5 tips for encouraging a deeper dive into stories

5 tips for encouraging a deeper dive into stories

A few weeks ago, a friend forwarded me an article featuring a report from the National Literacy Trust. Its recent research had found that almost one in five children between the ages of five and eight do not have access to books at home. This percentage has increased from before the pandemic, with respondents citing the rising cost of living as the key reason. It made me very sad.

This increase highlights the truly important role that both schools and libraries have in promoting reading for pleasure - perhaps more so now than ever before. It's important for children to be aware that even if they don't have books at home, they can still explore the wonderful worlds and amazing places found in those pages.

I recently interviewed a wonderful librarian who was offering tips on encouraging reading for pleasure. She said: "I truly believe there is the right book for everyone. If you don't like reading then you haven't found the right book yet! But readers need to know where to find these books - and a library can be just the place. One of the truly amazing things about libraries is the sheer volume of stock. We're always updating our shelves with new and exciting titles. And children should also remember that they can talk to us. We're ready and waiting with recommendations."

But reluctant readers might also need a little coaxing when it comes to a deeper exploration of stories. I wanted to share a few tips with you that I've gathered from fellow authors who have held reading and creative writing workshops for children as well as the many teachers I've been lucky enough to chat to over the past few years. I hope some of them might offer inspiration.

5 tips for encouraging children to read deeper

1.Encourage a broader perspective

There is far more to a story than what’s on the page and a lot of this comes from the way in which a child interacts with the text. Some questions that you could ask:

  • What if the story was written from the perspective of a different character? Try it. Choose your favourite character and write a page or a chapter from their perspective? Why is it different?
  • (Stop at a dramatic point in the story) What do you think happens next? Try writing the next page.
  • How would the story be different if it was set in a different time? What other things do you think the author would have had to consider?

2. Discuss emotions

One thing that I found really worked when doing creative writing sessions with kids in primary schools, was to discuss how the text made them feel. You’re bound to get a whole range of opinions, some of which are entirely opposing.

Encourage kids to discuss why the text had generated a particular emotion in them. Was it certain words that were used? Could these words have different meanings and associations depending on how you look at them?

It’s also worth discussing what the characters were feeling and how their reactions to a given situation differ. Do they mirror the reactions of people that the children know in the real world?

3. Ask open questions

This one is easier said than done, as I often found myself posing closed questions and instinctively wanting the class to reach the same conclusions as I had about a text. Instead, encourage independent thought and openly say that it’s great that everyone responds to texts differently.

When you’re first introducing the idea, you might even consider using the shock tactic of saying. “Don’t you think this part of the text really builds up the suspense?” and then when everyone starts nodding, respond by saying, “Actually I don’t think it’s a very good example of suspense at all. She does it much better here…”

4. Introduce comparisons

Ask the class whether they’ve come across any stories recently that would make for a good comparison with the one that you’re currently discussing. Is it a similar story? Or a polar opposite? Why is a good comparison? Spend some time discussing the different approaches that authors have to a particular subject matter

5. Get them writing!

It goes without saying, but it’s always good to combine creative writing with reading. In the mindset of keeping things open, ask the class what you think the author did particularly well? See if there’s a general consensus - e.g. a captivating opening paragraph. If so, get them all to write their opening paragraphs to a story of their choice. If they all have different answers, ask them to write a piece of creative writing on whatever the author inspired them with.

Hopefully some of these ideas will help your kids to dive deeper into a good story. And if you have any further thoughts, please do share!