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Independent Reading: How Teachers Can Positively Influence A Student’s Relationship with Books

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Independent reading time has so many benefits for students, from the youngest years all the way up through high school. In the early years of education, it fosters a love of reading and allows each student to increase their personal reading levels. 

As students mature, independent reading skills allow them to learn at their own pace and explore their personal interests. 

But teaching a skill that’s supposed to be practiced and done independently can be difficult, especially if you have learners in your classroom who struggle with reading comprehension. 

This article will outline what independent reading time is, along with our six favorite tips for implementing it in your classroom.

What is independent reading?

Four students reading books in their classroom library.

Independent reading is time you set aside during class specifically for students to read a book of their choice on their own. While reading activities and English games also help students improve their reading skills, independent reading time can be particularly beneficial.

This time engages students with the reading material since they get to pick what they’re reading about. It also improves each student’s literacy skills. 

Starting a habit of independent reading time in young learners helps develop a love of reading. And this appreciation for reading will continue to serve them throughout their life.

6 Tips for teaching independent reading at all grade levels

Implementing independent reading time is not always as simple as it seems. Especially if you’re teaching older students who have never experienced or practiced this skill, it can be difficult to get started.

However, there are a few ways that you can encourage independent reading in your classroom, whether you are teaching high school, kindergarten, or any grade level in between. Are you ready to help your students develop reading skills and become more engaged in English Language Arts? 

Here are six of our favorite tips to help you add some more independent reading time into your day!

1. Expand your classroom library

One of the best ways to successfully encourage independent reading is to expand your classroom library. If you have a wider variety of reading material and book topics, more students will be able to find a book they are really excited about. Finding a book about their latest interest in outer space or safari animals will lead to the student being excited about independent reading time and even looking forward to it. 

You may be thinking, ‘But books are so expensive!’ And you’re right, they can be. But they are also ways to get free or cheap books for your classroom. 

Many libraries offer book giveaways when they’re clearing out their inventory. Or you may be able to find affordable second-hand books at thrift stores, yard sales or online resale stores.

And if you're looking for more inspiration on what the latest must-have reads are, check out this teacher's suggested books for 2023 below!

2. Participate in a mystery book program

Have you ever heard of a Mystery Book Program? This easy-to-implement reading program encourages your students to expand their interests and often garners more engagement in reading since it feels so much like a classroom game.

To start this program in your classroom, you simply need to wrap up a number of books in wrapping paper. You can choose to write a topic, genre, or background knowledge on the outside, or you can choose to leave it totally blank. 

Students then pick a ‘present’, and that is their book to read during independent reading time. They will likely be reading a book that they never would have picked out otherwise. This program is a fun way to help your students expand their interests and challenge themselves.

3. Create a reading log

Another idea is to track student progress with a weekly or daily reading log. You can add whatever metrics to this that you want, such as the amount of time spent reading, how many pages were read or thoughts and questions about the book. Students will spend a bit of time after each independent reading session filling out their chart. 

You can also use these logs to help students set and achieve reading goals. These goals could be a certain number of books read every month or a certain number of minutes each day. 

If you have the Sustained Silent Reading program in your classroom, your students can also track that time in their reading log.

Try this free reading log template!

Use Prodigy's free reading log template to help students share their progress and thoughts on every book they read.

4. Ensure the whole class is engaged

If you’ve ever tried to study in a noisy library or work in a loud classroom, you know that noise makes it difficult to focus and concentrate. Especially when new readers are working on such a difficult skill, they need silence to focus on their book. 

But keeping a classroom full of students quiet and engaged in a book can be difficult. 

Try to focus on using lots of positive reinforcement whenever you see one of your students modeling great reading behaviors. Students are more likely to engage in their own books if they see their peers doing it and being praised for it. 

If you have some students that particularly struggle with staying engaged during independent reading time, make sure that they have books that interest them. And give them additional tools to focus on the task at hand if necessary.

Bonus tip: Gamify the reading experience to boost engagement

For students who are disengaged in reading, it can be hard to encourage them to sit and read long chapters at a time. Game-based learning platforms can help reengage students in reading by presenting content in a gamified way. For example, Prodigy English lets students build a virtual village and as they play, they'll answer standards-aligned questions in reading, language and writing.

It's a win for teachers too, who won't have to grade student work and can instead jump right in to evaluating student performance data.

5. Encourage students to discuss their books

Classroom reading discussion with students raising hands.

While independent reading is a solo activity, reading in general should not be. Consider starting a ‘book club’ in your classroom where smaller groups of students discuss the books that they are currently reading. Encouraging your students to talk about what they’ve read will promote reading comprehension. 

You could choose to group students according to reading level, the genre of book that they are reading, or just randomly assign them. You can also decide if it’s best to keep these groups the same or mix them up each week. 

If students are discussing what they’re reading during independent reading time, the discussion will likely be free-form. However, you can also encourage your students to discuss books that you are currently reading together as a class. In this case, you could provide questions to guide the discussion. 

If book clubs don’t seem like something that would work well in your classroom, you can discuss the reading material in reading conferences with your students individually. This is especially helpful with struggling readers. You will better understand where they’re at and where they need more support.

6. Gradually increase the amount of independent reading time

If you are in a classroom with a lower reading level, your students may not be able to read independently for a long amount of time. Start slow. Maybe you only start with 5 or 10 minutes a day. Then, you can gradually increase the amount of time as your students get better at this reading skill. 

As students' skills grow throughout the year, independent reading time will likely become more enjoyable. There will be more books that they feel confident reading and their reading comprehension skills will increase. All of this means that they can read independently for a longer time as the school year progresses.

Key benefits of independent reading time for students

Four students reading a variety of books in class.

There are so many benefits of independent reading time that you will likely see in your classroom. Some of the most common include:

  • Increased student engagement: When students are reading books that they are actually interested in, they will be more likely to engage with enthusiasm.
  • Improved reading comprehension skills: Reading comprehension skills and reading fluency both improve with the extra reading practice during independent reading time. Giving students more time to read while in the classroom allows them to ask questions and receive whatever support they need. 
  • Building a positive relationship with reading: It is important for students to begin engaging with books and literary materials early. Many lifelong readers fall in love with reading at a young age. An enjoyment of reading will serve a student well through all grade levels and across many subjects.

Use game-based learning to engage your students in reading

Carving out time for independent reading in the classroom can be difficult. Your schedule is packed full, and students may struggle with this skill. But the benefits of independent reading time far outweigh the difficulties. There are many approaches and techniques that you can try to find what works best for your students. 

To better support each of your students' individual needs, Prodigy English can be a great tool. This engaging ELA game provides adaptive reading, writing and language practice to students in 1st to 6th grades. See how it works below!

See how Prodigy English works