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Independent Reading Instruction in the Classroom

Updated on June 1, 2012

Independent Reading in a Balanced Literacy Program

The bell rings to begin a new school day and students bustle into the classroom to hang up their coats. They choose a book from the class library and quickly settle down at their desks to read. It may appear like students are just doing their own thing but really they are reinforcing important lessons in their reading. Independent reading in a balanced literacy program scaffolds students in a gradual release of responsibility, so they can work on consolidating reading strategies, and develop fluency with just right books. It seeks to recognize individual reading levels in order to differentiate instruction and resources for students. Levelled resources and explicit instruction are what separate it from students simply exploring books.

The modelling that students receive in read aloud and shared reading instruction, along with support in guided lessons, all come together during independent reading. Everything students have learned is reinforced during this time and helps them to gain momentum and confidence in their reading. Comprehension and reading strategies are easier to tackle when students are able to read a text with minimal decoding. When students do not have to work so hard, they are more likely to experience a real purpose and enjoyment for reading.

Selecting Just Right Books

To assist children in their attempt to be independent readers it is necessary to provide instruction on selecting just right books. This process teaches children to assess their own needs as a reader. The following categories are a general guideline for choosing books.

Too Easy You can read all the words fluently and understand all the ideas.

Too Challenging You know many words but cannot understand the main ideas of the story. It is hard work to read the book.

Just-Right You can confidently read most of the words and understand most of the ideas with very little help from the teacher or your peers.

Developing Reading Fluency

An independent reading program stresses the value of re-reading to develop fluency. The challenge is showing students a purpose for reading texts again. A trick is to navigate students into new features of the text and show them ways to exercise strategies. A second, third, and even fourth reading of a piece of text can be made interesting, if it is approached with a different purpose and focus each time.The purpose for reading a text might initially be for comprehension and decoding and then when it is re-visited the purpose may be to practice fluency and expression, or to investigate the use of punctuation.

Independent reading in a balanced literacy program cultivates better readers. It ensures students have lots of opportunity to read and feel successful. It is a confidence builder and strengthens the use of reading strategies students will need for new and more complex texts. Sight word fluency, meaning and structure, and comprehension are all consolidated during independent reading. It also provides valuable information about student’s reading; that help to drive future teaching decisions and support the individual learning needs of students.

Setting Up For Success

Guide students to acquire a variety of just right texts.

Provide mini-lessons to assist children in making appropriate book selections.

Organize books in the classroom library by genre or other criteria.

Make use of the school library.

Utilize website articles to build a collection of texts.

Use mini-lessons to instruct reading strategies.

Practice independent reading daily.

Have students keep a journal to track their reading and make reflections.

Conclude the reading block with opportunity for students to share reflections and insights into their reading.

Conference regularly with students and assess learning.

Share your own joy for reading and have fun!

Independent Reading Response Activities

Instant Independent Reading Response Activities: Reproducible Literature-Response Activities and Graphic Organizers-for ANY BOOK-That Help ... Reading and Build Important Skills.


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    • Sturgeonl profile image

      Sturgeonl 6 years ago

      Yes, I agree. Accountability is very important and so are reading response reflections. Thanks for sharing excellent points.

    • artsyamerican profile image

      artsyamerican 6 years ago from Florida

      I love an inviting reading center for students. For older children I also include some type of reflection (in writing) to ensure reading was actually taking place. Accountability is a must in a reading center...especially if the teacher is busy with another activity. Great Hub!