Ruth’s Blog: S-A-L-E-S: Strategies to increase children’s love of reading

There is considerable research on the strategies advertisers use to persuade people to buy things. We’ll look at some of the common persuasive strategies that work on us and consider whether we might use similar ones to encourage children to read. 

We’ll use the acronym SALES to guide us through five suggested strategies. 

S is for – Same – Persuade children that they all want to be reading the same thing. 

A is for – Authority – Become an expert on children’s books. 

L is for – Live it – Breathe life into the book. 

E is for – Ease – Make it easy to for children to find books. 

S is also for – Scarcity: make the book desirable by suggesting copies of it are in short supply. See below for ideas to develop each persuasive element. 

S is for Same 

Although we would prefer to think our choices are original, in fact we often choose things that others also like. Advertisers play on this. They know that people like to follow the crowd. Knowing this is useful in persuading children to read. Be aware of the books that a popular child in the class is reading. For example, Jordan might not be the class high-flier, but he is very popular; everyone wants to be his friend. They want to be like Jordan. 

Use Jordan to promote the books you want others to read. When you have all the class together, maybe at the start of a story time, ask his opinion of a book you know he has enjoyed: ‘Hey, Jordan, you’ve read this one, haven’t you? What did you think of it?’ His positive reaction should encourage other children to read it, because they are keen to like what Jordan likes. 

In promoting books to children, show them which children liked them. Make this clear in your displays, maybe with sticky notes on the front covers or just inside. Also, take a lesson from what bookshops do: advertise what others have read. Consider signs that say, ‘Children who read this book also enjoyed …. ‘. 

This links closely to the next point: ‘A’ is for ‘Authority’. 

A is for Authority 

We listen to those whom we believe to be experts in a particular field. Not only do we listen to their views on their specialism, but we are also likely to value their views and recommendations about other things. This is why advertisers so often pay sports personalities, models and well-known television personalities thousands – if not millions – of pounds to endorse their products. Social media ‘influencers’ are called ‘influencers’ for good reasons. 

But this works not only in selling products. One might well choose to read a novel by a previously unknown author if it was recommended by another author whose work one already knew and enjoyed. 

In terms of exercising ‘authority’ to get children reading, the best promoter is you, the teacher. If you say, ‘I think you’ll really enjoy this one,’ the child is willing to trust your judgement and believe you. They care about what you think about books – and what you think about their likes and dislikes. 

Exercising this sort of authority, however, means you need to know the books you bring into your classroom. 

Other children in the school can also act as authorities, both those in your own class – as we discussed in relation to Jordan earlier – and older children. 

L is for Live It 

Advertisers aim to excite us about the products they are selling, whether it is clothes, houses, exercise equipment, cars, food or perfume. 

Perfume and food advertisements are designed to hook us into the product, but since they cannot use the one sense that really makes the difference – the smell – advertisers work to make us want to live the life of which that product forms a part. They create a story about the product and, maybe, a mystery about it, too. They want us to buy into the lifestyle they are conveying through that product. 

In the classroom, we need to create that desire in children. We want them to want the book we are ‘selling’. In fact, we want them to want it desperately. 

Just as the advertiser entices us to enter, in our imagination, the stylish kitchen or the glossy car, we can lure children in similar ways. We need to help children to step over the threshold of a new book and to inhabit it. This is especially true for less confident readers who might well not take that first step on their own. 

We can help readers make the imaginative leap to inhabit the new book, make children feel what it would be like to be ‘inside’ it. 

  • Read part of the opening, at least to a point where they would want to carry on reading for themselves, so that by that time you have introduced the setting or a few key characters. 
  • Read intriguing extracts that might be key to the plot – without giving too much away – and ask the children what they think might be going on at that point – and, indeed, what might happen next. 
  • Read some of the dialogue aloud to introduce characters and their concerns. (See ‘Reading Aloud Matters’.) 

E is for Ease 

Advertisers know our attention span is limited: we soon get tired and don’t want to think too much. When we are offered too many options as a potential buyer, we walk away. For example, scientists set up a display in a supermarket offering customers a variety of different-flavoured jams to try. 

Sometimes just six were displayed; sometimes there were 24. What did customers buy? 

‘The results demonstrated a clear and astonishing difference between the two conditions: only 3 per cent of those who approached the extensive-choice display actually purchased any jam. Contrast that with the 30 per cent who bought jam from the limited-choice display.’1 

The more choice advertisers present, the less we are likely to engage. But they do not want us to walk away in frustration. That is why clever sellers – take Netflix as an example – suggest things they think we might like to help us refine our choices. They try to make the choice easier, because that is the way they sell their product. 

We can use this strategy to support children’s reading choices, to make it easier for them to select a book that will suit them, by: 

  • reducing the number of books presented to children. 
  • putting the books at children’s eye level. They should be able to see easily what is available. 

This also means getting rid of books that are dull and dog-eared. Unless the child is a dedicated searcher, it can be like sifting through a jumble sale. 

S is for Scarcity 

Sellers play on the fact that we do not want to miss out on: 

  • renting that special holiday cottage 
  • booking a room in our favourite hotel 
  • a flight at our preferred time 
  • a cheaper train ticket 
  • a time-limited special offer. 

Why does it work? The fear of missing out – F-O-M-O. FOMO can be dangerous in that it can propel us to make quick decisions that we have not thought through fully. It makes us think we might regret not buying something. The early days of the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020 showed this clearly when shoppers started panic buying, even storing goods they did not need at that time, because scarcity made the product seem more attractive. 

However, on the positive side, the idea of scarcity is something that can be used very effectively to persuade children to read. When you have finished reading a book to them that they have really enjoyed: 

  • tell them you have only three copies of it for them to borrow – and they will need to sign up 
  • also tell them that you have only one copy of another book by the same author – and, again, they will need to sign up. 

But make sure you offer alternatives while they are waiting, such as a book on a similar theme. 

It is vital that, once children can read, they keep reading. Show them what they are missing by not reading. To do this effectively, you need to know books well and know what will suit your children. That way, they will learn to trust your judgement when you make recommendations for them. 

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