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How to Get Kids to Read Independently

Let’s talk about how to get kids to do real independent reading. Independent reading is an important part of the literacy block. Kids need time to read on their own so they can apply the strategies they’ve been taught to become better readers.

But how do we get kids to read for real, for extended periods of time? And what I mean by real is that they’re reading and processing what they’re reading, not just flipping through the pages of a book.

We want kids to engage with the books they’re reading, because not only will it help them comprehend better, but it will encourage them to read outside of the classroom.

Here are some ideas for getting kids to read independently for extended periods of time.

The first step is exploring different genres. Let kids explore the different types of reading genres and figure out what they like. Some kids might like comic books, and others might like informational books about animals.

Give them lots of options. Take them to the school library, your classroom library doesn’t have a lot of options.

It took me years to gather my collection. I have over 1500 books, but that took years to get. The reason I have so many books is that I want kids to have choices when they’re reading.

I want them to be able to find that book that they love. That series that they love, and makes them want to keep reading. It’s a lot easier to get kids to want to read when they’re enjoying what they’re reading.

So finding genres they like, is an important step into hooking them onto a series or hooking them on to an author.

independent reading books

The next thing to consider is the level of the books that the kids are reading. And when I say level, I don’t mean, is the book a reading level M or a level O?

Are they reading a book where they’re able to read most of the words and not get frustrated and give up?

When grownups go to the library, or they go to the bookstore they don’t look for books on their level. When I go I choose books based on what makes me happy. I choose books based on what I enjoy reading.

It’s the same for kids. They should be able to go into the classroom library or go to the school library and pick books based on the topics they enjoy.

Now, of course, there are books that are way too difficult for kids to read. Generally, a third grader should not be reading a book that’s meant for a sixth or seventh grader. But within reason kids should be able to pick their own books based on the topics they like to read about.

Next, it’s important to train the kids how to read because many of them have gone all summer without reading a lot. And they need to get back into being able to read for a certain amount of time.

At the beginning of the year, train them to read a little each day until they have the stamina to read for at least 20 minutes. 20 minutes is a good amount of time to start with in 3rd grade.

For whatever amount of time you want the kids to read, train them each day until they’re reading for a sustained amount of time.

I talked about this in my blog post about three things to do the first week of school.

reading independently literacy boot camp

You can even make this training time fun. I like to do a Literacy Boot Camp during the first two weeks of school. I even give them dog tags that they wear and we start with three minutes on the first day of school.

Each day, we add a little bit more time until the kids are reading for 20 minutes straight independently. The Literacy Boot Camp is not necessary to train the kids, but I just like to make it a little bit more engaging and make it fun those first two weeks of school.

When kids are reading on their own, they’re not going to be able to always ask the teacher for help on a word when they get stuck. Can you imagine you have 20 or 30 kids and then half of them are raising their hands and asking you for help to figure out a word?

It’s not possible. So I like to teach specific strategies for when they get stuck. I teach them ways to break apart a word they may not know. I teach them how to put it back into the sentence to figure out what it means.

I make sure to start the year with many lessons on how to tackle those big words so that when they’re reading on their own, they don’t need to stop and ask me for help.

That will not work for every single word that they’re reading. There are words, that at the end of the reading session, they’re going to have to ask you for help, and that’s okay.

But for the most part, they should be able to read most of the words on their own, and figure out how to decode those multisyllabic words on their own.

Another way to get kids to read independently is to model the behavior. Every once in a while, during independent reading time, instead of meeting with your students in a small group, or individually, take out a book for yourself and read independently along with the kids.

It sets a good example for them to see you reading. Your kids will be more likely to follow your lead if they see that you value reading too. You could do it just twice a month. Get a book to read along with your kids. It’s one of my favorite things to do.

Try these strategies out and get your kids reading independently!


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