Reading for pleasure

A tutor's guide on ways to encourage learners to read for pleasure.

Reading for pleasure to support the engagement and motivation of learners

Photograph of Sue Chapman reading a novel

Reading for pleasure means any reading that is primarily for enjoyment. It encompasses a wide range of genres and publications, and includes both fiction and non-fiction. For example, gardening or cookery books can be read as instructional texts in order to carry out specific tasks, but can also be read purely for pleasure. Similarly, fiction is often considered to be read for pleasure – but may also be read for academic study.

Reading for pleasure is no longer restricted to the printed word but increasingly includes online reading, whether on a website, or via an e-reader such as a Kindle.

  • Fiction: Novels, short stories, jokes, comics, poetry, lyrics, plays and scripts
  • Non-fiction: Reference books, newsletters, letters, emails, biographies, memoirs, newspapers, magazines, websites

Why read for pleasure?
Like anything else, reading is a skill that becomes better with practice. Reading for pleasure is critical for ensuring that the practice needed to become fluent becomes part of the learners’ everyday life, and is not just seen as a classroom-based activity.

There are a range of benefits gained from reading for pleasure:

  • it increases sense of achievement, confidence, self-esteem and self-awareness
  • it widens horizons
  • you can do it anywhere
  • it develops relationships and promotes inclusion and empathy through sharing opinions and ideas
  • it prevents boredom and promotes relaxation.

Building reading for pleasure into teaching and learning
You can encourage reading for pleasure as part of literacy classes by scheduling specific class-time for talking about reading for pleasure and using explicit strategies to develop reading. 

A recent NRDC study suggests teachers should try to:

  • show they value regular attendance by encouraging learners to take responsibility for their own learning
  • encourage learners to do homework and other related activities
  • limit the time spent in the classroom working alone in favour of more active tuition in other groupings
  • offer opportunities for pair work/budding.  

Your organisation can also encourage reading for pleasure by offering out-of-classroom activities.  For instance, you can:

  • encourage learners to book-share and swap
  • set up a reading group for interested learners
  • regularly collect lists of learners’ recommendations
  • provide generic frames for reviewing or recommending books
  • encourage use of learner-chosen texts for specific reading activities.

Supporting learners to develop their reading skills

Photograph of students in a paired reading activity

Reading is not simply a system of decoding words or deciphering combinations of letters on the page or screen but an active process and readers will have a purpose for reading. Also, adults will bring their knowledge and experience of the world to read and understand textual material.

Current research into teaching adults to read, or to improve their reading, acknowledges this. We always read and write something, for a particular purpose, in a particular way, in a particular time and place. 

Teaching reading
Start where your learners are at. What do they feel comfortable and confident in reading as part of their daily lives; signs, posters, leaflets, menus, simple forms or straightforward emails, newspapers or magazines? You can discuss this with your group.

Reading is something we all do everyday, it is not just a classroom activity. All of us probably have a point where our reading skills will be challenged, so it can be helpful for learners to see confidence in reading as a spectrum that we are all on. There are plenty of examples of text that is so complex, jargon-ridden and dense that it will be beyond most people, such as scientific journals or complex legal documents. It can help if learners think about all the texts they can read and how they can improve from the point they’re at.

Whatever their level, your learners will have experience of reading and this will inform their attitude to it. Reading is not detached from emotion; for instance, is a letter from the council difficult to understand because of complex vocabulary or fear of the message it may contain? Discussing feelings and attitudes to reading can help.

Use a variety of texts to appeal to everyone from factual newspaper articles to TV or play scripts or poetry. Whatever text you and or your learners choose, discuss it first so that it has context and becomes familiar. You can anticipate difficult vocabulary and address this first. Warming up learners by introducing a text will help allay anxieties and support better comprehension of the text, especially if it is quite challenging.

Group reading
Reading together as a group can be very supportive and Maxine Burton’s research  has shown this to be more beneficial than learners working alone. Oral fluency is reading aloud accurately and smoothly; it can improve reading comprehension and confidence.

Paired reading
For full instructions on paired reading activities, go to:

Choral reading and performance reading
Reading as a group can take the pressure off individuals – either following a printed text or from a slide. You can use the techniques of paired reading where individuals signal if they want to read alone.

Repeated reading
Reading the same passage again and again over a short period until fluency is achieved.

Explicit strategies for supporting reading comprehension skills
Less-skilled readers may need help with comprehension strategies that skilled readers use automatically, explicit comprehension strategies include:

  • comprehension monitoring – use techniques to check understanding through questioning, asking learners to summarise sections of text, etc.
  • graphic organisers – use charts and diagrams (e.g. spider diagrams and flow-charts) to represent ideas and information found in texts
  • story structure – develop awareness of features of story-telling including plot, characters, setting etc.
  • question generating and answering – encourage readers to make inferences from reading, and to understand that some questions require background knowledge (from their own experience rather than from within the text
  • summarising – identify the topic and main ideas of a text.


Useful links and resources for reading for pleasure

Booktrust is an independent reading and writing charity. It provides resources and tools to support professionals in helping children and adults alike to learn and grow in their reading and writing journey.

Love reading
This website provides a set of online tools to help you decide what you might read next, including free 10–15-page opening extracts of every one of their featured books.

Quick Reads
Quick Reads are short, exciting books by bestselling writers and celebrities for adults who are new to reading, have lost the reading habit, or who prefer a quick read.

The Reading Agency
The Reading Agency provides a range of support for adult reading, including the Six Book Challenge to encourage readers to read for pleasure.

Burton, M (2007). Developing adult teaching and learning: practitioner guide – Reading. Leicester: NIACE