How to Increase Reading for Pleasure

The National Literary Trust defines reading for pleasure as “reading that we do of our own free will, anticipating the satisfaction that we will get from the act of reading.” Studies show that pleasure reading brings the highest increase in social mobility and cognitive understanding than any other influence.  So then, why don’t students read books on things that interest them more often?

Certainly social media and technology factors into the reduced reading of physical books, but is that the real hindrance?  According to a 2007 study by the National Endowment of the Arts, “the percentage of 17-year-olds who read nothing at all for pleasure has doubled over a 20-year period.” This is even before everyone owned cell phones.

A central reason why students don’t read for pleasure could be that it is a skill that no one has thought to teach or practice. It must be part of everyday life and not just another classroom expectation. What are some of the advantages?


Reading for pleasure, and this includes both fiction and non-fiction, brings about:

  • Increased writing proficiency and a broader vocabulary.
  • Expanded general knowledge.
  • Improved self-confidence and a positive outlook and a clearer understanding of human emotions and human nature.
  • Higher scores on standardized tests.

In fact, people who regularly read for pleasure have a greater chance to rise above their socio-economic status than those who don’t.

As teachers, we know that there is a limited time in the instructional day to teach all of the concepts required, and the end of year tests are never far from our minds. But, even one small change such as reading for 15 minutes with your students could be a move in the right direction.

Jeffrey Wilhelm, writing for the National Council of Teachers of English, asserts that there are five types of pleasure that readers get from immersing themselves in a book:

  1. Play pleasure—when the reader derives joy just from reading a great story.
  2. Intellectual pleasure—where the reader tries to figure out what things mean.
  3. Social pleasure—where the reader takes on the persona of a character(s).
  4. Work pleasure—when a reader learns something that can be applied to life.
  5. Inner work pleasure—when a reader rehearses the kind of person he/she wants to be.

So, how can teachers implement more reading for interest in the classroom? One of the first ways to encourage reading is to share what you as a teacher are reading. This can be a list you place on the board, leaving space for students to add what they are reading to share their interests with peers. A second way (and also a way to reduce the dead time before class changes) is to read an interesting book aloud each day.  Be sure to choose a truly interesting story, even if it is not one that relates to the subject you teach. It could be a biography, autobiography, true-life nonfiction, fiction, whatever you think will grab the students attention and teach them to enjoy reading. Once you have their interest, consider stopping reading in the middle of the book and telling them that to find out how it ends, they must read it for themselves.

Once you get creative with engaging your students in pleasure reading, the interest in reading for themselves just might follow.

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