Steve Willshaw

Why trainee English teachers should be voracious readers

One of, if not the, central role of secondary English teachers is to encourage their pupils to read widely. The positive benefits of reading are clearly summarised in the report Research evidence on reading for pleasure, DFE Education standards research team, (2012). Reading widely outside the classroom is linked with a range of benefits, from improved academic performance and increased general knowledge to better mental health and wellbeing. Reading has also been found to bestow profound emotional and social advantages. There are primary benefits from reading and also secondary benefits, in the form of a more effectively functioning society, which make this seemingly minor topic into one of huge significance.

English teachers are the only teachers with a professional obligation to teach stories. Whether these stories come in the form of poetry, fiction or drama, the “deep reading” (Wolf 2018) that they require of us uniquely develops the empathy so necessary if we are to grow into thoughtful adults who can properly engage with and understand others.

So, the stakes could hardly be higher.

But the task is also daunting. Donalyn Miller (2009) reminds us of the importance of teachers modelling reading for their pupils.

How are they supposed to become readers if they don’t have any models to emulate? Remember that you are the best reader in the room… Embrace that, and wear your reading love proudly in front of your students every day. The reality is that you cannot inspire others to do what you are not inspired to do yourself.

So, what should trainee English teachers be reading?

I am not a great fan of lists – they artificially boost some authors and leave others out. Instead, trainees could use this list of suggestions to expand their reading diet. This will provide them with a range of connections that will, in turn, enrich the reading suggestions they are able to make to their students.

  • Talk to the students about the books they like. Find out what is popular with your classes, read one or two and then discuss them. They will be interested to hear your views.
  • Talk to your school librarian. She/he will know what is popular, what is new in and what is really good. As you read these books think about which of your pupils you could recommend these books to.
  • Try to read every day. The reading demands on English teachers, in the form of marking, are considerable and it is all too easy to allow this to take over your life. Resist this by thinking about your own reading as both the best form of CPD and also the perfect wellbeing boost.
  • Read books that interest you. Only in this way will it not become a chore. Pick books on engaging topics, with great covers or by authors you have enjoyed before. This will give you lots of engaging ways to interest your pupils in reading these books.
  • Check out the Carnegie Medal winning books and others on the annual short-list – you can find all the lists
  • Record brief details of all the books you read in a notebook. You will be surprised at how quickly they mount up and also by how rapidly you forget some of them so having a few notes will help when you are recommending books to pupils.

If trainees can get their pupils reading, they will be doing them a great service from which they will reap life-long rewards. Their vocabularies will grow, their understanding of grammar will flourish and their speaking, listening and writing will all improve. By reading widely themselves, the trainees will also be making an investment in the development of their own professional capital, making them more interesting, engaging and effective teachers. Could anything matter more? Happy reading.

For more information on reading for trainee English teachers, please visit the Secondary English page in the Teacher Educator Subject Networks on the NASBTT site and for further news and updates, join the Secondary English TESN Facebook group.


Education standards research team, (2012) Research evidence on reading for pleasure. DFE (London)

Miller, D., (2009) The Book Whisperer. Jossey-Bass (San Francisco)

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