Why large-print books motivate all readers

Students follow text more closely, comprehend more and spend more time reading
By: | September 13, 2019
More than half of the nearly 1,700 students surveyed in a recent study said reading large-print books is more enjoyable.More than half of the nearly 1,700 students surveyed in a recent study said reading large-print books is more enjoyable.

The size of the text matters, and not just for people over 40 who may be enlarging their smartphone screens to read this story.

Large-print books can also motivate students to read more—particularly learners who struggle with literacy, according to a study by education nonprofit Project Tomorrow and Thorndike Press.

At one of the schools in the study, O’Neill Middle School in Downers Grove, Illinois, teachers saw an instant jump in engagement when students in two seventh-grade classes read young-adult classic The Outsiders.

“One of the teachers said that students stay on task more when reading large print, they’re able to get back into the book faster, and they seem to want to keep reading longer,” says Tasha Squires, a librarian at the school, which is part of Downers Grove Grade School District 58 in the Chicago suburbs.

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Students also sit back in a more relaxed position when reading large-print books. They no longer pull books up close to their faces and/or use their fingers to follow the text, she says.

One student who stuttered when reading aloud no longer did so when given a large-print book. And an advanced reader slowed down and read with more expression when reading aloud from a large-print book, Squires adds.

Accordingly, the school’s collection of large-print books has grown exponentially, and more students are requesting the titles. “I had to get over my own preconceived notions, which kids don’t have; they don’t think large print is just for little kids,” Squires says.

Diving into the details of large-print books

More than half of the nearly 1,700 students in the study (which focused on 15 schools) said reading would be more enjoyable if all of their books were in a large-print format. They also reported feeling significantly less anxious about reading. At one school, students’ Lexile reading levels increased by two to three times the average, according to the study.

District leaders should consider using large-print books as a low-cost literacy intervention that doesn’t require additional professional development, technology or other instructional tools, says Project Tomorrow CEO Julie Evans, who also conducted focus groups with students in the study.

“I had a couple of students say to me: “They put more details in those large-print books than in the other books,’” Evans says. “But the books were exactly the same. Students are saying this because they’re more comfortable; they’re paying more attention; and they weren’t getting lost, losing their place or getting distracted.”

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A quarter of the teachers in the study said reading comprehension and retention grew when students read large-print books. Many of the teachers felt that fewer words on a page, more space between lines of text, and greater contrast between the color of the letters and the color of the page were major factors in these improvements, the study found.

Teachers also said it was important for large-print books to be about the same size as standard-print books.

When teachers let students choose between standard- and large-print books, readers are often more empowered, Evans says.

Having a say in what they read can be especially affirming for students who aren’t often read to at home. “A lot of the theories around reading instruction talk primarily about the mechanics of vocabulary and breaking down sentences,” Evans says. “But there are also the social-emotional aspects of students feeling comfortable reading, feeling successful, and getting the comprehension they need.”

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