The Importance of Reading Outside the Classroom

Written by MaryGrace King, First Literacy Young Professionals Board Member and Insight Associate at Olson Zaltman

importance-of-reading-outside-classroom-first-literacy-blog“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” – Frederick Douglas

Now that the summer months are in full swing, classes are paused for many learners, including adult learners. This time away from the classroom can offer the opportunity to practice language and literacy skills in a way that’s enjoyable and can happen almost anywhere – reading for pleasure.

Professor Sandra Martin-Chang at Concordia University has studied the benefits of reading for pleasure outside of set classroom assignments. While she focuses on K-12 students and young adults, her points illustrate how reading for fun benefits all readers:

“Even light reading provides a host of benefits, increasing verbal and creative skills, nourishing our capacity for empathy, and even reducing prejudice against stigmatized groups—all skills that are developed as readers become accustomed to inhabiting unfamiliar worlds, seeing things from new perspectives, and contemplating how a chain of events can lead to unforeseen outcomes.”

In addition, reading for fun develops vocabulary and grammar, associates enjoyment with learning, and exposes readers to a wider range of how language can be used to express ideas.

The important point here is that readers have the power to choose what they want to read. This element of pleasure and autonomy allow learners to approach reading without dread or resistance. While set classroom assignments are designed to teach, reading for fun allows readers to practice these skills in a context of personal enjoyment, free from the pressure of trying to get things right every time.

How To Build A Habit Of Reading For Fun Outside The Classroom

Adult learners may have time constraints or obstacles to face when beginning a habit of reading for pleasure, but luckily there are lots of options to choose from. Here are some tips to help build a reading habit.

1) Start with What Genuinely Interests You

One challenge that adult readers can face is finding something to read that fits their specific skills and sparks interest and feels relatable. The place to start comes from a place of genuine interest. Consider the following questions.

  • What is your favorite genre? Some readers gravitate toward fiction to immerse themselves in imagined situations, while others prefer nonfiction to satisfy curiosity and build knowledge. Think about what you’re in the mood for – a biography of a famous person you look up to? A science fiction or fantasy world filled with villains and heroes? Fables, fairytales, and short stories offer simpler, quick narrative arcs, while mystery or romance novels offer more complicated plots and characters. There’s no limit to what you can choose, and at what level you want to read at – if you want to read a thriller novel that’s slightly more challenging at the same time as reading a book about planets that’s easier to understand, that’s perfectly fine. It’s all about what YOU want to read.
  • What format do you prefer? Some readers prefer written formats, and others prefer audiobooks – both formats are valuable to work on either reading or listening comprehension, which may be unique for language learners or adult learners. If listening to audiobooks is more enjoyable than reading them, there’s nothing stopping you from listening. Listening to audiobooks while reading the corresponding book at the same time is also a great way to build the bridge between written and oral language understanding.
  • Do you enjoy literature with style and rhythm? Poetry provides short, creative uses of language that can be fun to read aloud or to listen to. The short format can ease someone into a habit of reading for fun by starting in bite-sized pieces. Even song lyrics are a great place to start; listening to a song while reading along with the lyrics can connect a passion for music with an opportunity to read and understand a song or artist more deeply.
  • Do you favor visuals alongside written formats? Comics, manga, magazines, and illustrated books can enhance written formats with visual cues. Since these formats often come in series, there’s more to enjoy if the first one has you hooked, and this makes finding the next thing to read an easy choice.
  • Do you enjoy reading online? You can also choose news articles or blogs to read online. Fall down a Wikipedia rabbit hole by searching for something that you’re curious about or check out IMDB to learn more about your favorite movies and actors. Try reading new recipes and following along in the kitchen or read about athletics to build language around sports and workouts. If reading about something leaves you with more questions than answers, then that question is the next thing you can search online to read and learn more about.

If you still find yourself struggling to find something you enjoy reading remember you don’t have to choose something to read all alone. Reach out to friends or librarians for recommendations that fit your interests.

2) Seek Out and Find Books or Materials to Read for Fun 

  • Visit your local library. Librarians are a fantastic resource and are more than happy to point readers in the direction of something that fits their skill level and interests. No section of the library is off-limits. Let yourself explore the adult section as well as the children’s section and the young adult section, since a combination of all areas might fit what you’re looking for. Maybe you like adult fiction for relatable stories as well as children’s nonfiction for interesting information presented in clear formats – or vice versa. Maybe you can find books that you’d like to read after you have more experience, as well as books that will help you practice your current skillset. Whatever it is you’re looking for, the library will have something you can read for free.
  • Search the internet. The internet provides tons of opportunities to read for fun. Websites like TV411 and Reading Skills for Today’s Adults are important educational resources. Lots of classic books are now free to read online through the Library of Congress. You can also practice reading for fun by reading YouTube and social media comments and captions or reviews of businesses and shops on Google Maps or Yelp.
  • Use an app. The Libby App is a fantastic resource for books. Readers can connect their library cards to this app to read library books for free on your phone or from a computer. This includes audiobooks and magazines! Ask a librarian for more information about setting it up.

3) Make Time to Read for Fun

Reading for fun can take place in small pockets throughout the day. This can look like reading for fifteen minutes before bed or while eating breakfast. Listen to an audiobook during a commute to work. Carry a book with you – you can read while waiting before an appointment or in long lines. Arriving places a few minutes early can give you a few minutes to escape into a story before moving on with the day. Beginning a reading-for-fun habit can start small – a few minutes here or there – and it can build as your enjoyment grows.

Reading For Pleasure Is Important for All Ages

There’s a lot of focus on the importance of reading outside the classroom for children, but it’s also true that this is extremely important for all readers, especially adult language learners. It does not have to be purely functional – even while it also builds skills that make reading and language learning easier in the long run. Reading for fun can be entertaining and enjoyable, something to look forward to while relaxing, and a way to connect with other people’s lives and stories.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.” – George R. R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones.

What are you reading this summer? For some inspiring short stories to kick off your summer reading visit our Scholar Stories page.

July 7, 2022

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