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Reading Ladder reading tips for teachers

Nikki Gamble, Founder and Director of Just Imagine, and Associate Consultant at UCL’s Institute of Education shares best classroom practice for encouraging children to read. Nikki was formerly a teacher and teacher trainer.Book-rich classroom

Class and school library collections are organised in varied ways. It is important that book displays invite children to browse and to choose their own books, helping them to develop individual tastes and preferences. For example, teachers working in schools where books are colour banded will want to consider displaying collections of books in complementary ways to ensure that children do not regard reading simply as moving through a set of levels or stages. These might include:

  • Author displays e.g. Spotlight on Michael Morpurgo or Anne Fine
  • Genre focus e.g. a display of mystery stories, humour or family stories
  • Our favourite books: a display of children’s favourites with children’s reviews and recommendations

As children become more independent in their reading, it is essential that you continue to read aloud to them. It is through hearing expressive, experienced readers that children acquire a model of what it means to be a reader. Reading aloud to them will impact on both their independent reading and the quality of their writing. Is the class book collection suitably diverse? Does it cater for the needs and interests of all children in the class? Is there a good spread of genres? Are there books with boy and girl appeal? Is there a range of material for children reading both above and below the average expected for their age? If you are new to the school or class a quick audit will help you identify any gaps that need filling. Further information about auditing your class collection can be found in Gamble and Yates (2008) Exploring Children’s Literature (2nd edition).

Children making choices on reading

To support children in making choices:

  • Find out about children’s interests and hobbies, making sure that the book collection caters for these needs
  • Provide guided choices – perhaps offering two or three books that you think a child might enjoy
  • Encourage children to self-monitor by using the five finger test (for double pages of around 100 words or more). If they are struggling with a book this will help them understand whether this is due to the complexity of the vocabulary:

the five finger reading test

◊ Open the book somewhere in the middle and select a full page of text

◊ Read the page (aloud if possible)

◊ Put one finger up for every word they cannot pronounce or do not know

◊ If they get five fingers up on one page, the book is probably too difficult for them to read independently

◊ If they do not hold up any fingers but are reading very slowly because they are having to decode every word, they may not enjoy reading this book

Keeping a reading record

You may want to give some consideration to the ways in which children are invited to record their reading. In reception children can be encouraged to maintain a pictorial record, perhaps adding a simple smiley, neutral or frowning face to indicate their feelings about the book. Older children can be introduced to the idea of keeping a reading journal in which they record their thoughts, feelings, questions, and connections to other things they have read.

Keeping up to date with children's reading

Good teachers of reading keep themselves up-to-date with knowledge of recently published books and trends in children’s reading interests. Sources of valuable information include websites such as:

Reading across the curriculumFriend or Foe

Fiction, non-fiction, poetry and plays can be used to support reading across the curriculum. For example, historical stories such as Friend or Foe by Michael Morpurgo provide a personal perspective on history allowing children to experience events from the point of view of a character, thus developing empathy and emotional engagement.

Talking about books in groups

Provide opportunities for children to talk about the books they read and enjoy. These will include teacher-led guided reading sessions, paired reading, literature circles and book swaps. And why not, develop a reading community in the school. After school book clubs, reading groups, book events and parent events can contribute to a vibrant reading community.

You can see the selection of Reading Ladder Books here. 


Alison David (2014) Help Your Child Love Reading. Egmont Publishing

Nicholas Tucker (2002) The Rough Guide to Children’s Books 0 – 5 Years. Rough Guides

Nicholas Tucker (2002) The Rough Guide to Children’s Books 5 – 11 Years. Rough Guides

Danile Hahn et al (2008) The Ultimate Book Guide: Over 500 Great Books for 0-7s. A & C Black

Danile Hahn et al (2009) The Ultimate Book Guide: Over 700 Great Books for 8-12s. A & C Black

Nikki Gamble, Angel Hobsbaum and David Reedy (2006) Guiding Reading: A handbook for teaching guided reading at Key Stage 2. University of London, Institute of Education

Nikki Gamble & Sally Yates (2008) Exploring Children’s Literature (2nd edition). Paul Chapman

Reading websites for teachers

UKLA (United Kingdom Literacy Association)

NATE (National Association for the Teaching of English

CLPE (centre for Literacy in Primary Education)

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