Posted by: Elizabeth Grochan | March 22, 2012

Implementing Independent Reading in the Classroom

So far in this class, this has been one of the harder areas for me to grasp. Not having a classroom, I found it difficult to fully understand what independent reading should look like in the classroom. All I could envision was SSR, but trying to understand how to structure independent reading in my classroom successfully was difficult. It took me time to break down everything I learned from Creating Lifelong Readers Through Independent Reading (which I felt was a fantastic read with tons of useful ideas that every classroom teacher should read), the powerpoint, observations, and feedback from practicing teachers. For me to understand HOW to implement independent reading in my classroom, first I had to understand what Independent reading was. These quote come from Creating Lifelong Readers Through Independent Reading by Barbara Moss and Terrell Young.

“Independent reading provides practice and pleasure and a passion for books.”

“Independent reading is just one component of a quality reading program, but it is a critical one-not a substitution for substitute for direct instruction in basic reading skills, but a critical support for students learning to read, as well as reading to learn.”

“A reading program that neglects instruction and simply focuses on independent reading is not likely to be successful…Independent reading should be one component  of a balanced literacy program that includes a range of instructional activities focusing on decoding, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension development, and so on.”

“Independent reading, also called voluntary reading, self-selected reading, or leisure reading, is reading that students do on their own in or out of school, with or without accompanying instruction.”

“Whenever wherever students are reading on their own, without teacher assistance, they are reading independently.”

Independent reading is more than a student sitting and reading quietly, although that is definitely a part of it. A student is not just going to know how to choose the correct book and to read it in an engaging way. Teachers much instruct, model, scaffold learning how to independently read. In the following post, I will address how a teacher does this in the classroom through community and Supported reading time.

Independent reading encompasses what a quality reading program in the classroom should look like. It cannot act alone and be successful, just as direct instruction is not enough for students to fully learn how to become passionate lifelong readers.

Love of reading is caught-not taught (Herricks & Jacobs, 1955).

Reading instruction goes beyond print processing and basic comprehension. Learning to read is about learning how to become engaged in reading, understanding the authors purpose, how the story makes you feel, asking questions, sharing with others and more. I don’t just want to teach students to read, I want to teach them to love to read. To see what reading can do for them.

Independent reading allows students for the chance to explore a wide range of books of different genres and to discover what interest them. When a student becomes interested, they are more likely to want to learn more and to become engaged in what they are reading. Students cannot discover what interests them if they are not provided the opportunity. Teachers act as a guide into the world of literature and books, helping students discover passion for reading in all its shapes and forms. So many different avenues of reading are available these days from paper to electronic. Genres of fiction and nonfiction are available, from picture books, graphic novels, historical, poetry, animal based and more. There is bound to be books students will find interests in out there, we just need to lead them.

Beyond reading books, a good independent program give student the time to share with others books they have read in a multitude of ways, from book talks, to creating displays, writing reviews, keeping up a journal or electronic blog, and more. My goal in creating a successful reading program will be in creating a community of readers. Readers who engage in reading and sharing in a comfortable and inviting environment. Where they look forward to getting to settle in with a good books, than in having the opportunity to tell others in an innovative, creative, or even a simple way.

Research has shown that independent reading has many benefits. According to Moss and Young, 2010 some of these are:

Increased vocabulary development

Greater domain and background knowledge

Better fluency and comprehension

Improved reading achievements

Greater interest in books and motivation to read

Reading stamina

 “Increasing the time students spend in reading appropriately challenging texts with scaffolding instruction led to both word reading improvement and increases in reading comprehension” (Moss & Young, 2010).

Through a creative a successful framework for an independent reading program, students will gain the many benefits of not only knowledge and skills, but the appreciate, passion and love of books.

Independent reading program should be an integral part of a BALANCED reading program. It should include the following:

Supportive reading environments

Access to interesting books and reading materials

Structured time for engaging with texts


Active Engagement by teachers

Family and Community connections

Of course a model like this does not happen overnight, nor can it be completely success confined to the classroom. A good reading program should be “An organized systematic program that involves the classroom, the school, and the community…A collaborative effort among teachers, students, administrators, parents, school and public librarians, and community members” (Moss & Young, 2010).

Today’s research supports the benefits and idea of having an independent reading program as a the whole reading instruction. Once I have entered into a classroom, I plan to implement it into my daily schedule. While some components and areas may need to be adjusted depending on my students, as of now I plan to follow a plan similar to the one described in the book. If I was to envision a classroom for myself now, the following is how I would do so.


Creating the Space

“Not only are the books important, but so are the ways in which you organize and make accessible the books to your students (Moss & Young, 2010).”

As a nonpracticing teacher, I can of course only speculate on what my classroom library will look like. Since I would like to work in upper elementary classes, I will focus on a 5th grade class. Ideally, I want my classroom library to be a large, comfortable, secluded and inviting area students can go to find books as well as sit and read. I want students to be heavily involved in the creation and keeping up of the reading area. If they take ownership of the classroom library, they will feel a connection with where I would hope they would be sure to keep it clean and organized, want to partake in the creation of displays, and would like to contribute to what should and should not be a part of our library.

The reading Nook would be off to the side preferably in a corner separated from the rest of the classroom. I would like there to be windows or something to add natural light. Under the windows, I would like there to be a bench as well as a variety of seating options. Some of the chairs would be more permanent fixtures, but I would also like to have bean bag chairs, cushions, and smaller chairs such as papasan chairs that students are allowed to move around the room during reading times. A large rug would cover the area floor. Since the reading Nook would be on a corner, I would have two walls to use. With some the wall with the window, the other wall would have a large book shelf. Coming out of the wall with the window would be a ‘false wall’ bookshelf that is short maybe 3 feet tall. Another 3 foot bookshelf would face parallel to the window connecting to the wall bookshelf. A small opening would be left between the two 3 foot shelves for entering and exiting.

On top of the two 3 foot walls would be various book displays. Displays would be changed frequently. Some would be created by me as the teacher, and some would be created by the students. I would like to have an author display up that is changed out every few weeks. The display would have a picture of the author as well as many of their books and maybe objects that reflect the author and the author’s stories in some way. Students could be involved in choosing the author and creating the display.  Another display would be one that reflected a topic we were studying at the moment. Another display would be one reflecting a genre that we are highlighting at the moment. I would also like to have a student made display by a chosen student of the week. They would get to display their favorite books and authors in a manner they would like. I would also have a display set up where students can show there reviews of books. The books that are part of the display would be stood up and displayed where the cover of the books are easily seen.

Convenient access to a computer would be close by where students can research information on their books as well as access their reading blogs. They can update their own as well read others to see what their classmates are reading.

Around the rest of the classroom evidence of reading would be displayed and made available for students. Various posters of books, authors and reading motivation would be set up on the walls. I recently purchased the Hunger Games movie poster with the intention of displaying in my classroom. I would also like there to be areas with small book cases or those wire spin book shelves that spin. These would be set up near centers. Near a Science center for instance where we are talking about weather, they would be books set up around relating to the subject. At the front of the classroom below the white board I would have featured books from the library students could have access to. I would have a bulletin board set up for book quotes the students find in their reading we would add periodically.

My Classroom Collection

This will probably be one of the harder areas for me to build. Over time I know I will build up my library that reflects books my students are interested in. Since my last year during my undergrad when I had a literature class, I have been slowly building a library. Right now it is mainly books that have been suggested by professors and the books that were required reading. I also have given myself a monthly budget where I purchase various books some from bookstores, others I stumble across that I find for really good deals. I do not know what grade I will be teaching yet, so my books are anywhere from picture books for beginner readers to young adult.

I would like my library to have over 1000 books available. Since I am focusing on a 5th grade classroom, I would expect to have book levels down to 2nd grade and as high as Young Adult. Depending on students, I would make changes on levels as needed. Some of the books will be a part of the library year long, others will be rotated out. Books that are rotated in will be introduced. I will also have a special time for the ‘retiring books’ telling the students to read them before they go into the ‘vault’. (Of course if a student asks for a specific book I would give it to them to read.)

The books I will have in my classroom with be interesting for boys and girls. There will also be many books that reflect various diversities from multicultural, social and economic backgrounds. I would also like to have books that reflect and embrace differences and disabilities (books like Marcelo in the Real World and Rules). While the library will have many award winning books, I believe that there are just as many great books out there that are not considered award winners.

The library will have every genre possible. There would be both fiction and nonfiction books available. A part of the library would be many of the classics. I would want to have traditional fairytales and stories, as well as the more modern versions. Historical books would be present regardless of the publication, and I would also have contemporary books that have been written to reflect todays student. Picture books would be a part of the library. While most picture books are made for younger students, I feel older students can enjoy them also. I love graphic novels, and believe kids love them also so I would have many available at all levels, various plots, and ones for either gender.

Poetry would be included. Some would be the more traditional, some the more modern. Poetry of different types as well as topics and interests.

Nonfiction of various topics would be included, from memories and biographies, to books on nature and facts. Magazines, some science or subject in nature, some more for pleasure would be made available as well.

Throughout the year I want students to write their own books which would also be a part of the library collection they can read in addition to any student written stories from past students.

As I have already started doing, I will use my literature text books filled with recommendations, the online book resources and other sources such as practicing teachers for ideas on what books to fill my classroom with. As I teach, my students will influence books I may choose to add to my collection based on their interest. I hope to continuing adding to and growing my classroom library in the years to come.


Incorporating the Key Components of Your Independent Reading Program

As the research has indicated, “The face of classroom independent reading time is changing (Moss & Young, 2010). For many years the idea of SSR time alone encompassed as being an effective independent reading component. Now new models are being developed designed to scaffold silent reading providing structured silent reading. Fontas & Pinnell in 2001 referred to new structured scaffolding as 5 R’s:






The idea is that during independent reading, students and teachers do more than just read.

“Because independent reading time provides an important opportunity for reading practice, it should not occur as the occasional add-on but rather as an integral part of a balanced reading program (Moss & Young).”

Moss and Young have divided this idea of independent reading into two components, a community reading time that comprises of 20minutes at least twice a week and a supported independent reading time also known as SIRT 60 minutes a day. It is also suggested that 20 minutes a day be assigned to students outside the classroom for reading also. I admit that these times at first scared me. You only have so much instructional time during the class day. Can I really devote so much to independent reading? The answer is yes. It may be difficult, but I after reading so much about the benefits of independent reading I know it is vital to find time as part of the daily schedule to do so.

So what will independent reading look like in my classroom? Not having a classroom, right now I can only shoot for a pipedream. As time progresses many of these ideas will develop to suit the classroom I am in, holding onto the overall purpose, but changing to fit my classroom’s overall needs.

Regardless of how or when it is done during the day, at least 20 minutes 2 times a week will be devoted to Community Reading Time. I feel that this is an important part of independent reading. “Students in such classrooms not only read recommended books, but also motivate one another to read by suggesting books to one another; they use the classroom community to enhance their own literacy (Moss and Young, 2010).”

Moss and Young identify four motivation building activities to be done during Community reading time

Book Talks

Teacher Interactive Read-aloud

Time for Reading

Book Sharing

For myself, I do not feel complete after reading a book until I have been able to share it in some way. There is something about taking the time to internally reflect on what you read, than sharing the experience with someone else. This can be something more detailed where you fully discuss your thoughts and feeling, or maybe just saying, “Hey, so I just read this book.” Sharing can be done in many different ways. The Ereaders today have an option of posting a reading status to facebook or another social site. I don’t do this often, but if I finished a good book and want others to know I will do this. The most recent one I have done was when I read Cinder by Marissa Meyer in January. This led to a small discussion between a few of my friends who wanted to know more, and then went out and bought it for themselves. The access to internet resources makes sharing books easier for me. With my quote blog, I can easily share a book I read with much detail just by posting a favorite quote from it. This simple action that takes 5 minutes helps bring the feeling of completion to my reading. Of course some books require a much more thorough need of sharing. I have a good friend who reads similar books as I do. When the newest book of a series comes out, we plan a day to call one another to share our thoughts, feeling, speculations and more. Sometimes we call each other to talk about a book we think the other would like to read.

I know I love talking about books. I feel myself light up when I do so, and I want my students to get the same feeling. I believe the reading experience is not completed until you have shared it in some way. Providing this community time in the classroom I think will allow student to further reflect on their reading and share with others not just a book they feel others would like to read, but the experience they had while reading it.

In my classroom, students will all of reading blogs. On their blogs they will share books they are reading, books they would like to read, and they will review books they have read. I will allow for individual ideas on how they will share, but provide them with a guiding rubric and ideas such as book trailers (author made, fan made or student made), pictures, quotes, and more. Blogs will be accessible to all students, and they will even be available to be read during SSR time. Blogs could be read anytime, and occasionally we may use our 20 minute allotted time to have students share a particular blog post of theirs or one the read of a classmates.

I love the idea of book trailers or commercials, and would like to teach my students how to create them. Community time can be a time students share their trailers or other creative things they may have come up with to share a book. Such ideas would be providing a quick summary using creative means such as acting as the author or character, reenacting a favorite scene, ending summary in a dramatic cliffhanger, providing just the first sentence or favorite lines from the book, creating a grab bag of objects representing the book, making a soundtrack that fits with the book, and many more.

“Book talks should create excitement for books and alert students to the many possibilities found within the classroom or school library, (Moss &Young. 2010).”

Some of my fondest memories in school were when a teacher would read to us from a chosen book. During these time we would just listen and enjoy. I would want to include this in my classroom, a time when students can just enjoy the sounds of a good book, but I also see the benefit of having interactive read-alouds. I think this is done more readily at the lower elementary level. Taking the time, even just a few moments a week during our community time, to engage readers to consider and thing about a book I am reading aloud can develop independent reading. Read alouds allow for the teacher to model how to read and engage in the reading for the students to see. As the students observe the read aloud experience with the teacher, they will see how independent reading should look like while they are reading. Going beyond the printed words and becoming engaged with the story.

While talking and sharing books is important during community reading time as well as acting as a model for my students through read alouds, providing time where student do the reading is also important. Reading can be done individually, in pairs, small groups or even as a class. My goal would be to find highly engaging reading materials of all different genres and materials.

Community Reading may only be for 40 minutes a week, but I feel it is important to include in the classroom. Providing time to read and share as a class helps engage and motivate students to read as well as demonstrate how to read.

The second component of my Independent reading program would be SIRT also known as Supported Independent Reading Time. 60 minutes a day will be devoted to SIRT. Moss & Young break SIRT into four critical activities:

Focus Lessons

Time for Reading

Student-Teacher Conferences

Response to Reading Activities

Depending on daily schedule allowance, I many not have a full hour to complete this at one time. I may have to break this time up throughout the day to fully get it in, but regardless of the schedule I will find time to include a full 60 minutes of SIRT.

“Strategy focus lesson should be targeted at teaching and reinforcing strategic reading (Moss and Young, 2010).”

About 15 minutes a day will be devoted to focus lessons. Depending on the time of the year, this focus lessons will differ. The key to establishing any daily routine in the classroom, especially one where we desire our students to act ‘independently’ is to inform, model and instruct them how we want them to do so. Providing guidelines and instruction on our expectations for our students will ensure students receive the full instructional benefits of this time as well as ensure this time to run smoothly. If students are unaware of what it is they are supposed to be doing during this time, behavior may become an issue as well as lack of engagement and student more than likely will not receive full instructional benefits reading independently offers.

Early focus lessons will deal with basic procedures and expectations of students during independent reading; For the most part I would like students to assist in developing rules and procedures. As a class we will develop expectations on behavior, how to handle transitions, how to checkout books and when, possibly set up of library collection, times for sharing, time for quiet reading, the idea of sharing space comfortably and more. Early focus lessons will deal with how to choose proper books at their correct level, how to find books of interest, and how to locate books through peers, website etc. We would also discuss when books should be chosen (NOT when we are reading) what behavior they should exhibit during reading time, and how to record and respond to books. Within the first week, I would want every student to have created their individual book blog so that responding and reviewing can begin immediately.  I know the first few weeks will be mainly about establishing a routine students are comfortable in. As students settle into routines, focus lessons can reflect problems I notice with my student I feel they need more work on or revisiting problem areas. We may revisit things such as certain procedures or how we set up our library to improve our reading time.

While focus lessons allow for learning what to do during independent reading, most of SIRT is devoted to the actually reading process. For many years SSR suggested EVERYONE participate in silent sustained reading including the teacher. Newer research suggest a more active and engaging role for the teacher now such as participating in conferences. This time will encompass at least 30 minutes of our day, and for the first 5 minutes everyone, including myself with read silently. This is not a time for bathroom breaks or visits to the library (classroom or school). Books may be self-selected, or they may be part of a unit where I choose a focus for the books, and the students choose which f the preselected books they are reading. After the first 5 minutes I will begin quietly conferencing with individual or small group students.

I think the part I look forward to most during this time is the Response to Reading activities. As discussed in the Community reading area, I love sharing and responding to literature, and want to encourage my students to do the same. I will provide many avenues and ideas for my students to do so. Sometimes I may require a specific way I want them to respond, and others I may allow them to choose how they wish to respond. While I will provide many ideas in how they can do so, I will also encourage students to come up with innovative and creative ways to do. Students will have an ongoing blog they keep up with on all their reading. This will act as their reading response journal. Other ways students may share can be through creating something such as a book trailer, a sound track, presentations using acting or objects, posting a review on their blog or on a known book review website, a research project and more. Writing will be encouraged, not just in the form of reviewing, but also in the creation of something new. The book mentions a website called which I have been using for 15 years. Students will be encouraged to write a story from a different POV, an alternate ending, a missing scene etc. I am greatly looking forward to seeing student responses to their reading.

The last area to address would be linking literacy instruction with independent reading experiences.

“Strategies taught during modeled reading, guided reading, and shared reading experiences can be transferred to the independent reading experience” (Moss & Young, 2010). The books discusses the GRR Model also known as the gradual release of responsibility model. The model is often used to provide support needed to become independent readers.

The idea that direct reading instruction and independent reading instruction work together to form a complete reading instruction is illustrated through this idea. Strategies and instruction provided in direct reading instruction such as reading aloud, shared reading and guided reading provides the skills students need to read independently. It is than through independent reading, students are able to apply the skills they have learned. “Independent reading provides students with the opportunity to apply the skills and strategies that they have learned through teacher modeling as well as shared and guided reading.”

Through the PowerPoint, the benefits of classroom reading were highlighted. “When teachers provide daily opportunities for students to read silently for extended periods of time, students develop reading stamina and increase their volume of reading” (Powerpoint)

This not only boost the growth of reading, but in the motivation of reading as well.

Many strategies and knowledge gained through direct instruction is utilized in independent reading. Students use the skills of not only comprehension, but also in vocabulary development, fluency, story grammar, text structure and informational text structure and more.

Researchers believe that reading volume is responsible as the prime contributor to a children’s vocabulary. While teachers can successfully teach 8-10 vocabulary words a week, students are expected to learn approximately 3000 a year. The majority of this language acquisition is done through reading.

I don’t think it takes scientific research to prove that the more someone reads, the better they read. The more someone reads, the better their fluency becomes. Fluent readers tend to enjoy reading more, as well as seem to have a stronger comprehension. Not having to stumble over words probably has something to do with this. Book language is different than oral language. The more we read, the more we understand of book language, the structure of sentences, plots, characters and more.

For developing literacy skills, direct reading will provide the strategies and instruction; independent reading will provide the means in using these skills successfully.

Responding to literature can be done during both direct and independent reading. Teachers can provide a variety of strategies and ideas that can be used, and students will learn which ways they enjoy best. To me, how you respond is no different regardless of the type of reading you are engaging in, as long as you are responding. Coming up with a variety of ways to respond keeps sharing unique, engaging and fun.

With so little time in the day to accomplishing everything we want in instruction, integration is often the key. Using independent reading in content areas provides a means of showing students how reading and learning is meaningful, as well as providing a way to integrate instruction so we do not have to sacrifice for time. Instead of teaching content areas solely through the use of textbooks, we can instead use trade books to increase the engagement of learning. These books can be nonfiction and factual in nature, or maybe a fiction book that helps bring the learning to life. Instead of reading about Native Americans from a textbook, students can read trade books such as The Sign of the Beaver and other similar stories to develop a more meaningful experience to the content.

Using literature to teach in content areas provides a way to differentiate instruction, as well as to provide time to read independently without losing instructional time when time is short. Teachers can chose various leveled books on a topic and create small groups. Also, instead of taking away from either reading time or content area instruction, we can combine the 2 to serve as a fill and meaningful learning experience. By 3rd grade, students are at the stage where they are no longer learning to read, but instead reading to learn. Showings students how to find reading material in content areas helps them discover ways to read books that interest them as they learn various content areas.

Ideally, I would like to have a thematic unit in my classroom. Instead of having a day where we move from one period to the other, each divided up, I would like to have instruction flow throughout the day, even as we change subject areas. If we are studying Native American for instance, the whole day would be designed to the learning and instruction of this topic, just in a variety of ways. Part of the day would be in reading in our leveled books from a book about Native Americans. Students would also be working on a research project on Native Americans. Science areas would reflect the unit possibly regarding to the wildlife that affected Native Americans. I would like to involved the specials teachers, such as having the music teacher instruct students on Native American music, the Art teacher on art created by Native Americans, PE teacher on dances or games played, and media teacher on helping students discover information as well as create a project using media tools.

Implementing independent reading successfully is a far more complicated process than providing 20 minutes a day for silent reading. It is such a key component to the overall reading experience, and can be connected to so much of instruction. Teaching students to successfully read independently is a sure way to create an experience where students learn how to further enhance and develop their reading skills, as well as learn how to become lifelong readers. Creating and implementing an independent reading program in the classroom will not be easy, but the benefits will be more than enough of a reward. Taking the time to properly instruct learners on how to correctly read independently will create a comfortable and happy environment for both the student and the teacher. I look forward to implementing what I have learned into the classroom in the future.

Moss, B & Young, T. (2010). Creating lifelong readers through independent reading. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.


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