Reading Makes You Smarter!

I know. At first glance this seems to be a “no, duh” statement, but how many students have asked you “why do I need to read?” or ” If I need to know stuff I can just look it up”? While the movie Idiocracy may spring to mind upon hearing this, I think the article I read by Martha Brockenbrough simply clarifies what we, as teachers, have always known: reading makes us smarter.

The first section of Brockenbrouhg’s article details how reading improves people’s vocabularies. She notes how the word frequency of speech is about 400 words versus the 627 words of children’s books. This means that “the language in a children’s book is likely to be more sophisticated than your average conversation.”

Brockenbrough also notes the rarity of words in print. She reveals how reading exposes people to more words (meaning more thoughts and ideas too if extrapolated out) using the following interesting stats:

  • In newspapers “68.3 words per 1,000 are ‘rare.'”
  • “In children’s literature, 30.9 words per 1,000 are rare.”
  • “On prime-time TV, it sinks to 22.7.”
  • “In conversations between college graduates, it’s even lower–17.3 words per 1,000.”

Does this mean reading a child’s book provides more benefits than watching TV or talking with a college graduate? Maybe. Still, the idea is an interesting one.

Brockenbrough then goes on to discuss how reading affects what we can do. She notes that when factors are adjusted (people of the same abilities being compared), readers can just do more than non-readers. Besides having the ability to perform more actions than non-readers, readers were much “less likely to be sucked in by misinformation,” a skill, in my opinion, more important nowadays than ever before.

Lastly, according to Brockenbrough, reading can also help to “compensate for the wear and tear time can put on a mind.”

While this article may not have any huge “a-ha” moments, it does provide some interesting statistics about reading in general. These are the types of stats I sometimes put on my white boards every couple weeks just to remind my students of the value of reading.

Even though some reading stats scare me, I always hold out hope that the right book or the right piece of information will inspire my students. Maybe one of Brockenbrough’s stats will inspire even one student to pick up a book and put down the remote or controller.


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