Home Personal Development How To Encourage or Strengthen Independent Reading

How To Encourage or Strengthen Independent Reading

How To Encourage or Strengthen Independent Reading
Schoolgirl choosing book in school library. Books on shelves in bookstore. Smart girl selecting literature for reading.

Reading is arguably one of the most important skills a student ever learns. Reading is the foundation of so many other life skills, and in today’s world, not being able to read puts a person at a serious disadvantage. Even though reading is so important for everyday life, many students in the U.S. lack this fundamental skill. According to the National Childrens’ Book & Literacy Alliance (NCBLA), as of late 2019 to early 2020 (pre-COVID), reading for fun was at an all-time low. The NCBLA also mentions a 2013 study that found that less than 40% of students in certain grade levels could read at or above their grade level, leaving a staggering up to 60% of students falling behind. It’s no wonder teachers today are working so hard to foster an interest in reading beyond short video clips. In this post, we’ll go over a few steps teachers (and parents) can take to encourage independent reading and strengthen those skills.

Read to the Students

It may seem counterintuitive to read to students so that they want to read on their own, but the first step in encouraging independent reading is to make students want to read. What better way to achieve this goal than to read them a fun, engaging story that captivates their attention and flexes their critical thinking skills? By engrossing students in a story about an eventful, action-packed battle, a steamy love affair, or a controversial trending topic, it encourages them to seek out material to read independently. Teachers should be reading to students daily, even if it’s just a short story or short article. There is so much content out there to choose from, it shouldn’t be hard to find something that gets the students excited.

Give Students Many Reading Options

Teachers should always be working on building a diverse and thought-provoking classroom library where their students can choose their independent reading material. Don’t just stick with the classics (although the classics are always great choices)…expand book options by bringing in lesser-known works, current publications, up and coming authors, and other age- and grade-appropriate materials. By offering the students a variety of reading material to choose from, independent reading time becomes compelling instead of stagnant busy work.

Encourage Parents to Read With Students at Home

Independent reading shouldn’t just be happening in the classroom. Teachers need to work hard to get parents to not only encourage independent reading at home, but also to read to their children whenever possible. It doesn’t just have to be bedtime stories…parents can take this opportunity to bond with their children and inform them about topics and issues that they care about. Reading books, news articles, blog posts, fanfiction, and more together is an experience from which both parent and child will vastly benefit.

Start an Independent Reading Reward Program

Remember the Book It! reading program by Pizza Hut? If the promise of an individual pizza ever inspired you to read a book, then you know how motivating an independent reading reward program can be! This type of program is easy to recreate in any class…simply create a reading log template and pass it out to each student (bonus points for saving paper and creating the log in digital format). Have the student enter everything they read into the log, and once they’ve read a certain number of items, they win a prize! Try using fun and useful school supplies, art supplies, sensory toys, or other novelty prizes in the reading program and watch how just a little incentive will encourage students to read more and more!

Incorporate Technology When Appropriate

Some students just don’t have the focus or attention span to sit down for more than a few minutes reading on paper, but those same students may be able to sit for hours engaging with a game-based reading program online. There are many online games like this available for free and they can be very useful for making sure all students get in that valuable independent reading time.

Slowly Increase Independent Reading Time

Start out with a short 5-10 minutes of independent reading time for younger students or even for older students at the beginning of the year, then slowly increase the time as the year progresses. For students who are strong readers, this extra time will help them hone in their reading skills even more. For students who struggle with reading, the extra time will help them not feel as rushed to finish before time is up. Extra independent reading time can also give the teacher an opportunity to work one-on-one with students who need extra attention. Aim for a year-end goal 4-5x more than the reading time from the beginning of the year (i.e. if independent reading time was 10 minutes per session at the beginning of the year, aim for a year end reading time goal of 40-50 minutes per session).

Help Your Students Become Masters of Independent Reading

As a teacher, you know how important it is for your students to become strong, adept readers. Help them achieve this goal with strategies to both encourage and strengthen their independent reading skills. Read to students to help them discover their own love of reading, encourage parental participation in reading, give students lots of reading options, use tech to facilitate reading when needed, and gradually up their independent reading time to boost their skills and foster a love of reading that will benefit them their entire lives!

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