Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Ideas for encouraging peer recommendations in the classroom

Children who are encouraged to read and who have books suggested to them by their peers are significantly more likely to enjoy reading and say that it is ‘cool’ than those who don’t (National Literacy Trust surveys, 2008-2016). Creating a culture of peer recommendation in a classroom takes time and effort, but the results are definitely worth the investment. To hear a child say to a classmate ‘You just have to read A Library Of Lemons because it’s the best book ever written’ or 'I absolutely loved Once and think you will too' is a magical feeling for a teacher who's trying to create a reading culture, especially when the conversation is reciprocated a few days later. When it starts to happen on a regular basis, you know you've created a class of genuine readers! As an added bonus, it's a great way for teachers and librarians to hear about new books. About half of the children's books that I read have been suggested to me by pupils.

Year 6 recommendations

One of the easiest, but most powerful, ways to get children sharing and discussing books with each other is by being a ‘reading teacher’ and by recommending books to the class yourself (if you're not already aware of Teresa Cremin's Teachers as Readers report, then you need to explore it as a matter of urgency!). Try and find the time to talk about at least a couple of books each week; tell them why you enjoyed it and why you think they will, compare it to similar books they may know, read them the blurb and an exciting extract and then leave it somewhere prominent in the classroom. It will definitely have been borrowed by the end of the day! Once the children see you recommending books that you’ve actually read (as opposed to recommending books where you’ve just whizzed through the blurb) they’ll start to do it as well.

Although being forced to regularly write book reviews can quickly kill a love of reading, it doesn’t always have to be so painful. A two sentence mini-review, written in a brightly coloured gel pen on a fluorescent sticky note and then stuck on the front cover of the book, is a lovely way to share recommendations. Writing Twitter reviews to be shared with other classes also helps give the children a real audience for their opinions.

Mini-reviews

Our school book council (which is currently made up of one child from each class in the school) have a regular slot in assembly where they share books that they have enjoyed or promote new books that have come into the school library. Although it was originally only the council members who recommended books, other children often ask if they can talk about a book they’ve just finished because it was so good. Some of our Year 5 and 6 children also visit Key Stage 1 regularly and share books that they read at that age. Both groups of children take the sessions very seriously; the older children put a lot of thought into selecting the books that they take with them, and the younger children listen carefully and enjoy asking questions about the books.

Reading to Key Stage 1

When a child has particularly enjoyed a book, encourage them to fill in an 'If you liked reading...then try...' bookmark which can be passed on to another child (templates are easily available online). We have an exercise book in our reading area called 'If you liked reading...', where lots of children's authors are listed. The children then update the book by recommending similar authors (eg If you liked reading the Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz, then try the Jimmy Coates books by Joe Craig or the Young James Bond books by Charlie Higson and Steve Cole). It's great to see how often they refer to this while choosing their next book!

Filming short videos where children talk about favourite books can be made very easily and shared widely. We currently swap recommendations with a primary school in New Zealand. Although there are a lot of similarities in their choices, there are also several books which are only published in one of the countries, which has led to interesting discussions about books from different cultures and countries. The link to our most recent video can be found here.

We’ve also introduced a ‘Reader of the Week’ where the winner is chosen by their classmates (with a little guidance, as and when necessary…Oh, I wonder who it might be this time? Maybe Sean, who read beautifully to his little sister last night). We then add a photo of the child holding their favourite book to our display and the other children their own ‘Well Done’ comments. It definitely helps raise the status of reading in the classroom and helps make being a reader cool.


It will take time for children to develop the confidence to share their reading preferences with their classmates but, once it’s firmly embedded in the classroom routine and ethos, it’s a very powerful tool to help engage all readers and can make a huge difference to the value that they put on reading.

2 comments:

  1. It's an essential part of what we do when creating a classroom reading culture. Once it's up and running, it's almost self-sustaining.

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