Want to empower your students to become lifelong readers? Provide them with an independent reading library. A school or classroom library consisting of various authentic literature at an appropriate reading level serves as a foundation for students’ independent reading and reading development. Additionally, studies have determined that there’s a correlation between time spent reading and reading achievement. The National Reading Panel suggests that “the more that children read, the better their fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.” What are the research-backed benefits of independent reading, and how can you instill that habit in your students?
Independent Reading Definition
What is independent reading? Independent reading can simply be defined as “the reading students choose to do on their own.” Students choose to read materials they want to read for pleasure or to gain information about a particular topic.
Why Independent Reading Is Important
Independent reading improves comprehension for students and helps them develop their vocabulary. Also, silent independent reading can improve fluency by allowing students regular time to practice reading. Finally, independent reading exposes students to background knowledge of a range of important cultural and historical events.
Research on Independent Reading
There are various research-demonstrated benefits of independent libraries within classrooms and schools. Evidence shows that an independent library can:
- Increase reading achievement: the more high-quality, engaging books children have to read, the more likely they’ll read more and become better readers.
- Provide ready access to books: rather than requiring students to borrow their own books or depending on children to have books in their homes, libraries within classrooms provide students’ access to a range of literature.
- Allow for autonomy: students choosing the literature they want to read from independent classroom libraries helps them exercise control in their reading lives, which is, according to one teacher and author, “one step in making them lifelong readers and lifelong learners and a major stride toward helping them take control of their lives.”
- Increase engagement and motivation: students reading for interest drives how much they read, elevating their reading achievement.
- Reduce summer reading loss: providing books to students to read over the summer is one way to combat summer reading loss.
- Prevent diminished reading habits at the secondary level: if middle school students and beyond have easy access to a wide range of interesting texts and time to read, they’ll improve the reading comprehension skills they need to keep up with the increasing literacy demands of college and the workplace.
“Independent reading [is] the reading students choose to do on their own.”
Features of an Effective Independent Reading Library Program
If you want to establish an independent reading library program, there are research-backed characteristics that will help make it effective. Here are seven of those traits, discussed in depth in this white paper:
1. An Extensive Collection of Appealing Books
The quality of books matters more than a large number of them. Experts recommend that the minimum size of an effective classroom library include about 10 high-quality books per student.
2. A Wide Variety of Genres
It is essential that students are exposed to different types of literature (e.g., fantasy, historical fiction, realistic fiction, myths, autobiographies and biographies, memoir, narrative non-fiction, expository non-fiction, etc.) to allow students to understand the characteristics of each and aid in their reading achievement.
3. A Wide Variety of Text Difficulty Levels That Are Matched to Students’ Abilities
Students simply having more time to read will not improve their skills. In fact, according to studies, struggling readers challenged by difficult texts may not receive the practice they need to improve their reading skills. Teachers must ensure that they guide students toward appropriate levels of text difficulty to motivate them to read.
4. Allows for Student Choice—but Provides Guidance in Selections
Students more than likely need help from their teachers, especially if they are struggling readers and need guidance on what they may enjoy and want to learn more about through an introduction to various genres. Guidance from teachers ensures that reading is happening and that the literature is suited for students’ level of reading. Eventually, students should build the confidence to select appropriate texts that suit their reading levels and personal interests.
5. Provides Dedicated Time to Read as a Regular Activity
If teachers provide students with regular opportunities to read for uninterrupted blocks of time (at least 15 to 30 minutes per reading session), students will increase their reading ability. The frequency of reading sessions also impacts an independent reading program’s success.
6. Addresses Important Physical and Environmental Conditions
There should be a designated reading area within the classroom that is quiet and comfortable. Additionally, an excellent classroom library should be organized with labeled shelves or tubs (by genre and difficulty level).
7. Does Not Replace Comprehensive, Core Programs
An independent reading program should be an essential part of the broader English Language Arts curriculum. Not only should students have time to read independently, but they should also gain necessary skills through direct instruction and practice of core reading skills.
It is essential that students are exposed to different types of literature.
Independent Reading Activities
Engage students with activities so that they can share what they discover through their independent reading. Kids reading the books they want to read might be excited to share what they love! Here are some activities you can implement to allow students to share their knowledge:
1. Build a Word Wall
This teacher advises on how to build an effective word wall for students. A word wall consists of a collection of high-frequency words and should be accessible and visible. You can have your students pick out words they are unfamiliar with that they encounter through their independent reading and make a word wall with those words (or add to an existing word wall) to help build their vocabulary.
2. Read and Reflect
A blog post recently published on Shaped gives valuable ways to increase student reading engagement. One suggestion is for students to choose questions that help them reflect on their reading. Another advises that students summarize what they read in a short writing piece.
3. Character Profile
Finally, you can have your students create a character profile to help them form a deeper understanding of the book’s characters. There are plenty of routes your students can take to analyze their characters:
- Have them create a list of adjectives that describe a particular character (friendly, adventurous, short, clever, etc.)
- Have them illustrate a character based on the description they gathered from the book.
- Have them answer questions about their character. For example: What do you think this character’s occupation would be as an adult (for child characters)? Do you think other kids (your classmates, siblings, and friends) would like this character?
- Have them write down how the character makes them feel (during a particular chapter or throughout the book).
Empower students to become lifelong readers and ensure they can read independently by providing a reading library consisting of high-quality, appealing literature at an appropriate level of text difficulty. Allot time for frequent independent reading in the classroom, train them to select appropriate books, and engage them with activities to help them reach their literary goals. Download “The Value of Independent Reading” PDF below to learn more about the importance of independent reading.
Ignite the love of reading with HMH Reads, a solution that introduces students to a wide variety of high-quality fiction and nonfiction books.
Dr. Troy Hicks
Professor of English and Education, Central Michigan University