“If you are going to get anywhere in life you have to read a lot of books.” – Roald Dahl
Yesterday was World Book Day, the annual celebration of authors, books and the love of reading. Celebrations may have been a little different this year due to lockdown, but the ethos behind World Book Day is something that can change the lives of children and young people no matter where they take part in it. According to the World Book Day organisation, “reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success, more than their family circumstances, parents’ educational background or their income.” The mission statement of the day is to encourage families and carers across the UK and Ireland to read for enjoyment for 10 minutes together on World Book Day, and to try to continue for every day of the year.
When it comes to the 11+, this can have a huge impact on your child’s success.
Reading naturally and steadily improves the vocabulary of a child. Regardless of the form that the exam takes in your area, there is always content that tests a child’s vocabulary. This is essential in their success with verbal reasoning as well as English reading comprehensions and cloze passages.
Reading is one aspect of 11+ preparation that can begin at any age, without putting too much pressure on a child. Not only this, but enthusiasm for reading and the willingness to read for pleasure fosters the skills that will benefit children for the rest of their lives.
What types of books should my child be reading?
The short answer is a little bit of everything.
The more widely your child reads, the more familiar they will become with the many different styles of writing that exist, many of which could realistically be tested in their 11+ exam.
Firstly, encourage your child to read works by a variety of authors.
Prolific authors such as Enid Blyton or Jacqueline Wilson will tend to use similar vocabulary when writing, so a reading diet that consists of books by only one of these authors would not widen your child’s vocabulary after a certain point.
Secondly, encourage a child’s interest in reading books from different eras.
Many 11+ English papers feature extracts from classic texts (Essex is a particular case in point) such as Charles Dickens or even Shakespeare. The language used in the extracts can be a real shock to children who have only read books published in the last 25 years. The more familiar your child becomes with older or more archaic language, the more confident they will become when facing this in an exam setting, even if they do not know every word they see.
Here is a selection of our recommended classic texts, for Year 3, 4 and 5, that will make an excellent reading challenge depending on the age of your child:
The Reluctant Reader
Parents do often worry that their child is not reading enough, or not reading books of a high enough difficulty or wide enough variety. Although it may be ideal for children to read classic stories and books that stretch their vocabulary, if your child is a reluctant reader there is no point in trying to force them to read something that doesn’t spark their interest at all. Any reading material is better than none!
Comic books, graphic novels, audio CDs, and any other less conventional methods of storytelling can be used to foster your child’s interest in narratives (outside of television and video games!) The aim is to show children how reading can be fun, relevant and accessible, and to nurture their interest in it.
Do not fret at this stage if their reading material is not as challenging as you would like it to be – allow your child to choose any reading material that excites their imagination and appeals to them, because it will help develop the all-important habit of reading regularly. Shakespeare can wait!
Many libraries will have a selection of these alternative reading materials, and the selection will generally change regularly.
Use the library to “try before you buy” these alternative methods for enjoying stories, and if your child particularly enjoys an individual title, you could then consider buying the physical copy of the book for them.
A useful tip is to borrow both the audio book and the book itself, especially for harder texts! You can encourage your child to follow the text while listening to the book at the same time, to help them process the language and the potentially tricky vocabulary they are encountering. In a similar vein, watching a film version of a classic text before your child tackles the original novel can vastly improve their overall comprehension and enjoyment of the story. There is a general prejudice against the film version of any written story, but when it comes to a child’s enjoyment of literature and helping them to understand more difficult texts, a familiarity with classic stories can help guide them through the trickier parts of older works!
Here are a few of our favourite resources for encouraging your child to read!
£1 World Book Day books – World Book Day, in partnership with schools all over the country, distribute over 15 million £1/€1.50 World Book Day book tokens to children and young people every year on World Book Day. The £1 book tokens can then be swapped for one of a free World Book Day book available from participating booksellers or used to get £1 off (€1.50 off in Ireland) any full price book or audiobook instead.
Virtual School Library – free reading and writing activities, videos and audiobooks from well known children’s authors. This is updated weekly and does a wonderful job of recreating the excitement and love of reading that an actual school library nurtures.
The Young Readers Story Club – a collection of short films created by the National Literacy Trust that feature storytellers, poets, writers and illustrators telling exciting stories. Each video has a different theme and a fun challenge to complete. The stories can be used to explore different themes and genres, and to support children to create their own stories to share.
As well as this, we recommend a book every month on the Eleven Plus Exams instagram page with some helpful synopses of the books alongside insight from our teachers as to how the books will benefit your child as part of their 11+ preparation! These books can be purchased at our own online shop at a discounted price.