One Hundred Classics for Every Child

“Miss! I learnt about the Blue Carbunceruncle, Miss!” The excited shriek comes from a tiny, wide-eyed boy in my tutor group. The knot of his tie is inexplicable; his folder bulges out from under his skinny little arm; the Velcro on one of his shoes is stuck to his trousers. He pauses briefly and looks up, beaming and panting slightly after his hasty trot up the stairs.


I can’t help but grin back. “Oh! You’ve discovered the secret of the Blue Carbuncle, have you? Quite the Detective!” I reply. My voice is filled with genuine glee as I emphasise the correct pronunciation of what is – to be fair- a surprising and confounding word at first greeting. My response is animated, possibly a touch over-egged, but I’m enjoying myself and am getting swept away by the enthusiasm, so I keep going with it.


“Yes, Miss!” He offers a bashful grin and giggle, wipes his nose on the cuff of his shirt, and turns and walks to his desk.


A hand shoots up from the front row. It’s a tall girl with a pristine shirt and ponytails. Her pens, ruler and exercise book are already laid out perfectly on her desk.


“It was hidden inside the duck, Miss!” she yelps.


Another hand “Miss, ‘ow do you say that word of that blue thing, Miss?”


“Mr. Holmes is so clever, Miss!”


“He’s sick, Miss!”


Two days before, I presented my after-school Reading Club kids with the newest addition to our repertoire. We’d already ripped through abridgements of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, among others. I’d been saving Sherlock for a while. I wasn’t sure if they’d get into it, to be completely honest. I wasn’t sure if the stories might be a bit too obscure and complicated. But fortunately, my instincts were spectacularly incorrect. Contrary to my predictions, Holmes was quite the hit. They couldn’t get enough of him and his sharp-witted, crime-solving ways. I’m pretty sure that two or three kids have decided they want to become detectives since reading about the famous sleuth. I’m sure the HR department at the Metropolitan Police will be delighted.


Reading Club is the highlight of my day. At 4pm, the bell goes and I open my classroom door. Fifteen smiling faces wait in the corridor, books clasped in their clammy paws and a thousand questions on their lips.


“Is Esmeralda going to die, Miss?”


“Does Shmuel go back to Berlin with Bruno, Miss?”


“Was it the monster that did it, Miss?”


“Can I read first, Miss?”


We settle in to our current tome after a quick recap of what we read the day before. We take it in turns to read sections aloud and we discuss what we’ve read. That’s it. We read. We enjoy it. We talk about it. It’s not complicated at all.


I’ve written before about how to get kids reading. I should note that all the kids in Reading Club can decode well enough to access texts aimed at 11 year-olds. The content and vocabulary may be challenging in places, but that’s the beauty of reading in a group with an adult: I can do my teacher thing and support them through the tricky bits.


Katharine, our Headmistress, regularly pops in to Reading Club to see what’s happening (and to soak up its general awesomeness, of course). She is unbelievably supportive and champions reading around the school. We were chatting about our whole-school reading strategy recently when she pointed out that our weakest readers are now the kids that have read the most classic novels. We have a lovely school library, and all pupils have been reading plenty from there. This is, of course, wonderful, and I’m never going to tell a child they can’t read something if they really want to read it, but there are lots of books that they may fall in love with, but might never pick up off the shelf. Let’s be honest: if you were eleven, would you rather read The Diary of A Wimpy Kid or Wuthering Heights?


Whether you’re a Wutherer or a Wimp, it’s important to be exposed to as broad a range of texts as possible. Additionally, there is something fabulous about having read and engaged with the classics. They are the books that have shaped our society and have influenced our collective thinking throughout the ages. Not only should we want to keep the flame of these favourites alive, we should want to empower all children with the cultural knowledge these stories bring.


Inspired by Reading Club, therefore, we have recently introduced a new reading goal for every child. Over five years, every single Michaela pupil will read at least 100 classic novels during tutor time. Some of these will be abridgements, but many won’t be. This does not include any subject lesson reading or independent reading. Many kids, therefore, will read a lot more than this. But the absolute minimum entitlement for every kid is 100 books. Why should we settle for any less?


How the programme works


  1. All pupils read the same book every day during tutor time. Every child has a copy. The tutor reads along with the pupils and will read aloud occasionally, too. (We buy one class set of each text and rotate. Expensive: yes. WHAT ELSE IS WORTH SPENDING THE MONEY ON?!??!?)
  2. All pupils take their copy home each evening and read the next section.
  3. The next day, the tutor gives the class a multiple choice question based on what they read the night before. These are created centrally and provided to the tutor on a PowerPoint.
  4. Pupils may read ahead or re-read sections if they wish.
  5. Pupils are expected to carry their own book from the library, which they are welcome to read at their leisure after class-reading time is finished. This equates to about twenty minutes a day.


At this rate, we get through one short book every two or three weeks. Some longer novels can take anywhere up to about seven or eight weeks. In future years, when they are in the habit of reading at home, they’ll read longer sections independently so they can get through weightier tomes in less time.


If you are keen to learn more, here is the briefing document I wrote for tutors, which outlines the strategy in more detail: New Reading Strategy Tutors


Here is an example PowerPoint with multiple choice questions for tutors: Dracula PowerPoint

*Note: ‘Blue’ is the name of our in-house ICT system, which we use to create and assign multiple choice quizzes.


20 thoughts on “One Hundred Classics for Every Child

  1. Hi Katie, you’re reading club sounds brilliant. I’d have loved such a thing! I’m one of the many who were put-off reading by the end of school. I’d heard reading was enjoyable, but had never seen it or experienced it as a student, so couldn’t believe it. The message I and many students unfortunately receive is that reading skills are of transactional importance; ‘If I prove I understand this text you give me a grade, a certificate, in the future I get money for this?’ Only a couple of years ago (I’m now in my mid 20’s) did I discover joy in reading where you want to burst and tell everyone you know, yet you’re speechless that another person wrote this! Just like those students in your club. There was a study several years back asking primary students why they read and they overwhelmingly talked about reading being ‘good for the future’ and ‘important to get a job’ and so few said that ‘reading is fun’. For those who come from a reading household they’re likely to already know the joy of reading for pleasure and for personal growth… they will have seen it at home and for them the technical aspects of reading will be wonderfully complimentary allowing them to delve deeper into a world they’re already eager to explore. For the rest of us these reading skills are acquirable, but I know many adults who say as they were put off reading by the end of school, regardless of the grades they got. Clubs like yours are so important. You’re love of reading is infectious and the more you can share that joy, the better.

  2. Great approach for both commitment and enthusiasm. I have a couple of questions.. You say your abridged versions are aimed at 11 year olds, so Y6-7. Will you choose a different abridgement for the tutor groups’ books as they move up through school, or through KS3? By KS4 will you use original texts to some extent, in line with GCSE English expectations? Does the language of the abridgements you’ve chosen match, or incorporate, the language of the original? And about the multiple you create them yourself for all staff to share? As the school grows, will this become a collaborative endeavour? What happens if a child gets the question will you investigate the reason? And finally timing…does your plan to read 100 classics (great aim) include their English lesson time as well? OK, that’s more than a couple of questions! Thanks Katie


    • Hi Lisa.

      We’ll be using some abridgements, some of which we’ll probably abridge ourselves (Les Miserables, for example: we love it and want to get the best bits and avoid the dull bits). If it’s a classic, it’s probably available for free online so you don’t have to type out the whole thing, just copy and paste and cut the bits you don’t want.

      We are using the ‘Classic Starts’ series in Year 7, but will try to find slightly more challenging abridgements for later years. The Classic Starts are technically ‘retold’ versions, but they keep some of the best lines, or paraphrase them. I’ve found that most ‘retolds’ are about right for year 7, but you really need a mature abridgement for older year groups. These are tricky to find. This is partly why we might end up doing some of our own abridgements. If I can’t find a good one, I’ll just do it myself.

      Throughout the five years, we’ll mix retolds and abridgements with lots of original, full texts. In year 7, full texts will be a bit lighter and more accessible (e.g. Harry Potter, Boy in the Striped Pyjamas). In later years, we’ll move on to trickier ones. We are planning on reading some incredibly tough texts in year 11: Crime and Punishment, Anna Karenina, and Middlemarch, to name a few. I’m going to wait and see how we get on over the next years: we might need to abridge some of these. It’s just a bit hard to tell if it’ll be necessary at the moment. Depends on the kids and how their reading habits develop.

      For some seminal works, (e.g. Wuthering Heights), we’ll read an abridgement in year 8, then the full original in year 10/11. If they already know the plot, etc. it makes it easier for them to understand the language in the original. We aren’t studying Wuthering Heights for GCSE, but it’s good to read when you’re that age, and it accompanies core GCSE texts well.

      We’ve chosen the books so that they extend beyond the GCSE and KS3 curricula. So no, the 100 classics list does not include the books we’ll study in lessons: the idea is that they extend beyond lesson time, enriching and deepening pupils’ knowledge of literature.
      In lesson time, they’ll study 6 Shakespeare plays over five years, in addition to Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, 1984, Animal Farm, Frankenstein, The Odyssey, and a bunch of other things. The purpose of the ‘100 Classics’ is just to read for breadth and enjoyment. There will inevitably be some discussion that comes of it, but we won’t be studying them in the same way that we’ll study our main texts, obviously.

      We create the MCQs to be kept centrally and shared with tutors. I’m doing a lot of them myself, but I also have a diligent team of ‘Teaching Fellows’ (our version of Teaching Assistants) helping to create them. It’s only 100 books- big upfront investment, but once they are created, they’ll last forever, so it’s worth it. We’re doing this one year at a time, too, so it’s not like we need all 100 done straight away. I’d recommend that other schools do the same and phase this in with their current/next year 7 cohort. It’s an enormous project and there are lots of fiddly implementation issues to tackle. It’s not something that can be made whole school straight away, in my opinion.

      At the moment, if a kid gets the question wrong (all questions are deliberately designed to be very, VERY easy to get right IF you have read the book), then we ask them a bit more about it and give them a demerit if its clear that they haven’t read the book. If that happens twice in one week, they get a detention (we have to hold them to account somehow).

      Thanks for all your questions. Feel free to fire away if you have any more.


      • Thanks, Katie. I really like the approach of gradually incorporating the more demanding language by extending exposure to originals. I’ve been thinking about something similar with online classic texts, project Gutenburg texts, etc. Then I got to thinking..why not challenge some of the stronger students to do this for the group? I can guide…highlight themes or perhaps some absolutely crucial passages that they should be investigating, then maybe they could take a chapter each with the children who will read the whole original text taking the later chapters. Once I’ve checked the passages they submit, I could then work out necessary vocab to pre-teach, etc.
        So, I’ll give this some more thought. And it’s always good to talk about getting more children reading more quality material.

  3. I love this idea. It’s very similar to the system we have in my school, which we call our Core Canon. Each year group has a box of high quality books that the children will become very familiar with over the course of the year. They have been carefully chosen to expose children to good language features and to give them a wide range of genres. Do you have a list of the 100 books you use?

    • Hi Rachel,

      We won’t stop them from reading ahead if they want to. Every kid understands that we read the text together in class, so if they choose to read ahead, they will re-read those sections in class. They don’t tend to mind. We encourage them to re-read lots anyway!

      It’s really exciting. Looking forward to having you involved!


    • Hey, that’s great! Here’s my maths book recommendations to begin with: “The Man Who Loved Only Numbers” oh I wish I’d discovered this sooner! Would have opened pure maths wide up for me as a student. And, for more applied maths thinking, the “Undercover Economist” was super interesting. Can’t think of any others immediately but, as I mentioned above, I’ve only started reading properly since a couple of years ago. Good luck with the club if you go for it! @LearntSchool

      • I’ve read them both! The Man Who Loved Only Numbers was given to me by my old maths teacher. Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh is a great read.

      • Thanks for the recommendation! I’m looking into it now. There’s got to be space for themed book clubs e.g. one on maths/science topics. I’m reading ‘Origin of the Species’ now and fuming that I had to learn all this from stupid looking and simplified text books (of course we know more about genetics now which has been integrated) but the original text -with a good introduction- and the context it was written in, and the way it is written is, oh, just exciting! I did read ‘Short History of Nearly Everything’ in school and would have love the opportunity to discuss it with someone who had time and cared a little. School teachers could only afford a couple of minutes in which they’re distracted anyway… a book club would be a great space for conversations like this. Looking forward to hearing how you get on with this idea, it’s a great idea amwinterbottom.

  4. So, where can I see a list of the books you recommend? My 12 year-old has read many but always looking for new books to get him interested in. He loves the classics as much or more than many of the new.

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    • I deliberately haven’t shared the list because I can’t be bothered with the inevitable unpicking/criticism it will receive from unreasonable people on Twitter. Sorry about that. If you google ‘100 best books’ you can find some inspiration 🙂

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