Independent reading time transformed my high school ELA classroom and I’ve been singing its praises ever since. I taught on a block schedule and my classes were 90 minutes long, so allotting 10 minutes of free choice reading at the start of every class was easy to implement. However, I’ve often wondered how I would approach independent reading if I were more stretched for time or less autonomy over my curriculum schedule. Seeing first-hand the tremendous benefits of independent reading in high school ELA, I know I would try to make it work no matter what. That’s why I’m happy to share these tips from Mrs. Heil on how she makes independent reading in high school work with full class novels and full class schedules.
Samantha Heil is a veteran ELA educator in Maryland who loves to chat all things choice reading and YA lit. Read on for five helpful strategies for making independent reading work with your curriculum.
5 Tips to Make Independent Reading Work WITH Your Full Class Novels
Although we know the benefits of independent reading, many teachers shy away from it because of curriculum constraints or lack of support. Choice reading is a powerful tool in your teaching arsenal that doesn’t have to be sacrificed due to either of those challenges. First, independent reading can be implemented seamlessly with any curriculum, and second, I’m on a mission to support teachers in finding the best books and resources to make choice reading a staple of their ELA classrooms. You can follow me on IG for all things choice reading and read on for more on how to incorporate independent reading into any curriculum.
What is Independent Reading in high school?
Whether you call it independent reading or choice reading (I use the terms interchangeably), the concept is still the same. Students choose their OWN “just right” books and are given time in class to engage with the material. Many teachers struggle with the logistics of choice reading which includes how to make it work within your own curriculum. Luckily, I have plenty of tips and strategies to make independent reading work with any unit.
Tip #1: Use Independent Reading Time as a Daily Bellringer
Starting the day off with 10-15 minutes of free reading time was one of the best things I ever did for myself as a teacher. Everyone knows that there are tons of housekeeping items to take care of at the beginning of class (and we don’t want that dreaded contact from the office reminding us to take attendance), so having a quiet space to do all of those tasks and read along with the students was invaluable. Set a visible timer and have students take out their books each day. Keep a shelf of easy reads for students who inevitably forget theirs. (I used to keep nonfiction texts and magazines on my shelf so it was something they could easily become invested in without much commitment.) It may take a little bit of time to build in the routine, but once your students know what to expect, the results are magical.
Tip #2: Try a Genre-Based Literature Circle
I love using genre-based literature circles because it helps students recognize different types of books and figure out what works best for them. If your units are based on genre (and even if they aren’t), consider building your choice reading unit as an extension of your full-class novel by tying them together with a genre study. Since most libraries are categorized by genre, I find that this is a familiar connection students are able to make when working with two books at once. For example, you may be doing a whole class poetry study while students are reading choice novels in verse.
Tip #3: Connect Your Novels with Literary Elements
One of my favorite ways to connect choice reading with full-class novels is to connect the literary elements. This strategy helps students review both the literary elements themselves and also the key components of each text. Build in discussion and assessment opportunities that link both books and try to lead with the following topics:
- How are the characters in both novels similar or different?
- What are the themes of both novels? How do they compare to each other?
- How does the author build the plot in each novel? Which do you think does it better?
Give students an opportunity to connect these literary elements in each novel and you’ll find that students are able to engage in really rich discussions of the texts.
Tip #4: Compare and Contrast in Key Assignments
I love compare and contrast assignments for full-class novels and independent reading. Have students complete a character comparison using a character autopsy (just have them complete one autopsy for the main character of each novel and discuss). You can assign a comparative one pager where students have to show the key differences in each novel. In addition, you can also take some of your own tried-and-true assignments and turn them into comparison activities, such as essays or discussion circles.
Tip #5: Model that Independent Reading is Valued
In order to reinforce the idea that independent reading is worthy and important, make sure you include assignments that are significant to the grading process. If students don’t have a way to meaningfully discuss or demonstrate what they’ve learned from their choice reading, they may not take it seriously. Make sure to include a few assessments that both evaluate the learning and reinforce good reading skills. Think fun and creative independent reading assignments like one pagers, character Wordles, or you can check out more choice reading activities on my blog. There are plenty of creative options that students will truly enjoy completing.
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Incorporating independent reading is a significant practice that will help turn students into lifelong readers. I hope these tips and strategies will help make your journey with choice reading just a little bit easier.