What makes a high-quality text?
Phonics may be the foundation for the English curriculum, but high-quality texts are the cornerstone and there is much to consider before selecting texts for use in the classroom. Choosing the right texts for your English lessons, and having clear reasons for your choices, will not only help you to answer questions in your next Ofsted deep dive but also offers huge rewards for you and your pupils.
There is a strong emphasis on high-quality texts in the DfE Reading Framework, and deep dive inspections may include questions about your books choices, however, there is little guidance on what makes a quality text. We can all name familiar favourites that are unequivocally quality texts but an over dependency on these can get stale. It is also true that while there will always be a place for classics like Charlotte’s Web in the classroom, and our favourite text from that training day we had two years ago, we also need to make room for current high-quality fiction, including titles that reflect modern society and represent more diverse authors. It is this variety of high-quality texts that will keep your English lessons exciting, fresh, and engaging for you and your pupils.
What makes a high-quality text?
What are the hallmarks of quality literature? Ask the following questions of your chosen book to see if it meets the criteria for a high-quality text, be it a picture book for Reception or a novel for Year 6:
Does this book stand up to multiple readings?
If the text can be read on different levels, new aspects can be revealed on rereading, and it is pleasurable and rewarding to revisit it, then it stands up well to multiple readings. These books create opportunities for creative activities to further revisit and enjoy the text. They encourage children to draw on their own experiences and knowledge to develop their understanding and connection to the text.
Does this text offer my class an excellent stimulus for writing and discussion?
If there are lots of opportunities in the text to ask ‘why’ or ‘I wonder’ and a potential for deep class discussion about the text, then the book fulfils this need. The text should be open to interpretation so that the authors meaning can be discussed. Perhaps the text offers opportunities to discuss wider historical or social themes. In picture books the illustrations may support, or extend, the narrative in different subtle ways, or offer an alternative one to discuss.
Is your author a wordsmith?
A rich use of figurative language, featuring beautiful imagery and/or symbolism, offers much for readers to interpret and discuss. Figurative language also broadens children’s experience of language and provides a stimulating reading challenge and a superb model for their own writing. Picture books should play with rhyme, rhythm, and other language patterns skilfully to make reading meaningful and fun.
Do the characters represent different communities?
Texts which explore the points of view of different communities ensure your whole class feel represented by your book choices and open new windows on the world for readers. Quality texts offer diverse characters to talk about, support writing from different perspectives, use diverse characters to add depth and reflect the real world. From Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mr Tom to Onjali Q. Raúf’s Boy at the Back of the Class, it is the encountering of difference that is at the heart of great writing. Perhaps your chosen book explores differences in age, place, culture, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social or economic group; or explores the world from the point of view of a character with a disability or of a young carer. Consider if the author is writing about a diverse character from personal experience to make sure that your book has authentic representations.
To see a wider range of diverse and inclusive fiction, look at our diversity book packs for readers from reception to year 6:
Is this book an excellent example of its genre?
Another way to identify high-quality texts is to consider how close they come to the pinnacle of their genre. You are not looking for copycat examples of the greats of adventure novels, historical fiction, fantasy, or picture books, but books that sit well alongside them. Books that excel at one of more features of the genre. Perhaps your chosen book is superb at world building, is an immersive adventure, perfectly evokes a different time or place, provokes a profound empathy for an unfamiliar experience, or casts new light on a familiar one. Perhaps it is a picture book with a wonderful memorable rhythmic text reminiscent of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Any illustrations should be of high-quality and support or extend the text.
To see our most current recommendations of recently published high-quality texts take a look at our new termly packs:
Browse our stunning collection of Prizewinning & Notable Non-Fiction featuring award-winning, highly prized and favourite titles to bring your library to life and shine a light on non-fiction reading:
What should I consider before making my final selection for my class texts?
Do you love the book?
Loving a book does not make it a high-quality text, we can enjoy books for many varied reasons, but children will certainly pick up on your enthusiasm, or lack of it. Taking your own preferences in to account when making your final selection is a good way to model enthusiasm for books to your class and to ignite theirs.
How do you think your current class will respond to the book?
Think about the temperament and reading experiences of your class. What kind of things excite and engage them, and will this book introduce them to new vocabulary and ways to use language in a supportive context? Using these questions to inform your book choice can fan the flames of that smouldering enthusiasm for books, reading and English, while ignoring it completely could dampen them. You will want to choose books that will lead to positive reading experiences and stimulate reading for pleasure. A few words on emotional engagement may also be helpful here. Your books choices will include emotional content, and indeed one of the joys and benefits of reading is emotional engagement. It is important not to shy away from books featuring experiences which can help children to make emotional connections with characters and situations, or which promote empathy and understanding. Themes of loss and separation are an important feature of children’s literature but bear in mind that if a book becomes harrowing for your class you could be undermining reading for pleasure. Only you can make this choice for your class, and it is equally valid to include or exclude wonderful books based on your knowledge of your class. Aim for an emotional impact but not distress. Of course, not selecting a book as a class text does not mean that individual readers cannot enjoy reading it.
For our recommendation of books which foster emotional engagement in a supportive way see the following book collections:
What will this book bring to your English lessons that others do not?
Look at all your book choices for the year. How do they look in the round? Making sure that you have a good range of texts with a variety of text type, genre, setting, characters, authors and themes will keep pupils engaged and broaden their experience of high-quality literature. This approach will not only develop pupils reading skills and confidence, encouraging them to make bold choices when choosing their own books, but will also help them to appreciate a wider range of voices and styles, understand writing for different purposes and audiences, and bring significant improvement in pupils writing.
Putting books at the heart of your curriculum
A book led curriculum may be the way forward for many schools looking to put books at the heart of their curriculum but be wary of shoehorning in books because they fit a topic. If a book does not meet the criteria for a high-quality text, does not enthuse you or your class, or is not at the right text level to support your class’s acquisition of new vocabulary and language patterns then it will not bring the benefits that you are looking for. Whatever your approach to putting books at the heart of your teaching, look for books that inspire creative thinking, generate questions, and promote learning opportunities, these are your high-quality texts.
Take time over your chosen books: discuss new vocabulary; have rich discussions about characters, settings, and plot developments; support children to make connections with their own experience, knowledge, and other books; read more widely around the themes and subjects; and revisit the book through creative activities. Finally, provide as many copies of the book as you can for your pupils so that they can really get to know it and use it. Your class discussions will be so much deeper and children’s understanding increasingly consolidated the more they have the book in their own hands.
More about choosing high-quality texts:
To find out more about the types of questions asked in an Ofsted deep dive inspection: