Wiggle While You Read? 5 Ways to Spark Engaged Independent Reading

Reading can feed the imagination. When I read, my mind travels through time, around the world, and connects me with the extraordinary. I find a comfortable spot that is well lit and often secluded. I chat with people who also enjoy reading, and they suggest what I should read next, and we often swap books. For me, reading is part of my daily life—nothing extraordinary. I love reading and it provides with me an escape, emotional and intellectual growth, and it brings me pleasure.

As a teacher, I shared my love of reading with my students and tried to inspire and encourage them to read more. This was not always as easy as it sounds. I set aside time for in-class reading; wrote grants for accessible and relevant titles to build my classroom library; provided opportunities for my students to preview, share, and talk about books; but I still struggled with motivating some of my students to read. I am also painfully aware of how difficult the task can be for students who struggle with attention deficit, distractibility, reading disabilities and a host of other problems that students can face.

Set the Stage with Consistent Routines to Encourage Sustained Reading
Over the years, I have contemplated ways to spark engagement in reading. Make reading feel like a reward instead of a punishment. Create an atmosphere that is conducive to reading and is comfortable. Introduce choice. Set a timer for 5 to 7 minutes, for yourself, not for the student. This timer will break up the reading session and give them the opportunity to quickly reflect and re-set their reading muscles. When the timer stops, recap with the student what they just read. Some teachers use a 21-word gist, quick write, summary questions, or even the opportunity to tweet their reading. The goal is to build their reading muscles to withstand 20 to 25 minutes of sustained independent reading. For students with reading disabilities, visual supports may be necessary. Various colored transparency sheets help students focus and stay on track.

Offer Concrete Strategies to Build Reading Engagement and Enjoyment
Once you’ve set the stage with an environment conducive to reading, here are some guidelines you can share with students:

  • Set goals and expectations for yourself. Talk to students about reading and setting individual, attainable goals.
  • Pick a book from a curated selection of novels and other literary works. Have a collection of high-interest titles available that include a range of instructional reading levels.
  • Answer questions related to your reading. Let students choose from a set of universal summary questions that help them reflect on their reading in different ways.
  • Recap what you read in a short summary. At the end of reading time, have them summarize the entire experience.
  • Keep trying! Help them understand the power of ongoing effort and practice in building reading muscle and achieving their goals.

Sparking reading is just the beginning. We want our students talking about the books they have read, making recommendations, writing reviews and sharing their new-found joys and interests with their classmates and peers. Successful readers internalize good reading habits, self-select reading materials, dedicate time to reading for pleasure, show preferences, and share what they have read. It is our goal as educators to create a thirst for reading and lifelong learning.


Learn more about the new HMH Into Reading and HMH Into Literature K-12 programs.

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