (see Appendix 2h).

We wanted the sharing of best practice to extend to other partner institutions to help promote reading for all students. The project lead has already liaised with one other college about running their own book club. We discussed with them what had worked well and, in return, they gave us some ideas on how we could improve this group even further and link it more to the curriculum in the future.

Attendance was monitored and feedback from the students gathered. Over the course of the action research project, there was a steady increase in attendance to 10 participants in total. To understand why and what it was that they enjoyed about the book club we asked students in Google Chat ‘Are you enjoying book club and if so, why?’ Here are a couple of the students’ responses:

Yes, I am enjoying it because it is a chance to make friends and talk about something I am interested in, I like reading. The book discussions are also fun, especially discussing the characters and the storylines. Also a chance to find new authors and books I may like.

– Book Club Student

I’m enjoying book club because we have some good discussions about the books we read and how well the characters in the books are presented.

– Book Club Student

Organisational Development

Our project was inclusive because we made sure the book club was available to all students at the college and we promoted it widely. There was also a strong focus on student voice throughout, as we actively sought their views at every stage, from when and how to meet to which books to read.

The project encouraged collaboration between the English department and staff from other areas of the college as the English teachers spoke to vocational teachers to ask them to promote the book club in their lessons.

The project promoted and celebrated different voices, perspectives and insights through the books we read and the discussions that followed at our weekly meetings. One student said that these meetings were:

A great place to talk about [how] I kind of picture the events in the book because of [my] autism, I picture it in my head like a movie, only quite blurry and fuzzy and a lot of the time I can only really imagine silhouettes of characters and images rather than actual detailed characters and objects. That said, if a character is actually described really well and sounds similar to a character from another story of media that I like, like an anime character, video game character, etc. then I tend to picture the described character as the character it reminds me of throughout the whole book. It was nice to hear that I’m not the only person who imagines things like this when we read.

Learning from this project

One aspect of the project that worked well was the use of Google Chat, which enabled us to monitor attendance, gauge how far along in the book they were and allowed all participants a chance to voice their opinions on the book. As time went on, we noticed that students gained confidence and engaged in discussions with less prompting than they did at the start. After a few months, some were confident enough to lead the questioning themselves.

We decided to work collaboratively with the students to select books, which worked well as it ensured the books covered a range of different genres. However, it did mean that the book lengths varied and some were simply too long for the students to read in a month.
If we were to begin this project again, it would be interesting to see if this book club had an effect on the students’ ability to analyse language on paper, as well as verbally. Ideally, we could have created an assessment at the beginning of the project and then at the end to compare results.

The project leader noticed that, as the book club went on and better relationships were formed, students were more willing to express individual opinions, even when those differed from the opinions of others in the group. This demonstrates the importance of getting relationships right within a classroom setting, to allow students to build their confidence in responding to questions honestly.

Initially, we had planned to work collaboratively with the library services at the college to carry out the promotion of the reading for pleasure book club and linking these to aspects of the classroom teaching. We hoped to work together with the County Council Local Libraries to widen participation, access to books and other community services. Unfortunately, this was not viable; instead, we had to order books in and the participants found our library to be too crowded for our purposes. The County Council Library did not have enough copies ready and so we decided to pay for books. This didn’t always work well as some months we waited a while for the books to arrive. Ideally, we would like to secure some funding from the college every year for this going forward. However, preferably, we would love to continue to work with the County Council with the eventual aim of being able to secure books from the County Library.

One of the main issues that we faced was the organising of the club around the students’ timetables. Students from different courses around the college have different timetables and some weren’t always able to attend. Ideally, in the future, we would love the college to be able to run three or four different book club groups in order to accommodate the timetable needs of as many different students as possible. In the future, it would be more beneficial to ensure we have one base room for the monthly meetings as this project has seen us use empty classrooms, which has not been ideal. Ideally, we would like to secure one classroom that can be used for the college book club going forward. We would love to be able to have one consistent classroom that could be used to host the meetings of different book clubs on different days.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners.

    Our project provided us with the opportunity to offer a range of different text types to suit the students’ needs. We ensured that all books were available as audiobooks or PDFs if they had Irlens syndrome and needed a colour that suited their needs.

  • 3. Inspire, motivate and raise aspirations of learners through your enthusiasm and knowledge

    Participants reported that they were more inclined to read outside of the classroom because of this group. The dialogic questioning used in the meetings inspired and motivated students to discuss themes, characters and vocabulary.

  • + Encourage pupils to take a responsible and conscientious attitude to their own work and study.

    Participants were encouraged to keep track of the reading they were doing in the form of a tracker and to write reviews of the books they had finished. Making notes in their books too.


Appendix 2: Learner Case StudiesAppendix

2a: Student responses to ‘Are you enjoying book club and why?’

Appendix 2b:Students’ responses to ‘Why did you want to join book club’?

Appendix 2c: Students’ responses to ‘what genres would you like to read/do you enjoy reading currently?’

Appendix 2d: An example of how Polly Bot was created and used in Google Chat to involve students.

Appendix 2e: A photo of some of the books different books the students read between October and March.

Appendix 2F: Questions used to guide discussion on Mortal Engines

Appendix 2g. An example of a student using Google Chat to refer a friend to the club

Appendix 2h. An example of a student using Google Chat


Clark, C., and Teravainen-Goff, A. (2020). ‘Children and young people’s reading in 2019. Findings from our annual literacy survey.’ National Literacy Trust: London.
Clark, C., and Rumbold, K. (2006). ‘Reading for pleasure: a research overview’. National Literacy Trust: London.

Hawthorne, H. (2021). High Speed Training. ‘How to promote a reading culture in schools’. Available at: [accessed 30.3.22].

Scholastic (2018) Mortal Engines. Available at: [Accessed 13.10.21]

University of Cambridge (2022). What is Dialogic Teaching? Available at:,%2C%20not%20just%20teacher%2Dpresentation. [accessed 13.5.22].