Written by Bridget Wilson
The only sounds anyone can hear for the first fifteen minutes of class are fifth graders turning the pages of their self-selected books as they anticipate what will happen next. As soon as the timer goes off, sighs of disappointment echo through the room, followed by students’ desperate pleas: “Can we have five more minutes to read?”
Independent reading—when students read their book of choice with absolutely no strings attached—is their most treasured time of the day. Doing this at the beginning of class helps calm the group and sets a positive tone for the day. Most importantly, it encourages the value that reading brings to our lives. Students have the opportunity to fall in love with books, become emotionally connected to characters and events, and travel to new places. Of course, we know that the more students read, the more they boost comprehension, develop fluency, and expand their word knowledge.
Now, getting everyone to practice real reading during this time takes patience on the teacher’s part and several weeks to perfect. We spend time talking about making good book choices—books that they can successfully read and that they are interested in reading. Throughout the year, I continue to guide students by offering them book suggestions. It’s okay if they don’t read a suggested book—remember, choice is the heart and soul of independent reading.
What’s even better is when the students talk with each other about their books. These informal book discussions encourage more reading and introduce students to books their peers are enjoying. To make independent reading a success, it’s also important to have a classroom library filled with six hundred to one thousand books of varied reading levels, topics, genres, and popular series and authors.
Offering students the flexibility of sitting in our classroom’s “comfy zones” is another key component of productive independent reading time. Because the number of pillows and plush seats in our classroom are limited, students must take turns—and every day they know exactly whose turn it is!
When students settle into a comfortable spot and read independently, that’s the ideal time for me to confer with them. Sometimes, I ask a student to read a section of text out loud and then do a quick comprehension check. This is also my time to get to know each fifth grader as a reader. I ask questions like:
- What made you choose this book?
- What is your favorite type of book to read?
- How do you feel as a reader?
- What strengths and struggles do you have?
Getting to know my students as readers helps me better meet their wide range of needs. Even though my students know our routine, they still ask, “We are going to start with reading our own books, right?” After I assure them that they will, they respond with an enthusiastic “Yes!” How exciting to hear them voice so much delight and pleasure in reading. I love that they view daily independent reading time as sacred. And yes, I often give them those five extra minutes that they ask for after the timer goes off!