Over the years, surveys have shown that fewer students are reading books for fun. Many students aren’t confident in their reading abilities and find books intimidating. Some see reading as yet another assignment to do. Others simply don’t find reading enjoyable, especially when there are other quick and easy ways to be entertained.

How did we get here? Some educators believe the proliferation of standardized tests has played a huge role. Short passages and excerpts usually make up the bulk of test reading sections. So, schools have invested more time teaching students how to dissect these types of texts than longer content. As a result, there’s often not enough time or space in the curriculum to teach a whole book to the entire class.

And that’s a shame, because reading whole books offers students truly enriching, educational, and entertaining experiences that other forms of media just can’t provide.

For the purposes of this blog post, a whole book refers to reading and studying an entire literary work from start to finish. This can include novels, plays, poetry collections, or nonfiction books.

Reading whole books improves language skills.

Packed with pages of descriptions, dialogue, and uncommon words, books provide the perfect space for students to explore natural language use outside of explicit grammar, writing, and vocabulary instruction.

When they read books, students will come across new words organically rather than in isolated instances. Seeing the words in context reinforces the idea that some words can be used in various ways and have different meanings depending on what’s being said. Plus, if they’re unsure of a word’s meaning, students can use context clues within the book to deduce its definition.

Because of a book’s length, there’s a high chance that students will come across the same unfamiliar words multiple times. Repetition helps students retain these new words in their long-term memory, making them more likely to use these words in their own speech and writing long after they finish the book.

Beyond vocabulary acquisition, reading books gives students an opportunity to observe grammar rules in action. Trying to understand a story would be hard if the text didn’t make sense. As they read, students unconsciously absorb the rules of syntax and grammar through exposure to well-constructed sentences and paragraphs, proper punctuation, and correct use of tenses.

Of course, all authors have their own distinct way of writing. Many bend and break grammar rules for stylistic effect. Seeing deviations from norms throughout a book shows students that grammar isn’t a static set of regulations but a powerful tool for creative expression, once the foundational rules are understood.

Reading whole books builds better focus.

Did you have trouble reading up to this point? You’re not alone. Research has revealed that people’s attention spans are on a measurable decline, a trend chalked up to the widespread use of the internet and the consequences of instant gratification. Our brains have become conditioned to rapidly switch between activities, and as a result, it becomes harder to do tasks that require intense focus.

If we’re having problems paying attention as adults, imagine what it’s like for kids. First of all, their generation has never known a world without the internet. To them, the fast-paced, content-consuming nature of today’s society is just life as they know it.

Second, their brains are still maturing and malleable, making them much more susceptible to distraction. That’s why it’s important for students to do enriching and “unplugged” activities that involve deep concentration, such as playing sports, drawing or painting, playing a musical instrument, and, of course, reading.

But what they’re reading matters. Shorter texts, like news articles, excerpts, or blog posts, generally share information in bite-sized, easily digestible portions. These types of texts aren’t inherently bad, but they’re not the greatest tool for helping the brain learn how to concentrate.

Comparatively, reading whole books is much more cognitively intense. As students follow plotlines and character developments, they’re encouraged to stay mentally present throughout the narrative, a task requiring sustained focus over an extended period of time. If they're fully engaged with the text, students will gradually train their minds to remain attentive and fight against distractions.

Reading whole books encourages critical thinking.

What’s going to happen next? Why did this character do that? What is this story trying to tell me? These are all questions students ponder when they’re lost in the pages of a book. Little do they know that just by having these thoughts, they’re flexing their critical thinking skills.

When they read, students are constantly analyzing and synthesizing information. Using what’s given to them in the text, they’re trying to connect seemingly unrelated plot points or identify the motivations behind a character’s actions. They might make inferences on future events based on clues they’ve found earlier in the story. They may even start to pick up on any recurring symbols the author uses to convey the story’s overarching theme.

Much of this thinking takes place unconsciously, a byproduct of the reading experience. But when students know the mechanics behind analytical thought, they can actively use those skills to get even more enjoyment out of the story. The more students read, the stronger these skills grow, giving students the confidence needed to approach any text, whole book or not, with an inquisitive mindset.

Most importantly, reading whole books is just plain fun!

While the sights and sounds of modern media are impressive in their own ways, there’s something extra magical about how mere words on paper can conjure vivid images in our minds.

Reading whole books gives students permission to let their imaginations run free. In the pages of a book, they’re transported to new worlds, both realistic and fantastical. They connect with interesting characters, building empathy by seeing the world through other perspectives. They’re put in the middle of situations they might never experience in real life.

Every student deserves a chance to feel that level of excitement. At Prestwick House, it’s our hope that more students see reading not as a chore, but as something that brings joy. For students to discover a love for reading that will last a lifetime, all it takes is finding the right book.