Encouraging more diverse reading experiences

Author: Beth Kemp
Published: 22/06/2022

Diverse reading experiences

If your GCSE English Literature set texts are feeling a bit monolithic (white, male, Eurocentric), you may be looking for ways to offer your students a broader reading diet. As well as taking advantage of the greater flexibility offered by KS3, there are a range of things you can do to enrich and diversity your English curriculum, including making use of:

  • unseen poetry practice
  • text extracts for GCSE English Language exam preparation
  • reading for pleasure recommendations

Here are some resources to support you with just that.

GCSE English Language exam preparation

The skills required in the GCSE English Language exams can be applied to any relevant text, so it’s worth trying to diversify the extracts and texts you offer to students for exam practice and as models.

For non-fiction, many students will be familiar with Martin Luther King’s oratory skills, but other speeches such as those by President Obama, Emmeline Pankhurst or Emma Watson are also worthy of analysis, or you could use Stella Young’s fantastic Ted Talk on disability (and transcript). Use a checklist-style resource like Persuasion skills to encourage students to consider how your chosen speech meets the criteria in the resource, before going on to write their own persuasive speech.

If you’re looking to broaden the range of non-fiction articles you share with students, here are some topical alternatives to the ‘same old’ voices:

The Edexcel IGCSE anthology includes a range of diverse writers which could be used for building exam skills, whichever specification you’re teaching. Try Exam practice using ‘A Passage to Africa’ or Language features in ‘Young and Dyslexic? You’ve Got it Going On’ on Benjamin Zephaniah's powerful article.

In terms of fiction, when introducing and building the skills required for GCSE, it can be great to use more accessible texts such as YA (young adult) fiction. Although there is still work to do in making YA fiction truly representative, there are plenty of excellent texts available that offer strong diverse representation, or alternative viewpoints to complement the canon and hopefully encourage more reading for pleasure among students. 

For KS3-4, try Analysing and creating narrative voice which includes a range of tasks on an extract from the YA novel Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne, who describes herself as a brown, queer, working class author. 

Another exciting YA voice is Rachael Lucas, an autistic author, who writes for adults as well as young adults. Building analytical skills is a new resource which features an extract from her 2017 YA novel, The State of Grace, which centres on Grace, a 15-year-old girl with autism.

Building evaluation skills explores an extract from Yasmin Rahman’s novel All the Things We Never Said. Rahman is a British Muslim writer and her 2019 novel deals with mental health themes.

If you want to use an expanded range of literary fiction to practise language analysis and comprehension skills, here are some suggested authors to start mining for extracts to enrich your curriculum delivery:

Ali Smith, Andrea Levy, Ben Okri, Deepa Anappara, Djuna Barnes, Edwidge Danticat, Khaled Hosseini, Lemm Sissay, Monica Ali, Oyinkan Braithwaite, Patricia Highsmith and Sarah Waters. 

Unseen poetry practice 

Unseen poetry offers the perfect opportunity to introduce 20th-century and more contemporary poems from a range of poets, so students have the chance to practise reacting to different styles and concerns. These poems should be different in nature and difficulty to those studied in GCSE poetry anthologies, as students are expected to be able to react to unseen texts on the spot and be able to respond to their meanings – not just ‘pick out’ similes, rhyme schemes, alliteration and so on. Possible poets to consider include: 

Adrienne Rich, Derek Walcott, Grace Nichols, Jay Hulme, Kae Tempest, Langston Hughes, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Moniza Alvi, Raymond Antrobus and Sophia Thakur.

Reading for pleasure 

Keeping up with recent fiction on top of everything else can be challenging, so to help you make informed recommendations to students, here’s my list of diverse Reading recommendations for key stages 3 to 5.

In this reading list, you’ll find a range of genres and themes represented, as well as different kinds of minoritised experiences. I've prioritised texts written by diverse authors in this book list for authenticity and many have themes relating to diversity, but not necessarily. The list gives some idea of plot, theme and genre as well as a broad indication of age suitability. There are graphic novels to engage young readers, LGBTQ anthologies of short stories and a range of diverse books and diverse characters to suit all tastes and interests.

This article was first published as an Editor's pick newsletter in July 2022. 

Beth Kemp

Beth Kemp is an experienced teacher, examiner, textbook writer and trainer, with a particular interest in English Language. She now teaches part time and is also pursuing a PhD, exploring young people's thoughts on reading and diversity.