The thing about books…Let’s TALK about books.


“I will say a prayer, just while you are sitting there
I will wrap my hands around you
I know it will be fine
We’ve got a fantasy affair
We didn’t get wet, we didn’t dare
Our aspirations, are wrapped up in books
Our inclinations are hidden in looks”

Wrapped up in books Belle and Sebastian

In primary school books are the most important tools we have at our disposal . What worries me is we seem to have lost the time to explore them…The time to talk about them…the time to make links and connections to our knowledge…the time to draw in the pieces and make our own sense of them.

Question… How much time do you give to children talking about books?

Sadly I see loads of comprehension activities online. Lots of comprehension questions that create one answer. What I rarely see however is people talking  about children talking about books in their classroom.

There is currently an ongoing debate about whole class reading and guided reading…not even going there as actually they do different things and great guided reading is still probably the most powerful tool we have at moving children’s reading forward (please don’t confuse the flippin’ carousel with guided reading)

What I think is being lost however are the  climates in our classroom’s where we can talk about books. The Reading for Pleasure agenda seems to have been sidelined in the need to improve test scores. Reading in our classrooms seems to be driven more by how children answer a question rather than whether they enjoy reading.

Question…Do you let children explore their understanding about books?


It is however there in black and white as part of the National Curriculum.

“The national curriculum for English aims to ensure that all pupils: read easily, fluently and with good understanding. develop the habit of reading widely and often, for both pleasure and information. … use discussion in order to learn; they should be able to elaborate and explain clearly their understanding and ideas.”

National curriculum 2014

Like many schools, we identified that under achievement in reading impacts on children’s progress across the curriculum. Whether due to reluctance or an inability to read, it remains a barrier to their learning. We had to stop and ask ourselves some key questions and ask ourselves some hard truths.

What is our goal?
Do we care only about reading test scores, or do we want our students to have a positive attitude toward reading and choose to read on their own?

(Tip personally I think if you get the second right then you get the first)

Ask a secondary colleagues about which kind of reader they would want transitioning to them, pretty sure they’ll tell you it’s a child who is curious about books and enjoys reading.


There are some problem inherent in this and the answer isn’t as simple as your heart would suggest. There are some pupils who may never truly be switched on by reading. Teachers need to KNOW about books. If teachers don’t know about books then how can we hope for them to be able to drive those more open conversations about books.

This won’t just happen by chance. If you want teachers to be knowledgeable about books you have to give that the time it needs to happen. Teachers need to talk books and share books as much as the children do. Having an advocate that drives this is key.

Top Tips in creating a Reading for Pleasure and Purpose (thanks Alex) climate

  1. Read to your class everyday (Make it a valuable time not a throwaway time, make it special.)
  2. Make books an integral part of your curriculum. (Encourage exploration)
  3. Guide but don’t limit  (Don’t be snobby, doors can be gateways they often offer way more than we think they do)
  4. Teacher Readers (Knowledgeable staff being a role-model for pupils, make time for this to become a reality)
  5. Escapism (Give children  time to just immerse themselves in a book)
  6. Time for talk (Create opportunities to talk about books, not ask questions but genuinely talk about books)
  7. Books ahoy! (Make your school swim with books)
  8. All aboard (Does your SLT make it important) Primary reading – ten questions (excellent document for SLT from the North Yorkshire Literacy Team)
  9. Involve parents. (Getting parents onboard is ultimately the key)
  10. Think about knowledge that will help children dig into a book more effectively  (knowing stuff around the book they’re reading helps them explore better)


I’ve also included a link to the CLPE reading scale, it’s a fantastic document for helping you think about the needs of individual readers and well worth a look if you haven’t seen it.


Finally from Michael Rosen courtesy of @jdurran

a) We should make time for asking questions for which we don’t have an answer.
b) If ever asking questions for which we do have an answer, we must ask ourselves why are we asking?!

Now stop reading this and go and read…your choice.

9 thoughts on “The thing about books…Let’s TALK about books.

  1. Thank you for this article. I recently finished an MA in digital literacy and was really interested to read guidance from the government about the lack of mandate for schools to have a library and ,in my opinion more importantly, anyone qualified as a librarian. How do you think this could impact primary to secondary transition when many schools now lack a library and/or training for staff on how to advise students, as you allude to? I am very interested in getting more involved in this area in my school having been to a dire school myself but my love of reading saved me in many ways!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lots of great advice here but one glaring omission – libraries and librarians. For teachers lucky enough to have a local Schoos’ Library Service – and even after the horrendous slash and burn of council services nationally there are still many SLSs operating fatastic services – use them.
    Use them for books in the classroom and school library, use them for the enthusiasm and knowledge of the librarians who work in SLS, Use them to discover fantastic books to share and read aloud, the new titles, brilliant new authors,old favourites,and books that shouldn’t be missed.

    If there is no SLS locally teachers need to get to know their local public library staff, Not to be put off if they don’t initially get the help they need ( I wouldn’t have been saying that last bit pre 2010 – library cuts since then have been horrendous) but to ask to be put in touch with the services’ Children’s Librarian if there is one. Ask for help with books to use with their class if they need it. And of course encourage children and parents to use their local library.

    Teachers are short on time but if they want to talk about books librarians are always happy to talk about books and can save them time. Good SLS and Childrens’s librarians READ the books they buy for stock, or read the reviews at the very least. They know their stuff – they don’t have the hard job teachers have of teaching the mechanics of reading – their job is to ensure children have access to books and to show children the joy of reading. For librarians, teachers and parents are the essential middle men and women in helping them create readers for life.

    I grew up as one of a family of 10 children with few books in the house and certainly no spare money to buy them. In Year 4 ( Junior 2 in those days) Mrs Ross who taught us then must have read the class a dozen books aloud in that one year. I can still list most of them over 40 years later. And lots of poetry. She made me into a reader – I know that for a certainty. That teacher changed my life and the life of dozens of other children in that class. Then I read my way through all those free books in the local library – Matilda had nothing on me!

    I believe reading a great book aloud with enthusiasm and joy is the single greatest thing a teacher can do for any primary school class. Want a book for next half term for Year 4 or 5 or 6? The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell, it’s brilliant.
    I wouldn’t have been a Librarian for the last 35 years if it hadn’t been for a teacher reading aloud to her class. So please, don’t forget the Librarians!


    • Sorry for the omission. Challenge is affording a librarian. Many smaller schools find this financially impossible. Reading Wizard of Once with my youngest, it’s great isn’t it.


  3. Pingback: Promoting reading | Driffield School and Sixth Form Teaching and Learning Blog

  4. Great article and yes, it is about children talking about books; it’s also about teachers having the time and inclination to find out about and develop their own knowledge of children’s books – not always easy, but schools need to make that a priority for their staff so that is is not just an individual activity but a collective one.


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