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The benefits of running a reading group for adult learners

22 July 2011

So why start a reading group for new adult readers? And how do you keep it going? Here is some advice drawn from practitioners and, in particular, library staff and tutors in the West Midlands who were the consultation group that helped to develop The Reading Agency's network of reading groups for adult learners.

What can a reading group provide?

A safe environment for building confidence among people just starting to choose and read books for pleasure. If you haven't read much it can be liberating but also daunting to share your views with others. People should feel able to say they've stopped reading a book because they didn't like it rather than feeling they've failed in some way.

A flexible model that can be adapted to local need. A reading group doesn't have to follow the traditional pattern of members choosing one book to read and discuss - they can read different books and swap views about them. They don't have to read books either - it could be magazine or newspaper articles, short stories, online material. And it can be a short-term activity just to get people started.

A level playing field - everyone will have their own views about a particular book, none of them right or wrong. New readers often have deeper insights - they may have read a book more slowly and intently than more competent readers which could have greater impact.

An informal structure for developing and sustaining a new reading habit. Regular reading group activity can give people a real sense of progress as they gain wider reading experience and practise their new-found skills at the same time.

A buzz around reading as people swap opinions and ideas. Readers may draw comparisons with their own life experience rather than with other books they've read.
A sense of belonging for people who may have felt quite isolated because of their literacy needs. There's often unexpected common ground to share - "I didn't know you liked sci-fi/worked there/used to live there!"

Some hurdles to overcome

People who aren't very confident about their reading may resist the idea of getting together to talk about it. Here are some suggestions for how to answer those who think reading is not for them.

"I'm not a reader"
Reading isn't all about stories and novels. Think about the magazines, TV guides or newspapers you look at. Do you use the internet, go to football matches or go on journeys to see friends and family? You're bound to do some reading if you do.

"What's it got to do with me?"
There are books, magazines and websites about everything under the sun, so there's bound to be something relevant to you and your life. Start with something you're really interested in.

"Reading is too personal. I don't want to talk about it."
But we all have views on what we read about whether it's football, fashion or politics. You'll be surprised how good it is to share what you think about a newspaper article, magazine feature or crime novel. It might make you think about it in a completely different way.