Librarian conference · Reading for Pleasure · School Libraries · Training Courses · Ways to Inspire Reading

Guardian Reading for Pleasure Conference – Secondary

Last month and very excitingly, I was given the opportunity to attend the Guardian Reading for Pleasure Conference in London, which was the first conference I had ever been to. After a slight mishap, where I went into the wrong building and was asked if I was there for the L’Oreal conference (I admit, I debated it for a few seconds!) I arrived at the Guardian for a day of talks aimed at secondary teachers and librarians which focused on strategies to engage young people in reading.

Rather than evaluate all the sessions, I will just highlight the key themes from a few and share the ideas that I found the most valuable and how I plan to use them.


Speaking first about Sharing Stories and the power of childhood reading and writing for pleasure was author of the Last Wild Trilogy, Piers Torday. Torday is an inspiring speaker, after sharing his experiences of reading and writing for pleasure as a child and through his work with children, I was left feeling the desperate need to start a diary or at the very least incorporate more writing into my daily life (this slightly delayed blog is one such example) and I can see how children would be left feeling infinitely more enthused as writers after hearing him speak.

Torday spoke about reading and writing being two sides of a coin, with one often leading to the other and highlighted that writing for pleasure is no less important than reading for pleasure. An obvious statement in hindsight but not something I had thought too much about before.

A key aspect of his talk was looking at the specifics of what pleasure is derived from reading and writing, an interesting idea which helps to further illustrate and strengthen why reading and writing for pleasure is so important.

The three main ideas he highlighted were the following:

  1. Lost in the moment
  • Become totally absorbed
  • No sense of time passing
  • Effortless page turning
  1. Satisfaction of a task being completed
  • A story well told
  • New sense of understanding
  1. Expand your brain and challenge yourself
  • It’s a deep and lasting pleasure – look back at it as a moment of growth

Up next was Andrew McCallum, Director of the English and Media Centre who spoke about Creating English classrooms of critical enjoyment: Choice, Connection & Challenge. For McCallum, these three c’s, are the key to engaging students when it comes to class reads and reading in general. If you give students a choice and make them part of the conversation, it will make them feel more valued and incentivised to take part.

The activity from this session was my favourite from the day and involved using the first few sentences from a selection of books. He selected five quite different YA books and took the first sentence from each and put it on the screen for everyone to see. In pairs we were asked to discuss our thoughts on each sentence and eliminate the one we would least like to read. As each new sentence was added to the screen, another book had to be eliminated until there was only one left.

Here is an example I used when demonstrating this task to my colleagues:

First Sentence Activity

I added an extra sentence as some of the books came to a nice conclusion after five sentences and to see if it made anyone change their final decision.

I initially thought that this activity was to be used to pick a class read but realised there would be problems if there wasn’t a majority vote and after emailing the very kind Andrew McCallum for clarification, he explained that the outcome of the activity is to introduce a selection of books which the students might go on to read individually. He did however suggest a way to use the activity as a voting mechanism which I am planning to use at the end of the month with my Library Teen Book club to decide our future group reads. If there isn’t a majority vote, then I will get them to vote again on just the tied books and if that still doesn’t work then it will go back to me for the final choice!

In the past, when giving teens a choice of books and asking them to discuss what they would like to read as a group, getting them to express opinions has been tricky, with the most vocal of the group usually swaying the votes of others. Doing an activity and putting them into pairs should allow the quieter of the group to express their thoughts and make for a deeper discussion by giving them time to really think about each sentence. The main goal is that by giving them the choice, they feel more engaged and excited to return to discuss that book in the future. That’s the plan anyway!


The first of two workshops I selected to take part in during the conference was Great for Groups: KS3 Reading from Joel Crowley, the Programme Manager at BookTrust. Those of us in the workshop were given a sneak peek at the new Book Trust packs which are being released in January 2020. Each secondary school is entitled to a set of 40 free books selected by the Book Trust which are accompanied by reading guides and activities. These packs were not new to me as all our local schools sign up to receive them, but I had not really thought about how and even if the packs were being used. On returning to work, I discussed this with my colleagues, and in the future, we will try to further promote the packs to the schools and try and encourage them to do more with them. The ideas I liked best from the conference to achieve this were:

  • Hold a book tasting where each student was given one minute with each book and decide which they would like to try at the end.
  • Use the non-fiction books in the pack for things such as a “best fact” award or run a special non-fiction discussion event.
  • Engaging with authors – see if you can get in touch via social media and get the students to ask the author questions.

During the workshop we were given the activities and reading guides which go along with each book and discussed what we thought would and wouldn’t work and put forward other ideas. This was great form of knowledge sharing amongst the attendees but also feedback for Joel to take back to Book Trust to make any changes.


After lunch was a truly inspiring talk from the Mark Warner, the Deputy Headteacher of Patcham High School about Developing a reading culture in your school.

Patcham High School is a notable example of a secondary school which has developed a strong reading culture throughout their whole school and Mark Warner was there to explain how that had been achieved. Many of the ideas Mark spoke about were not new but I believe a key factor of success for Patcham is that they have all the staff, especially the senior leadership team, committed to the task and therefore reading has been incorporated into all aspects of school life.

One idea that stood out was teaching students to behave like readers, which can be as simple as making sure they know how to search for specific books but also includes encouraging them to recommend books to others and having the skills to describe and evaluate the book they are currently reading when asked in conversation.

Here are a few examples of what Patcham have done in their school to develop a reading culture:

  • D.E.A.R. – Drop everything and read – 15 mins of reading at the same time every day
  • Year 11 reading role models
  • Staff reading out loud in assemblies and students in staff meetings
  • Senior Leadership Team 1:1 reading buddies
  • Bookish – create a termly school reading magazine
  • World Book Day – Read one chapter of a book per lesson throughout the day


My second workshop of the day was also led by Mark Warner as he spoke about tried and tested CPD ideas and active approaches to reading for pleasure.

Mark gave some great activities to engage students in reading for pleasure. Here is a list of my favourites:

Recreate the Cover – a team game which gets students to draw the cover of a book by memory. One person is tasked with drawing and each team member then takes it in turns to look at the cover and relay elements of it back to the drawer. At the end you compare the drawing to the real cover and see how close each team was!

Articulate first pages of books – Take 10 words from the first page of your chosen book and with students in pairs, ask them to describe each word to their partner (without using rhyme or actions) until they guess what it is.

Quick and structured book review – Students must create a book review using a very strict format. An example of the structure would be each line having the following number of words:

2 or 3 words

4 or 5 words

6 or 7 words

8 or 9 words

2 or 3 words

A great, fast activity which is a perfect way to end a group activity and gets students to think in a structured, concise way about a book that they are currently reading. A top tip I discovered is not to judge your review too harshly when much of the competition in the room comes from English teachers!

Conference presentation cropped

Upon returning to work and in the spirit of knowledge sharing, I presented my conference experience back to my colleagues and passed on the ideas that, although not directly relevant to me, could be useful to them. Presenting back on the experience was a great reflection tool and forced me to go over my notes even though my workload had started to pile up.

Overall, I came back overflowing with ideas and excited to have met so many like-minded people who shared the exciting things they are doing in their schools and libraries. I found it reassuring to know that I also had knowledge to share and was thrilled to see people writing down some of my suggestions!

Written by Jodie Hearn – SLS Library Assistant


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