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5 Teaching Strategies to Facilitate Independent Reading

Jordan Catapano

I’ve often told my students I’m never disappointed when “All we did was read” today. Reading is a critical attribute of a lifelong learner, yet many students seem to learn that reading is just something teachers make you do in school. The idea of reading for pleasure or reading for passion is foreign to many students when the only reading they know is the reading the teacher assigns. Independent reading teaching strategies can help change that. Instead of students reading because they have to, independent reading teaching strategies give students a chance to read because they want to. Instead of the teacher selecting and assigning reading material, the constraints are loosened and students are given the chance to have control. If you’re interested in teaching strategies that facilitate independent reading in your classroom, here are some golden guidelines to consider for making it successful experience for your students.

Book Talk Teaching Strategies

A book talk is an opportunity for the teacher, librarian, or other well-informed adult to share a multitude of titles and topics with students. Book talks are an important component of the independent reading experience because often, students just don’t know the kinds of books that are out there.

Students sometimes claim, “I don’t read.” But if there were a way to show them the variety of books that are out there, maybe they would begin to see how reading could have more relevance to their interests. That’s where book talks come in. Because students may not know what interesting books are available, a teacher can enthusiastically share various titles and synopses to spark interest in reading on their own.

Encourage Choice and Love

Independent reading is the time for teachers to help students to love reading. Other curriculum can focus on specific skills and strategies. Independent reading opens up the unique opportunity for students to dive into a book with their heart.

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This means that one of the most important rules for independent reading is helping students find something they are personally excited about. Encourage students to find the kind of text they’re interested in reading, the kind of story they’re fascinated by, or the kind of nonfiction piece they want to learn from.

Having a multitude of choices available for students is important. Some teachers build a classroom library for students to pull from; others bring students to their school’s media center to explore the shelves. Give students plenty of opportunity to look at titles, consider their interests, and fall in love with a new read. When they select a book, they are more likely to read it because they chose it rather than having it forced upon them.

Class Time

“Independent reading” does not magically appear on students’ schedules if you announce it in class. Students who are not already reading on their own are unlikely to do so if a teacher tells them to. In fact, if a teacher mandates independent reading as homework, then it feels much more like an assignment and less like the enjoyable learning activity it’s meant to be.

If you’re really looking for independent reading to be successful with your students, you’ve got to commit class time to it. Students always see what we value by how we approach it during class. And if we want to be certain students get something done, we have to do it during class.

How you make this time is up to you. Elementary classes that tend to have students all day long can have a special fixed time each day allocated to independent reading. Middle and high school classes can allot a small portion – perhaps 10 or 15 minutes – of a class period towards independent reading each day before putting the book away and focusing on the day’s lesson. Others might prefer to wait until Friday and spend the whole class period reading that day.

Model It

In addition to helping students find books that fit them, students are more likely to engage in successful independent reading when it is modeled for them. This doesn’t mean that they should all sit around and stare at you while you read, but it does mean that you should do what you expect students to do.

So when you have your class time designated for independent reading, make sure that you put everything else aside and read. It’s important for students to see you prioritize reading for yourself without other distractions.

You could also model some of your interests, responses, and strategies as well. Before reading time begins, share your thoughts on what you’re reading with students. Let them hear how an intelligent reader thinks about what they read, and tell them about what you enjoyed, what you questioned, where you struggled, and what connections or conclusions you come to.

Accountability

For as self-motivating and satisfying the experience of independent reading can be for many students, it’s still important to build in an accountability structure. Accountability helps us to ensure students are indeed using independent reading time for the purpose it is meant for, and it also helps teachers see where students are at with their reading skills and goals.

Here are a few ways teachers can build accountability into their independent reading.

  • In-class observations: Scan the room during independent reading time and see if students are reading or not. This is quick, informal, effective formative feedback.
  • Conferences: While students are reading, have one or several of them engage in conversation with you about what they’ve been reading. This helps ensure not only that students are reading, but that they are understand what they read enough to articulate it to someone else.
  • Book talks: Structure a time for students to talk to one another about what they’re reading. They can share reviews, summaries, recommendations, and interesting information with one another.
  • Reading logs: Have students keep track of what or how much they read by writing it down. Reading logs can also be tied to individual or class reading goals.

Bonus Tips

Each of the above guidelines is a strategy and may look great on paper, though it takes some trial and error on the teacher’s part to leverage each guideline to benefit your students.

Here are a few other quick bonus tips you might consider incorporating to help your students get the most out of independent reading in your class!

  • Have students write down a reading goal and track their progress.
  • Tell parents about independent reading to help them encourage the practice outside of the classroom too.
  • Have students compose book reviews for authentic audiences; something as simple as composing a review on Amazon.com could be effective.
  • Help students find books at an appropriate reading level to maximize the enjoyment and reading improvement.
  • Remind students that abandoning a book they’re not enjoying is OK.
  • Make books easily available to students by either building a classroom library or taking regular trips to the media center.

Independent reading is an easy and effective way to reinforce the joy of reading. However, we can’t just show up in our classrooms and say, “Read now!” to our students. Facilitating independent reading in our classrooms means creating a culture of readers and establishing the procedures to smoothly incorporate the practice. There’s no one right way to make independent reading a successful regular activity – take these guidelines and tips and do what you feel will work best for your students!

How do you facilitate independent reading? What would you add to, modify, or subtract from our list above? Share your thoughts in a comment below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.