British youngsters are ditching Dickens, Shakespeare and Keats for Facebook and Twitter, with one in six failing to read a single book in a month, according to a survey.

The poll, which questioned 18,141 children aged eight to 17, also showed less than half of youngsters choose to read a book outside of class at least once a month.

Instead, children's exposure to the written word arises mostly from sending messages via texting, emails, and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The poll was carried out for British charity the National Literacy Trust. Getting these children reading and helping them to love reading is the way to turn their lives around and give them new opportunities and aspirations, said Trust Director Jonathan Douglas in a statement.

Older pupils were considerably more likely to say they have not read any book in the past month than their younger counterparts, the survey showed.

The trends it highlighted could have significant consequences for the children as they enter adulthood.

We are worried that they will grow up to be the 1 in 6 adults who struggle with literacy to the extent that they read to the level expected of an 11-year-old or below, Douglas said.

With indications that reading frequency has a direct link to attainment, fresh approaches are urgently needed to encourage young people to read more, the charity said.

It described Secretary for Education Michael Gove's proposals that all pupils aged 11 should read 50 books a year as a huge challenge in the light of the findings.

(Alice Baghdjian; Editing by Steve Addison)