Encouraging Out-of-School Reading and Writing Habits - Digital Promise

Encouraging Out-of-School Reading and Writing Habits

October 18, 2018 | By

A recent Scholastic survey of kids and families’ reading behaviors shows that only 39 percent of children ages nine to 11 read for fun most days of the week. This drops further to 27 percent of children ages 12 to 14. Reading and writing for fun outside of school are related to success in school, and the upper elementary years are often when these lifelong habits are cemented. Reading and writing also support each other by providing insight into how to use vocabulary and how others compose texts.

On beginning her journey as a writer, J.H. Diehl, author of the new middle-grade novel Tiny Infinities, reflects on time spent as a child reading and being read to by her dad. Diehl thinks that “all of that early reading—and being read to—was first of all what taught me how to write.” She also notes the importance of a teacher who inspired her to write: “In sixth grade, I started writing poems for fun. When I’d composed maybe 25 or 30 of them, my teacher, Mr. Ian, suggested I turn them into a book. There were only three copies, but the number of copies didn’t matter. Once my words were in a published book, it felt to me like no one could change them. That was a really powerful feeling, and I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since.”

Diehl’s experience underscores the importance of having access to reading materials of interest, since many reluctant readers say they have a hard time finding something they want to read and their preferred texts such as comic books, magazines, or popular book series may not be available at school. Research also shows that students may read less frequently out of school due to time spent watching television or participating in organized activities like sports or clubs.

For teachers looking to motivate students to read, a few methods include:

  1. Having a rich classroom library;
  2. Providing opportunities for students to discuss what they are reading for fun with their peers; and
  3. Encouraging peers to make recommendations to each other.

Sixth-grader Emma says she and her friends enjoy talking at recess about new books they are reading. Right now, their favorite is a series about warrior cat clans. “I know my friends would give me a good suggestion because they know me really well,” she said.

Outside of the classroom, parents can model reading and writing for fun by recommending and discussing books with their children or engaging in a family writing project. They also can build an emotional connection through reading aloud: the Scholastic survey found that while the frequency of parents reading to children drops dramatically after age eight, the majority of children and parents who continue to do it say they enjoy it because it’s a special time together.

Many resources exist to develop skills and confidence through everyday reading and writing, including:

  1. Book clubs such as the online Bookopolis community, which offers a kid-friendly way to find new books of interest recommended by peers and write book reviews; and
  2. Playful literacy activities, such as building with LEGO, where students can use this play to inspire stories with more action and details than they might otherwise think to write.

On encouraging children to write for fun, education researcher Dr. Steve Graham stresses that out-of-school writing allows students to “hone their skills as writers and use writing to meet goals that are important to them, promoting greater motivation for writing generally.”

Boosting children’s interest and engagement in literacy activities, both in and out of school, can support many academic and personal goals. Finding new and fun ways to make time to integrate literacy with students’ schedules and lifestyles is key to building these habits. A new Learner Model from Digital Promise’s Learner Variability Project (LVP) focuses on Literacy for Grades 4-6 and how students’ literacy environment expands beyond parental influences to include peers and students’ own choices.

Visit the LVP Literacy for Grades 4-6 Learner Model to learn more about the Learner Factors that affect literacy, as well as many strategies to support reading and writing development.


  • Neela says:

    Great Article Medha. Really liked it. Good Job!
    Liked the idea of family writing project.

  • Susan Leaver says:

    Media, Our daughter-in-law, Audrey, who is also a 6th grade teacher started a family project about 10 years ago the summer before Garrett went to kindergarten and continues it every summer up until this year when Tate, their youngest graduated from kindergarten. She called it the 26 days of summer and each year, she used a different theme. 26 because each day they planned activities starting with a different letter of the alphabet. I think the 1st year was more centered around doing different activities; so for example, on A day, they might play a game where they have to act out different words or they might make applesauce. One year on “K” day, they were at Door County staying in the boat so they flew kites off the back of the boat. On “Z” day, they went to the zoo, etc. As some of the kids got older, her themes got more involved to fit everyone’s age and stage. One summer the theme was countries of the world. Audrey would run off a copy of the flag of the country for that day. Garrett would research that country and write a little report. The younger kids would color the flag and maybe look up a favorite activity for that country or a food,etc. and then they would play the game or make the food that day and at the end of the summer, each child had an A-Z book of countries with colored flags, country reports, and possibly an art activity or craft that went with that country to keep. All the kids really got into it every summer. I know one summer they used a Disney theme where they watched a lot of Disney movies among other activities such as watching Aladdin for “A” day, etc. Anyway, over the 10 years, she came up with many different themes which included the kids participating in many different activities, sports, and games, art activities and even cooking, reading and writing and day trips to museums , zoos, etc. The kids all learned a lot and had a great time!

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