Structuring a classroom around independent reading time is beneficial to students, but it can be difficult to set your classroom up this way. Many students come to class with a love for reading, but there are just as many that cringe from the idea of independent reading. Reading Zone, or your independent reading classroom structure, should not be considered the Danger Zone for students. As a teacher, you must put in the work to achieve the building blocks of a successful independent reading setting. Sometimes the hardest thing to overcome is the fear that the students won’t actively participate. If you want to structure your classroom as a reading zone where students are successfully independent reading, then you need to make sure you have set the ground rules and modeled the expectations.
Before your students walk into your classroom, you must have a clear schedule set. At the beginning of the year, map out your schedule so it is easier to explain expectations of your Reading Zone. This will help students be prepared for reading days, so you do not have to worry about the students that come without a book. Make sure you remind students about the reading days and have it written somewhere in your classroom to reference throughout the year. This is a great visual tool for students in order to be prepared for the reading periods.
Next, make sure you have your goals outlined, so students know the expectations for independent reading. For each scheduled day, model your reading goals, so students know exactly what is expected from them. For example, if students need to be journaling or taking notes while they are reading, they should understand the prompt or task at hand. If they should be coming up with discussion questions for small groups, model how to structure and design higher order thinking questions in order to ensure they are reaching the expectations for the scheduled period.
Once you have set up your independent reading periods, it is important to schedule times to meet up with students for self-reflections on what they are reading and how it is going. This encourages students to talk about their books with you and holds them accountable during the Reading Zone. This does not have to take place during independent reading but is a crucial component to keep in your schedule. During this time, students will practice giving feedback and create goals while reflecting on their reading process.
Next, students need to have time to find the book that is the right fit for them. Trips to the school or district library should be scheduled to give students the time they need to find the right book. If students do not have a library card for your closest town library, this could be a time to take a field trip, so students can see the other books that may be offered nearby.
If you have a classroom library, allow students to browse your library, but NOT during independent reading time. Students should not be taking time away from the Reading Zone to find a book. This time is for reading, and this should be shown through your independent reading expectations at the beginning of the year.
Setting the Scene
Your classroom should set the scene for reading. In your classroom library, you can display different thematic books throughout the school year or based on book recommendations. This ensures that students are exposed to a plethora of books and reaches out to a wide variety of audiences. Book recommendations are a great way to give students a voice and encourage students to talk about what they are reading.
Students should have various places around the room to read. Even if you do not have a budget to create a reading-friendly classroom, pillows, different chairs, and reading corners are great ways to set your classroom up to showcase the Reading Zone. When students are independent reading, make sure they pick a spot and stay there during the time frame, so they are not distracting towards other readers.
Sometimes students complain that they only have to read in your classroom. If you want to show students the importance of reading, you can work with staff to ensure everyone is encouraging or showcasing independent reading. Other content-area teachers can put their favorite books or current books they are reading on display outside their classrooms. This is a great talking point with students in order to continue to discuss books outside your classroom.
Finding the Right Book
Once everything is organized and it is time to start reading, the biggest step is pairing the right book with the right students. There are a variety of ways to help students choose Just Right Books, but what it comes down to is book exposure. Reluctant readers may struggle to find the right book, but there are a lot of strategies to help these students find a genre or style that may interest them.
First, teacher book talks are a great way to introduce books to students. Along with this, you can also have guest “book talkers” come in and read or share about their favorite books. Students can also give recommendations, or you can create a “Wall of Fame” geared towards books that students have enjoyed throughout the year. This is a great visual tool to capture students’ attention.
Along with this, First Chapter Friday is another way to showcase books and hook students into reading. With this strategy, you or a student are reading out loud or playing an audiobook for the first chapter of a book. The goal for this is to hook readers. It gives them an idea of what styles or genres they would potentially like to read.
When setting up your Reading Zone, it is vital to surround students with a variety of books to encourage all readers, including reluctant readers, to feel comfortable and willing to read. In order to see success in independent reading, you need to be organized and willing to model what this classroom structure looks like. If students understand the expectations, all readers can feel comfortable and prepared to face the Reading Zone with confidence and excitement.