I spent a lot of time trying to encourage my middle school students to read. As you might expect, I encountered some resistance from time to time. My school implemented a mandatory 20-minute reading block per day. Our team decided that the Language Arts teachers would implement the silent reading during their classes. The Language Arts classes were twice as long as the other core subject areas at this particular school. This made it easier to fit the time into the class. At first it was not easy, but it became one of the most loved portions of the day after the students and teachers developed a consistent routine.
Here are some of the ideas that we used to integrate silent reading time into our school day.
1. We gave the students options. There were a variety of books for the students to select from that included children’s books, audio books (with the text to follow along), graphic novels (comic books), young adult novels, and short stories.
2. The students kept a book-log of all of the books that they read. The list included the date that they began and finished the book and a brief summary or reaction to reading the book.
3. We gave the students an opportunity to abandon two books per month. They had to list this book on their book-log and give the reason why they abandoned the book. Reasons included “the book was too easy, it was too hard, too boring,” etc.
4. The students were encouraged to take their time when selecting a book to read. They were given strategies on how to quickly assess if the book was a good match for them. For an example, if they found five or more words within the first paragraph that they could not read, we told them to find another book that they could read comfortably.
5. We posted a daily schedule on the board with the approximate amount of time that we planned to spend on each learning activity. Many of our students appreciated the daily schedule. Students who had difficulty with transitions referred to the schedule to prepare for the next activity. In the beginning, we did the silent reading at the end of every class period.
6. There was a coveted reading area in each Language Arts room. It was not a big area, but it had pillows and one or two comfy chairs (bean bags). The class signed up for days to sit in the reading area, as it could only accommodate three to four students at a time.
7. Everyone read, including the teachers. This gave us a chance to model reading. The students always wanted to know what the teachers were reading. Some days we would not read, instead we would have sharing days. There was never enough time for all students to share because impromptu discussions based on the books and how they relate to reality would pop up.
Overall, silent reading was a hit. Students at all levels were engaged in reading whether they were reading a novel or listening to an audio book as they followed along with the book. Every student was included.
You may not have a schedule that will permit you to use 20 minutes of instructional time for silent reading, but you could start with one day a week. Try it. Establish a routine, give students a choice, and watch their reading skills grow.