Building a positive reading culture in lockdown at Alford Academy

A photo of young people sitting on bean bags reading books

"Ordinary people don't know how much books can mean to someone who is cooped up."

We had not yet completed our first year of the Reading Challenge and were beginning to make good progress in building our school’s reading culture when Lockdown 1 hit. We had been in the process of starting classroom libraries across the school and had successfully launched a Book Bingo Booklet for our S1s to encourage them with their reading. The tasks were cross curricular to show that reading was not just for the English classroom. Little did we know that lockdown would have such a positive impact on the reading culture in our school! 

An S2 class had just finished studying the play version of Anne Frank’s Diary as Lockdown 2 hit and it had already resonated with the pupils who were the same age as Anne when she went into hiding. We used this quote to get the pupils thinking about the importance of reading when we had to stay at home. Meanwhile we encouraged pupils to keep reading and shared links to Audible, World Book Day, and other sites that had free audio or e-books, along with fun tasks to keep them engaged.

And the survey says…

When we returned to school after Lockdown 1, we were invited to take part in a survey by Scottish Book Trust and were further encouraged to hear that our pupils had found reading to be a good way to take a break from screens, to relax at night, to escape from it all, to try something new or to devote time to an entire series. Those who were not keen on a physical book had found they liked audio books or podcasts. 

Armed with this information we even changed our 10-minute reading slot at the beginning of our BGE lessons to include audiobooks and podcasts if pupils preferred. We also launched Bookopoly for the S2 classes, with each street being a different genre to read and do a task on. Both this and the S1 Book Bingo were launched in digital format - and just as well because once again we found ourselves in Lockdown - round 2! 

We have focussed this time on reading as a “brain break”, as an alternative to screens, and continued to encourage the use of podcasts and audio books as well as physical books. It is remarkable that even those struggling with lockdown learning, will respond to a reading task or an invitation to “share a story."

Challenge accepted

In the new term, we decided that World Read Aloud Day on February the 4th seemed like the perfect event for our current online status and presented an opportunity to reach out to families as well. We put together a SWAY site where members of our staff shared their reading and listening preferences as well as a recording of themselves reading from their favourite book. We invited everyone to get involved. When World Book Day came round in March, we were in the perfect position to celebrate reading by sharing the responses to our World Read Aloud Day challenges. Have you ever thought about what food, or clothing, weather, or animal your book would be? Our pupils did, with some interesting and thoughtful responses! 

Last year was our second year taking part in the Reading Challenge. I was very excited to put together our submission based on all we have done and achieved. People are worried about the effect that lockdown will have had but we can confidently say that there has been a positive change in our school’s reading culture because of it! Go Team Alford!

This blog was written by Stephanie Mackenzie, Literacy Champion at Alford Academy. Want to share your practice? Get in touch with us at 

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