kids reading

The clarion call ‘get kids reading’ is all very well – but how?

TLC tutor Verity looks at ways of enticing teens to pick up a book

Here at The Learning Cauldron, we are always trying to think of ways to encourage the teenagers we tutor to read more.

With lockdown now continuing into the summer, this is a perfect time to be sitting outside (if the weather remains kind) with a cup of tea and a good book.

Last week, I was talking about ‘genre’ with my tutees and seeing if they could guess the genre from reading only the first page or paragraph from a book. I only revealed the title and author once we had spoken about it.

Books for teenagers from article

Literary genres

Books tend to fall into one of two categories: fiction or non-fiction. Within fiction, there are numerous different book genres – for example, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, historical, horror, crime, etc.

The idea of just reading the first paragraph of a book appeals to even the most reluctant teenager reader (because it’s short!). With younger children, rather than discussing genre, you could simply read them the first page of the book and then encourage them to guess what they think is going to happen next in the story.

How to get started

This is an activity you can do easily from home. The books I chose were a combination of novels that are sometimes studied for Higher English and books that I thought my tutees would enjoy. But, of course, you can do this sort of fun exercise with any age group and any books you have around your house.

As a parent/carer, for example, you could sit and read the opening passage together and then have a chat about who the narrator is, what you each think the genre is and what clues there are to the ‘setting’ (both in time and place). If the opening passage hooks your child or teen in, they may even want to continue to read the whole book!

A few reading suggestions for teenagers

Here are the books I looked at last week in some of my tutoring sessions:

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

This is an oldie but a goodie. The first page reveals a lot about the book. We can see from the language that it is set a long time ago and there are a few clues that suggest this is a romance novel. We also see glimpses of Austen’s humour and her wonderful ability to create silly characters such as the ridiculous Mrs Bennet.

Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene

This was a great novel to look at next, as it is so completely different from Pride and Prejudice. The tone is sinister and tense straight away. We know from the first line that a murder is planned, leading us to the conclusion that the genre here is crime. We are told the physical location in the title, and in the opening paragraph the description of Brighton makes it clear this is set earlier this century. I think this is a book most teens would enjoy, and the first page certainly reels you in.

Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

This is a firm favourite of mine. It is a classic ‘coming of age’ novel and this is given away in the first page where we see glimpses of Holden’s teenage angst and a hint that something significant has happened to him.  The language he uses gives away his age, and we can tell from the way he speaks that the setting in time is certainly more recent than the Victorian era, and that the setting in place is the USA.

1984, by George Orwell

There are a few hints from the first page that the genre here is dystopian/sci-fi. There is a sense in the very first line that something isn’t quite right, and as we read on, we are made to feel increasingly uncomfortable. Everything seems uneasy, dark, bleak, and then we are hit with the menacing “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.” There’s no way you can put the book down at that point!

Encouraging children and teenagers to read at home

The first pages from all these novels can be found online if you don’t have them at home. Or just pick out a random selection from your bookshelf –remembering to make sure whichever ones you choose are at the right level for your child.

This is a great way to encourage reading, and for parents/carers struggling (like me!) with home schooling, it’s an activity you can enjoy with both primary and secondary school ages. You’ll find a few suggestions of powerful opening scenes from classic books in this article published a few years ago in The Guardian.

Happy reading! We’d love to hear about any books that you’ve read and discussed together at home.


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