Independent reading

Summary of key findings

Time for children to read and talk about their reading was central to building rich reading communities in the TaRs research. Children’s choice and access to a wide range of quality and enticing texts was also key to the success of this practice.

Without teacher knowledge of texts and readers, and the accompanying reading aloud and booktalk strands of a RfP pedagogy in a social reading environment, independent reading easily became a routine procedure, void of authentic reader engagement and interaction.

In these short films teacher Becky Thomson outlines how we can offer support during independent reading time while ensuring that children retain ownership of the process.

Independent Reading Time

Supporting independent reading time

Independent Reading time - Helping children choose

Helping children to make their choices

More research details

At the start of the Teachers as Readers (TaRs) project, most teachers did not allocate any time in the curriculum for independent child-led, choice-led reading. Those that did assign time acknowledged it was often sandwiched into registration periods and frequently interrupted or shelved. 

In the research year, teachers across all age phases established more frequent and sustained independent reading sessions. This pedagogic practice, embedded in relaxed reading environments with accessible resources, enabled children to develop stamina for reading through choice; they could develop the ‘will’ to read as well as ‘the skill’ (OECD 2002). Teachers reported renewed understanding of the value of independent reading as a planned pedagogic routine rather than something children could do when all other work was completed. 

The research revealed that, over time, many teachers began to see talk as a crucial part of their independent reading routines, as children made selections and recommendations to one another, some sharing the reading of a single comic or swapping chosen picture books part way through the time. Talking about the texts being read became the norm. 

Additionally, teachers took more active roles. Instead of using this time to get other jobs done, they too engaged at times as readers, recognising that this pedagogical approach offers children a positive model of being a reader and sharing reading. It also forged positive relationships around reading between teachers and children.

A lot of them are choosing to read in free choice time, like Abdul, he asked me if he could talk to me about the book he was reading.  I think a lot of that is just because they know now that I’m interested…I definitely know more now about their reading….  - (Teacher, interview, Birmingham) 

The shared experiences of reading aloud and book talk influenced the ways in which teachers organised children’s independent reading in the classroom. Teachers began to perceive independent reading as an active opportunity for learning and teaching, rather than a passive ‘settling’ or ‘holding’ strategy whilst they were focused on, for example, completing the register. Recognising the value of this time, teachers sought to ensure children were not removed for other activities, and there was evidence that children who were previously reluctant or disaffected readers, became drawn in, increasingly motivated and keen to read and talk about texts. 

As Ben-Yosef (2010) argues, authentic independent reading involves thoughtful engagement with the text, and the impact of sustained time to read and to talk about texts more freely was evident in the children’s thoughtful comments about the texts they were reading in this time.

Adapted from pages 99-101, from Cremin, T., Mottram, M., Collins, F., Powell, S. and Safford, K. (2014) Building Communities of Engaged Readers: Reading for pleasure, London/New York: Routledge.  

To read more about the research: see the Executive Summaries and related papers on http://oro.open.ac.uk/ or the core book, or the UKLA/Primary National Strategy professional development guide to developing reading for pleasure (based upon TaRs, Cremin et al., 2008)

Building Communities of Readers Cover Building Communities of Engaged Readers Cover

Review your practice

This self-review document is designed to help you consider your practice with regard to independent reading. In the TaRs research, time for children to read independently and, crucially, to talk about their reading in a social, interactive and reciprocal environment was central to building rich reading communities. The research showed that teachers’ knowledge of texts and readers, along with the accompanying reading and informal book talk strands of a RfP pedagogy were essential in generating authentic reader engagement and interaction.

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Practical classroom strategies

Now there is ERIC [Everyone Reading In Class] own reading time… this has gone to 10 to 15 minutes every day at least. This has prompted more book talk and informal recommendations. The reading chat is constant then, and at other times when children just seize the moment and talk about what they are reading to me and to each other… I’ve gained so much knowledge through them. - (TaRs teacher, Medway)

1. Establish a regular independent reading time 

Set a regular time aside in the curriculum for choice-led reading. Try to avoid offering this as a planned routine during the register or at other times when interruptions are likely. You could hang a notice on the door - ‘Come back later we’re reading!’ This needs to be a quality time for reading and talk. It doesn’t need to be silent, although there may be occasions when the children might prefer to read silently. Involve the class in decisions about when independent reading time happens; this is their time for reading.

2. Offer a choice of reading material, onscreen and print

Choice is crucial to foster engagement, so discuss with the class the range of texts and places from which they can select their reading material for this time. They could bring texts from home, the school library, the class library, online... Observing and/or recording their choices over time is important, enabling you to respond to their interests and make recommendations.

3. Ensure time to talk is built in 

This is crucial to the success of independent reading time. Reading chat may happen before, during or after this time. You can prompt this by inviting the class to talk in pairs about:

  • a key event /fact in the narrative/non-fiction
  • something that amused/moved/annoyed them
  • a line of powerful language
  • their favourite character
  • why they like/dislike their text
  • other books they know by the same author.

4. Seek out a variety of places/spaces 

Independent reading time does not need to be undertaken in the classroom only. Make use of alternative spaces in the school and the playground and use your reading area. Children may prefer to sit with friends, lie on the floor or lean against the radiator rather than tucked into the tables.  Comfort when reading for pleasure is important; negotiate these options with the children. 

5. Make time for browsing/reading aloud to support text selection 

To avoid endless book swapping during ERIC (Everybody Reading In Class) and to encourage wise choices, offer regular supported browsing time and book recommendations, as well as reading aloud and displays. Post-it ratings on books with the signature of the reviewer can be useful. 

6. Model engagement by reading and talking 

In showing that you are hooked by your own adult or children’s text you will be modelling engagement.  Being ready to talk to others about what you are reading will also be effective in demonstrating the enjoyment gained from talking about texts. By partnering with a child when you both share what you were reading, you avoid taking too much of their time and get the chance to listen to your partner’s perspective. 

On other occasions, you may be discussing with groups or individuals or observing choices and groupings as children read and share their texts during ERIC.  

7. Create themed weeks – on particular topics, authors or genres 

To support children in finding pleasure in a wide range of texts and writers that they may not have encountered yet, ring the changes and establish themed weeks on particular topics, authors or genres. You could:

  • create book boxes by borrowing picture books from the library and other classes, on themes such as fear, journeys, chocolate etc. This could be in response to the wider curriculum or simply following the children’s interests or discussions that have happened in class
  • gather books by 6 authors and enable children across a fortnight say to read, meet and discuss the work of one author. With individuals/groups sharing their reading and recommendations of one author’s work, other children may be encouraged to  experiment with their writing
  • gather piles of comics, magazine or newspapers. You could seek to buy some new ones/find free ones or invite children to bring some in. Explore what is available in school as well as online. This creates another focus for a week. Time to share these and talk as they are read will be essential.

8. Offer further opportunities for independent reading  

In addition to establishing regular independent reading times for the whole class, some children may want to read at other times. Offering reading within free choice time or when other work has been completed supports those readers. Play and lunch breaks are also times when independent reading can happen so provide opportunities for this e.g. by providing picture book/magazine boxes on the playground.

9. Establish a class/year group book club

Offer the children the opportunity to set up a class book club. This might begin with more confident readers and you suggesting a book/text/author for them to read. At first you could model discussion of the text and suggest how to best organise the group, but over time the group will want to shape how to run their group and which authors/texts/themes to pursue. 

For further details about how this has been successfully run in classrooms, see The Reading Agency's www.chatterbooks.org.uk 

10. Use particular texts to inspire independent reading time

Many of the teachers involved in the TaRs research found particular texts useful as a springboard into promoting independent reading time. For example, Tim Hopgood’s Our Big Blue Sofa was used as a springboard into creating one class’s own big blue sofa as a space where reading can be enjoyed. Another focused on The Cultivated Wolf by Becky Bloom and Pascal Biet and explored the animals’ reading habits as a springboard for discussing their own in ERIC time.

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