Independent Reading for Middle and High School

Independent Reading that WORKS in Middle and High School

Independent Reading can be a great gift to students - a quiet moment in their day and the development of a lifelong love of reading. Imagine: a quiet classroom where everyone has escaped into their own novels. That’s the dream, right? 

When I first tried independent reading in my classroom, it was more like giggles and snickers every few minutes as Tommy tickled Jessenia or when Shane farted. Ughhhh.

So how do you move from chaos to responsible freedom?

Tips for Independent Reading

If you’re struggling with issues of accountability or student behavior during reading time, here are some tips to get everyone on the same page (see what I did there?):

  1. Start small and build up. In the first couple weeks of trying (or retrying!) independent reading, start small. You can start with 5-minute increments. Ideally, these won’t be at the beginning or at the end of class, since kids can be so squirrely during those times. Instead, try using this block as a break between other activities.

  2. Model reading. If they’re reading, we’re reading. It can be so tempting to grade papers during this time or catch up on emails. Instead, let’s model a settled focus.

  3. Talk right after reading. After reading time is over, start a conversation! I use my Reading Response task cards in a Think-Pair-Share style. Students could get prompts like “Imagine the last scene you read set in a different location” or “How would the main character in your novel respond to ___?” 

Should you grade independent reading?

You may also be wondering how to grade independent reading and how to hold students accountable if you don’t grade.

I personally don’t like grading reading because I wouldn’t want to be graded.

When I’ve been required to grade reading (ugh!), I’ve had students create their own reading guides. This is a choice board that they complete over the course of their novel. I check progress four or five times throughout the novel. I love that this activity provides some structure for independent reading, especially for middle school. One thing I don’t love about this approach is that students are adrift if they want to abandon a book and start another.

Alternative activities for independent reading 

  1. Book Conferences - once or twice per quarter, have students sign up to chat with you for five minutes about a book they’re reading/have read. You can easily find the synopsis on GoodReads and then ask them to tell you about elements of literature. I like to ask questions that lead them to their next book choice, like “Oh, I see this book had dragons! Do you want to read another fantasy book?” or “Oh, I see this author is well-known for summer romances. What else would you like to read by them?”

  2. Reading Response task cards - These cards emphasize creative reading, which gives students ownership over the text. In short conversations with partners or in journal entries, they can imagine how it would have changed the text if one element (plot, setting, characters, conflict, theme) had been different in some way. This is a great activity to get kids speaking and listening.

  3. Book Talks - Students can prepare a book talk for their book. This guided worksheet will help them brainstorm. You can grade these talks if you want or just let them be practice for larger presentations. I like to have students give book talks to small groups of 4-5 students. Everyone does this at the same time, so it takes 20-25 minutes to get through all of the presentations. This approach gets students to build their speaking skills in front of a smaller, less intimidating audience than the whole class.

What are your favorite activities for independent reading? Be sure to grab the Book Talk freebie!

Happy teaching!

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