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5 Ways Independent Reading Boosts ELA Students

Learn why independent reading should be apart of your English classes.

Independent reading is an important part of any language arts curriculum, whether that reading is assigned chapters from a class novel or books of students’ choice. 

Unfortunately, though, this type of reading can be problematic when it comes to focusing on students’ reading, giving credit for their efforts, and assessing their knowledge. It raises three questions: 

  • How can a teacher solve these issues while still keeping independent reading independent? 
  • How can they know what their students read, how they read, and what they got out of their reading when it was done independently? 
  • How can students get the direction they need and the credit they deserve when the teacher is not right there?

Reading is an obvious part of any literature class. Novel studies, short story units, and poetry analysis all make regular appearances in the curriculum.  Independent reading, however, is not as universal of a part of these classes as teacher-assigned reading.  

This is unfortunate because there are many significant benefits to independent reading. Today let’s talk about some of these benefits and why independent reading should be just as much a part of curriculums as teacher-assigned reading.

Reason One: Exploration

No matter how good a book you choose for your class to read, no matter how high the interest level or how exciting the plot is, there will always be some students who don’t like it or who would just rather read something else.  

Maybe they prefer poetry over novels, or maybe they just can’t get into the genre of the book. Whatever the reason, every book you pick will not be a hit with every one of your students. That is not to say that you should never pick reading selections that are less popular with your students—these have their place—but independent reading allows all students to explore their own interests.  

By making independent reading a part of the curriculum, students can explore the titles and genres that interest them at reading levels that match their abilities while still reading for credit in your class.

Help your students explore different genres using any of the lists on the Middle School Book Lists or High School Book Lists pages. 

Reason Two: Confidence

Another great benefit of making independent reading a part of your curriculum is that it gives students a chance to gain confidence in the skills you have taught them in the classroom.  

As students pick their own reading materials that are interesting and at individually appropriate reading levels (you may need to give some of your more reluctant readers help and some direction with finding books that match their interests and levels, especially at first), they will not only gain confidence in their own abilities to read but also in their abilities to use the skills that you have taught in class.

Have reluctant readers? Help them find books to read with these blog posts: Books For Middle School Reluctant Readers 1 or Books For Middle School Reluctant Readers 2

Reason Three: Practice

Just because students are picking their own books does not necessarily mean that you, as the teacher, are not involved in the reading. There are many activities beyond the traditional book report that you can utilize to encourage your students to practice the reading skills you have been teaching in class, such as using context clues, making predictions, and visualizing as they take their reading outside of the classroom.  

When you assign independent reading outside of the classroom, consider what assignments, tasks, and projects you can include in the classroom that will encourage practice and build students’ confidence in their own abilities.

Learn more about reading engagement in our blog post, The Importance of Reading Engagement. You can also practice reading skills using any of our non-fiction reading resources, which you can find on Teachers Pay Teachers USD or Shopify CAD.

Reason Four: Habit

Habits are created by doing. Reading is a life skill that all literature teachers hope to cultivate into a habit for all of their students. Independent reading is a great way to encourage a reading habit to develop.  

When assigning independent reading, encourage students to find a regular time to read—maybe right before bed, immediately after dinner before turning on the television, or on the bus ride home each day. By encouraging students to do this reading at a regular time for an extended period of time, you improve the chances that when the assigned book is finished, they will pick up another book all on their own.  

Note: This habit can be additionally encouraged by pointing students toward books that are the first in a series or by authors who have written many novels. This 32 Middle School Book Lists is a great resource if you’re looking to recommend different books or series to your students. You can get this resource for free when you sign up for our email list

Reason Five: Choice

Students (particularly middle schoolers and high schoolers) are at a stage in their lives where they are beginning to explore and assert their independence. As a teacher of this age group, it is important to remember that choice matters.  

No matter how good a book, no matter if a student would have picked it up on their own, no matter how highly recommended the book comes, that book is never going to be quite as good if it is teacher-chosen instead of picked by the student’s own choice. Independent reading provides students with an opportunity for this choice.  

And while every book you teach will not be student-chosen or part of a class independent reading project, providing some opportunity for this choice amongst the rest of your curriculum can make a big difference.

Try using this Independent Reading Journal Assignment to help students stay organized and purposeful during reading workshops or independent reading time. You can find this Independent Reading Journal Assignment on Teachers Pay Teachers USD or Shopify CAD. Learn more about it below.

How Do I Assess Independent Reading?

If your district requires a formal book report-type assessment, check out these two assignments:

Independent Reading: 14 Book Report Project Bundle

This 14 Book Report Bundle contains 14 of our most popular book report projects. Students will enjoy the variety of their independent reading assignments as each book report project provides lots of student choices. You could either let your students choose, or you could assign a different one each month. 

Resource Includes:

  1. Teacher Instructions
  2. 3 Assignments -Book Vs. Movie Assignment, 12 Genre Book Reports, and a Novel Study Choice Board
  3. Levels-Based Assessment
  4. Points-Based Assessment
  5. Print & Digital Formats

What Teachers Are Saying:

“This is a fantastic resource! It allows me to offer different options for different students’ abilities and interests in the ELA classroom. A fantastic resource to invest in.” – Lisa C.

You can find the Independent Reading: 14 Book Report Project Bundle on Teachers Pay Teachers USD or Shopify CAD.

Independent Reading Journal Assignment

I have also used a reading journal to help students keep track of their weekly reading, goals, and books they want to read next. This assignment uses tracking forms, guided journaling, goal setting, and student conferencing to give your students structure and direction to their reading.  

This assignment helps keep them on track with firm goals in mind as well as encourages deeper and critical thinking as their stories progress. It also gives you, the teacher, a framework to check in with your students about what they are reading with directed questions and talk.   

Included Forms:

  • Independent Reading Genre Checklist (multiple formats)
  • Book Log
  • Interesting Books List
  • Monthly reading goals and reflect sheets (multiple formats)
  • Reading Conferences Tracking Sheet
  • Reading Conferences Questions for Fiction and Non-Fiction books
  • Reading Check-In Sheet
  • Recommended Reading Lists

What Teachers Are Saying:

“I love having a resource to keep my students accountable for their independent reading. The included information about different genres has helped my students expand the types of books they read.” – Garra M.

You can find this Independent Reading Journal Assignment on Teachers Pay Teachers USD or Shopify CAD.

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