Independent Reading is the heart of the Reading Workshop. This is the time when students practice strategies modeled in the mini-lesson or practise reading. Students can read alone, in pairs, or in small response groups.

Teachers have the opportunity to confer with students or teach guided reading lessons or have a small-group lesson on a specific strategy or skill. Teachers can also do various assessments such as running records, retellings, or keeping anecdotal notes on children's progress.

Some activities include:
  • Responding to text in reader's response notebook.
  • Story chat with a group of students.
  • Work with a reading partner.
  • Do some silent reading

Independent reading is a time for students to make their own book choices, apply reading strategies, have large blocks of time to read and set independent reading goals.

Independent reading isn't just about letting kids read silently for a given amount of time. It's about providing students with the necessary tools to becoming independent and life long readers.

In her book Reading Essentials [Heinemann, 2002], Reggie Routman says,“Ironically, when teachers are pressed for time, independent reading is usually the first thing to be cut. Yet a carefully monitored independent reading program is the single most important part of your reading instructional program." There are four key elements of independent reading that will help students become successful readers:
  • choice
  • strategies
  • time
  • goals

Allowing students choice with their selection of books motivates them to want to read. However, students need to be reading books at their 'just right' reading level. Books should be available on all students' levels and offer many topics and genres.

Students need to be explicitly taught strategies that they can use when reading. There are two types of strategies. First, they need decoding or word attack strategies. These strategies will help students know what to do when they come to an unknown word. The second type of strategy is comprehension. Students need to understand that when they are reading, they need to be thinking about their reading. They need to be taught that good readers: make connections, ask questions, visualize, make inferences, synthesize information while reading, and determine the importance in nonfiction. All of these strategies need to be taught through teacher modeling. Independent reading provides them with time to apply the strategies.

Time to Read
Students need long blocks of time to read their books and practice applying strategies. Students will need more than one book to read during this long stretch of time. Many teachers have students "shop" from their classroom library and then they house their chosen books in some sort of container such as a book box.

Setting Reading Goals
Providing students with large chunks of time allows teachers to hold small reading groups or individual conferences. During these conferences, teachers can listen to the student read and monitor their application of the strategies. The most important part of this conference is setting a reading goal. By setting a goal, the student will know specifically what strategy to continue working on until the next conference.

Independent reading is the foundation for creating successful readers. By allowing students choice of their book selection, teaching them to apply reading strategies, giving them time to read, and by having them set reading goals, teachers are building the foundation for creating successful life long readers.

Independent Reading is not the same as USSR or DEAR.
  • Students are taught to choose a 'Just Right' book
  • Students are held accountable for practising the strategies they have been taught, for responding to literature and for keeping a record of books that they have read
  • It consists of a larger block of time - up to 30-45 minutes every day.
  • During this time, teachers meet in one on one conferences or small guided reading groups with students. The teacher is responsible for monitoring students' comprehension and decoding skills through informal reading assessments. Also, the teacher helps the student set reading goals and continues to monitor progress of those goals.

Choosing a 'Just Right' Book

The Goldilocks Method

If students will be expected to choose "just right" books, then teachers need to model what a reader looks like while reading a book that is too easy, a book that is too hard, and a book that is "just right". Demonstrate each of these and ask the students to tell you what they noticed about how you read the book. Tell them to think about Goldilocks and the three bears. She wanted things that were “just right”.

The Five Finger Rule

Tell your students that if they are not sure if the book is "just right" or not then they can use the Five Finger Rule to help them decide.
  1. Open to a page of the book.
  2. Begin reading.
  3. Each time you come to a word you don’t know, hold up 1 finger.
  4. After you finish reading the page, check to see how many fingers you are holding up.

Too Easy: 0 - 1 fingers

Too Hard: 4 - 5 fingers

Just Right: 2 - 3 fingers

Use Your Schema

Schema is what you know. If you’ve heard about it, experienced it, or seen it then it’s in your schema. Explain to students that activating your schema for a book will also help you decide if it is a "just right" book. For example, if you know a lot about reptiles, then you have a lot of schema for reptiles. This means that a book on reptiles might be a "just right" book for you. However, if you choose a book that you’ve never heard of the topic before, then that book will probably be too hard and it will be a book that you will need to read with someone.

Students need to spend time practising independent reading while applying reading strategies. However, in order to effectively apply these strategies they need to be reading books that aren’t too easy or too difficult. Reading a "just right" book will give them the right amount of unknown words to practice applying decoding strategies. And by teaching students to choose a "just right" book is getting them one step closer to becoming a successful independent reader.

An excellent online article by Regie Routman on planning for and monitoring independent reading time

Ideas for Book Boxes

Book Boxes - Voices from the Classroom

Using Readers' Notebooks

Some great ideas about what should be in each child's Readers' Notebook

Independent Reading Checklist's%20Notebook%20PDF%20Files/Independent%20Reading%20Checklist.pdf