Elgin Academy Library: Top Tips for Inspiring Pupils to Read

Nurturing the school’s reading culture gives me the opportunity to raise the profile of books and reading in school, while at the same time sharing my passion for high-interest titles, favourite authors and the joy of books.

The excitement on a pupil’s face when they come into the library is a reminder of why school libraries and reading are so important

When I’m planning activities and initiatives to develop enthusiasm for reading, I’m guided by the following:

  • We want our pupils to read more and enjoy reading. We know that reading builds vocabulary, fluency, and background knowledge
  • In the quest to build capable readers, promoting independent, self-selected reading remains key. Creating keen, lifelong readers doesn’t just happen. It takes a school-wide culture to help reach that goal.
  • Motivation and choice play key roles in reading
  • Strong and capable readers are those who read widely and diversely

Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular projects run at Elgin Academy’s library:

S1-2 Book Talk Programme

Elgin pupils gathered for a book talk
I deliver these talks once a month during dedicated library periods. They introduce pupils to different themes, genres and authors. I try to introduce them to books they might not know about and make them more aware of the variety of reading choices available to them. The sessions include short readings from the books, book trailers and film clips, and some discussion at the end. In S1, I focus on themes and in S2 I move on to themes and individual authors.

I collate feedback from pupils and the English department at the end of the academic year and put together the programme, ready for discussion with the English department, in June, so all is in place for August. I avoid books that are taught by the department and try and excite the pupils about lots of new books and authors!

The book talks are very popular. I try to ‘tailor’ to each class: some like lots of reading, while others benefit from having their sessions broken up into chunks of reading, film clips and discussion. I also include our senior pupils: I had an S6 student help with December’s talk, as she wanted experience of talking to a class for university applications.

Paired Reading programme
Pupils at Elgin Academy reading together

Our paired reading scheme has been running for six years and the benefits are acknowledged within the school community. S6 students are paired with pupils in S1-S3, with the aim of encouraging reading fluency and comprehension. This sharing of books and reading takes place in the library and younger pupils enjoy interacting with a positive peer role model. This allows them to learn from the older pupil’s positive behaviour, receive personal attention, work at their own pace and gain an increased sense of belonging in the school community.

Book Awards Shadowing

We shadow three awards in school: The Grampian Children’s Book Awards, the Scottish Teenage Book Prize and The Excelsior Award for graphic novels. All are very popular in school and are seen as part of our reading culture. This year, we are Scottish Book Trust’s Scottish Teenage Book Prize 2018 Champion and the pupils are advocates in school and have so much enthusiasm for the Prize and many ideas to share with others.

Author visits to the school

These visits are one of the central pillars of literacy skills development in school, as well as being pivotal in the promotion of reading and learning for life. They help to promote attainment in literacy and pupils show an increased motivation after a writer’s visit, as well as increased confidence in their writing.

Whole-School Reading Events

The library has the ability to motivate, inspire and encourage pupils through activities and events such as Harry Potter Book Night, Roald Dahl Day, World Book Day, Book Week Scotland and National Poetry Day. All pupils and staff are encouraged to participate in and lead activities during these events.

Book Clubs

We have two pupil book clubs: Novelties Book Club and Comic Characters Club. The Novelties are proactive and have led and delivered library and whole-school reading events, such as a Bookathon and a reading fort and transforming the library into Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. We also have a lively staff book group, which meets once a month.

Rainbow Reading Diaries and Super-Reader Challenge

I deliver this reading challenge for S1-2 in order for them to share their personal reading. This is differentiated with I-Read, Rainbow Reading and Super-Reader diaries. The activities include genre challenges, author research, book covers, alternate endings and books as films. The challenge is voluntary, but in fact all of S1-2 participate!

Now, with changing technologies and concepts – such as our hosting whole-school events and performances by students – this school library is a more exciting place to explore than ever before. The excitement on a pupil’s face when they come into the library, knowing that they are entering a world of creativity, adventure, learning, fun and warmth is a reminder every day of why school libraries and reading are so important. They are at the centre of reading culture in schools and I love inspiring a pupil to read for the first time, or to read more. It is one of the most exciting and satisfying parts of the job.

Shelagh Toonen

Shelagh Toonen is the librarian at Elgin Academy. She was Highly Commended in Scottish Book Trust's 2018 Learning Professional Award and was on the Honour List for the SLA School Librarian of the Year 2017.