Books Need Readers: Independent Reading Plan

We believe that students need books and books need readers. (Moss and Young, 2010)

Independent Reading Literature Review

Discovering a book and getting lost in its story is one of the most amazing thing texts can provide for us. Participating in these repeated experiences of the positive power text can have over us “involve true engagement with books [and] help students develop a love of reading that may last a lifetime” (Moss & Young, 2010, p. 1). Students need to participate and practice independent reading in and outside of school to help strengthen their skills as readers. As defined by Moss and Young (2010), independent reading is:
self-selected reading, or leisure reading, that students do on their own in or out of school, with or without accompanying instruction. (p. 4)

Independent reading allows students the opportunity to choose their reading material instead of reading from the required text book or basal reader which usually does not have much, if anything, of interest to the students (Moss & Young, 2010). Allowing students the opportunity to select their text gives them the ownership of what they are reading and they are more likely to be engaged with the text. Teachers need to help students understand the importance of choosing books that are at their correct reading, or as defined by Palumbo and Willcutt (as cited in Moss & Young, 2010) their “recreational” level, meaning students are able to read the majority of the text with accuracy and comprehend most of the words.

One thing teachers need to understand is that independent reading is “a critical component of a quality reading program, but it cannot be the entire reading program” (Moss & Young, 2010, p. 4). A teacher cannot just ask students to take out their independent reading books and read for 20 minutes each day and that is the only reading time. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development or NICHD (as cited in Moss & Young, 2010) “independent reading is not effective when used as the only type of literacy instruction” (p. 8). This also applies to the thought that students don’t need to do independent reading if they receive explicit instruction. Pearson (as cited in Moss & Young, 2010) stated, “all the explicit instruction in the world will not make strong readers unless accompanied by lots of experience applying their knowledge, skills, and strategies during actual reading” (p. 3). Using independent reading allows students the opportunity to apply skills that they have learned during other reading activities, such as shared reading and guided reading (Moss & Young, 2010). Students need a balance of explicit instruction on reading skills and also the opportunity to apply those skills independently.  Independent reading benefits the building of vocabulary and fluency, improves comprehension and reading achievement, allows for greater domain and background knowledge, and helps students become motivated, confident young readers (Moss & Young, 2010).

Students benefit from independent reading because it provides time to practice the skills they have acquired during other lessons. Exposure to text on their recreational level is extremely important for students to move forward. In order to increase vocabulary, students need exposure to the language, not direct teaching. According to Cunningham and Stanovich (as cited in Moss & Young, 2010), books and other text materials allow students to gain access to rare words that are not used in daily conversation such as adult speech, radio, or television. Allowing students’ time for independent reading gives them time to be exposed to text and increase their vocabulary. Inquiry based reading, or basically self-selected text, gives students the opportunity to gain general knowledge, build schemas, and gain domain knowledge (Moss & Young, 2010). Although students do gain knowledge from reading texts selected by the teacher, they are more likely to stay engaged and read longer when they are able to choose the topic they want to learn more. These periods of longer reading and staying engaged help students create reading “stamina” which builds their ability to concentrate on long passages (Moss & Young, 2010).

Another benefit of independent reading is the extended time students are allowed to practice their reading. As with anything else in life, to gain success you have to practice. Moss and Young (2010) state that “wide reading experiences may provide a powerful accompaniment to fluent practice” (p. 13). This practice not only helps students increase fluency, but comprehension as well. Cunningham and Stanovich (as cited in Moss & Young, 2010) made the statement that:

A child who reads abundantly develops greater reading skills, a larger vocabulary and more general knowledge about the world. In return, they have increased reading comprehension, and, therefore, enjoy more pleasurable reading experiences and are encourage to read even more. (p. 3)

Researchers Guthrie and Greaney (as cited in Moss & Young, 2010) mention that books that are of high-interest to students are more pleasurable to read and result in students reading for longer periods of time. Allowing students to self-select books and read them independently is a highly motivation factor to encouraging students to build their reading skills (Moss & Young, 2010).

Although the concept of independent reading is for students to read independently, they should be held accountable in some form or fashion to be sure their time is not wasted. This accountability helps students recognize that “although time for reading can and should provide enjoyment, it represents a part of the school day that is meaningful and focused on a task” (Moss & Young, 2010, p. 4-5). Just like the student, the teacher needs to understand what independent reading means for the classroom. Like any other reading activity or instruction, “it should be planned, structured, and made a part of students’ daily literacy experiences (Moss & Young, 2010, p. 5).  The goal of any literacy program is to help students become self-fulfilling readers. This goal is one that cannot be accomplished by the teacher and student alone, but with support of the parents, communities, and even school librarians. As Moss and Young (2010) stated:

Careful guidance, along with school and community support, can help students become successful, engaged independent readers who grow into book-loving adults. (p. 7)

Maintaining a structured learning environment during independent reading time allows students’ to be comfortable with the surrounds and aware of their job as a reader. Every student is at a different place in their reading journey and the teacher needs to be aware in order to guide that student in the right direction. One of the most important jobs for the teacher is to be a reading model for students. Cameron and Pierce (as cited in Moss & Young, 2010) discuss that if students see your positive reaction to reading, your enjoyment, they are more likely to influence to become lifelong learners. Creating a structured learning environment, whether it be fluency development or scaffolding instruction (Moss & Young, 2010), is beneficial to increasing students’ reading skills. Teachers need to be sure students are provided with supportive reading environments and are engaged with texts in order to have success.

Creating the Space

Depending on the purpose of reading, for pleasure or information, the space and surrounding area is extremely important. Some of the most comfortable reading spaces are ones that are cozy, not overwhelming, and pleasing to the eye. Above all, classroom libraries need to exude comfort and entice students to want to read. Creating this atmosphere is a thorough process that many over look. According to Moss and Young (2010) classroom libraries need to have the following: attractive and accessible areas, large enough to hold four or five students, cozy seating, wide variety of texts (including picture books, nonfiction, poetry, and children’s magazines), books available in students’ home languages, feature books displayed on open-faced shelves, selections rotated throughout the school year, a listening center, and simple procedures for checking books out. (p. 37)

These things create a space that is ideal for students to flourish in. This past year I was able to obtain a couch which helped create a “library” space in the classroom. Below is a picture of the past year’s classroom library.

As pictured, the physical space is cozy; however, the problem I need to work on is displaying books and organizing how they are categorized. I thought I was doing a great thing, putting out as many books as I could on the book shelves to give variety, when in reality I was creating a bigger problem by overwhelming the students with choices. As Moss and Young (2010) stated:

When you make classroom libraries more appealing and accessible, you increase the chances that students feel comfortable during their library visits. (p. 41)

My goal for next year is to allow the students to help organize how the books are categorized. This will allow the students to become familiar with genre and categories, the material in classroom library as well as know what is available to them (Moss & Young, 2010). A few more shelves, bins, or spaces to display books are also needed to create an accessible library. The students would also help create some type of map or visual to depict how they’ve arranged the library. I’d like to try to get some bean bags to help create more of a boundary for where the classroom library is and also provide more seating. Our classroom library also has some pillows and carpet squares that can be used for seating. Another idea mentioned by Moss and Young (2010) is to find unique places for students to read such as a small boat, canoe, or bathtub.

Along with creating a specific space, is the idea of library centers. I did something similar last year, but instead of permanent library centers, I had temporary ones. I would visit the public library and check out some books on a topic we were studying for a particular unit, for example Native Americans. These would be displayed on our work table and accessible for the students at anytime during the class. I wouldn’t let the students take these out of the classroom because they did not belong to our classroom library. However, students are allowed to check books out of the classroom library, one book at a time. The process for checking books out is a check out/in log book that the students record their name, the book title, and the date. When the book is returned, I highlight their name and initial and date. This system worked well in our classroom last year. Next year, I would like to do the same thing, but have a student be the classroom librarian and be in charge of checking books in and out as suggested by Moss and Young (2010).

Creating the Collection

As mentioned in a previous post, I was very fortunate to have a retired teacher donate her classroom library (and other great classroom materials, Thanks Mrs. Sink!) to me. This was an excellent start to my classroom library that I’ll forever be grateful. On average, a classroom library should have approximately seven to twelve books per student (Moss & Young, 2010). I feel my classroom library meets this expectation; but, I will always feel the need to expand what I have. (Just ask my husband about our home library.) I collect books from various places and always keep an eye out for a deal. My favorite places to expand my library (personal and classroom) are yard sales,, and discount stores like Ollie’s Bargain Outlet. I was able to get a class set of City of Bones by Clarissa Fray for approximate $40 at Ollie’s. As suggested by Moss and Young (2010) another way to build classroom libraries is to have students create their own books. This allows students to apply what they know about books, be creative, and actively contribute to the classroom library.

When building a classroom library it is important to keep in mind the audience in which the books are for and the type of materials needed. Moss and Young (2010) say it best, “book selection is a continuing quest to locate those works that help students to develop a love for reading and to experience growth as readers” (p. 46). Teaching struggling readers in middle school, I’m trying to build my library to have a variety of high-interest, low-level books on various topics. I preface the year by instilling in my students that we all read at different levels and paces, and that is okay. Taking into consideration the books that are already in the classroom library, I would like to add more non-fiction books, graphic novels, award winning books and magazines. Here are some titles I would like to include:

Sports Illustrated for Kids
Discover Kids

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Rules by Cynthia Lord
Game Changers by Mike Lupica

Graphic Novels:
Around the World by Matt Phelan
Babymouse! Series by Jennifer Holm

Non-Fiction Books:
Today’s Air Force Heroes by Miriam Aronin
Bomb Sniffing Dogs by Meish Goldish

Picture Yourself Writing Poetry; Using Photos to Inspire Writing by Laura Purdie Salas

Picture Books:
Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss and John Hendrix

Content Areas:
Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air by Stewart Ross
Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh
The Shocking Truth About Energy by Loreen Leedy
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz
All the World’s a Stage: A Novel in Five Acts by Gretchen Woelfle

In addition to these specific titles, I would see how my students respond to the reading interest surveys at the beginning of the year. According to their response, I’d research titles on their interests to add to the classroom library because a library should always be changing and expanding. Also, why should a classroom library be limited to just a corner? Along with printed texts, I’d also create a virtual library on our classroom’s website, or even within our classroom blog, with links to various online resources. This would expand student expose to various types of texts. Some sites to include would be:

 Key Components of My Independent Reading Program

Moss and Young (2010) suggest that an Independent Reading Program need to have two main components: “20 minutes of community reading time at least twice a week and 60 minutes devoted to supported independent reading time (SIRT) every day” (p. 69). In middle school, I have 60 minutes with the students each day. Actually, by the time they arrive in the classroom and get settled, it’s 55 minutes. I would love to have 60 minutes every day to devote to SIRT, but in the middle school setting it is extremely difficult. Therefore, I have developed a plan for the school week that I think will work for my middle school classroom. I definitely understand the importance of independent reading and plan to incorporate it into the daily routine. I would like to start off the week with community reading time (20 minutes) and a book talk/read aloud incorporating the weekly feature book. I would choose a book that would go along with our topic for the week and read a page or two from the book. I’d invite students to predict, discuss, and question the read aloud. After that, I would allow time for students to do book talks either whole group or small groups. As Moss and Young (2010) suggest, book talks can take “several interesting forms” such as “cliffhangers, character based, first sentences, grab bag, ten questions, and readers theatre teaser” (p. 70 -71). I think allowing students to participate in book talks at the beginning of the week sets the tone for the rest of the week and the mentality that books can be fun. This helps develop the sense of community, gives students the opportunity to share with their peers, and will hopefully give students something to look forward to at the beginning of the week. “Book talks should create excitement for books and alert students to the many possibilities found within the classroom or school library” (Moss & Young, 2010, p. 71). We would also dedicate time at the end of the week for book talk activities as well.

I think at least 20 minutes each day would work for SIRT in the middle school classroom. This doesn’t mean some days I would devote more time, for example on the days that we don’t do the book talks more time could be dedicated to SIRT. On days that the book talks are on, students would have time to read (approximately 10-15 minutes), some students would participate in student-teacher conferences, and then respond to their reading (approximately 5-10 minutes). On days that we don’t participate in the book talks, more time will be dedicated to an SIRT lesson. Students will be introduced to a focus topic or idea which will be modeled for them (approximately 15 – 20 minutes), given guided practice time to try the strategy (5 – 10 minutes), and then given the independent reading time to practice the strategy (approximately 10 – 15 minutes) and then respond (Moss & Young, 2010). During their reading time, more student-teacher conferences will be conducted to evaluate how the students are doing with their chosen book, and then students will take time to respond to their reading and the strategy. At the beginning of the year, I plan to teach students strategies for choosing books and staying focused while reading. For example, Taberski (as cited in Moss & Young, 2010) suggests The Goldilocks Rule to find if a book is just right for the reader as well as using the five-finger test. The five-finger test is where “students select a page and count, using their fingers, the number of unknown words, and if there are more than 5 unknown words, the book may be too difficult” (Moss & Young, 2010, p. 43).

As stated by Moss and Young (2010) there are many reasons for a teacher to have conferences with a student which include: gathering data about the ways a student selects a book, assessing the student’s ability to effectively assess a book, and exploring difficulties a student encounters in using independent reading time efficiently. (p. 82) I also feel having student-teacher conferences enforces that the students are being held accountable for what they read, even if they are reading for pleasure. Students can respond to the text in many different forms. For example, Moss and Young (2010) suggest students “complete graphic organizers, create artistic responses or PowerPoint, or maintain a blog” (p. 85). Students become responsible for their record keeping by creating “reading interest forms, reading logs, responses to reading materials, and self-evaluation rubrics” (Moss & Young, 2010, p. 86) that help aid the student during the teacher conferences. As Moss and Young (2010) state, “accountability is key to a successful reading program” (p. 25). Responding to reading is important because these activities “often deepen students’ understanding and appreciation for the text read and students are motivated to read a book after observing the shared responses of their peers” (Moss & Young, 2010, p. 107). In addition to reading logs, students can respond to literature by creating various pieces of art, such as a collage or art study, or they can respond with drama by creating a readers theatre or doing a choral reading. Students can also respond with writing by doing book reviews, creating poetry or respond with technology by creating a blog or book advertisement (Moss & Young, 2010). As a teacher, it is also my responsibility to maintain records and notes of students’ reaction during their reading time, book talks, and conferences.

Linking Literacy Instruction with Independent Reading Experiences

            Every teacher’s goal for their students should be for them to become independent with whatever activity they are doing. Teachers should provide scaffolded instruction and this model is called the gradual release of responsibility model (GRR) founded by Pearson and Gallagher (as cited in Moss and Young, 2010).  Incorporating GRR model with SIRT can help create valuable lessons for any classroom. When introducing a strategy for reading, the best way is to model what is expected for students. This allows them to see how the strategy is conducted and what exactly needs to be done. Teachers can use a read aloud, “stopping periodically to model the strategy through a think-aloud” (Moss & Young, 2010, p. 94). This continues with a shared reading where as a large group the class practices the strategy together, the teacher reading aloud and the students helping with the think-aloud. After the students have participated as a whole class, they get in small groups to practice as the teacher provides support when needed. Once the students have practiced the strategy with a small group, they then do independent reading and apply the strategy. At the teacher’s discretion, students may be partnered to make sure they fully understand the strategy before attempting individually (Moss & Young, 2010). Independent reading provides practice for the students and gives them real examples and experiences to use their strategies. After students have had the opportunity to apply the strategies during the independent reading, time to share how and why they used the strategies should be provided. Students need be sure to describe “how using that particular strategy helped strengthen their comprehension, how the strategy could be used for future readings, identify the strategy or strategies that helped them comprehend the pieces, and note the conditions that contributed to their comprehension” (Moss & Young, 2010, p. 96). Strategies for comprehension, vocabulary, text features, navigational devices, story grammar, and text structures of informational text can all be taught using the GRR model and practiced during independent reading (Moss & Young, 2010).  Most importantly, teachers should be incorporating these skills into reading in the content areas. The strategies used for fiction are very different from informational texts, and students need to be aware of how and what strategies to use and when. Incorporating content areas into independent reading will help students gain background knowledge of that subject area as well as know how to use strategies when reading for that subject. As best stated by Moss and Young (2010), ‘through independent content are reading, students develop the literacy skills they need to succeed in the world of the 21st century” (p. 145).


Moss, B. & Young, T. A. (2010). Creating lifelong learners through independent reading. Neward, DE: International Reading Association.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. tisenhour
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 13:29:34

    I like your couch and library space.I’m guessing students “fight” over who is going to get to use that space. I also like your “tempory” library with displays on tables and other places around the room. I think having your students help design the set up of the books is a great way to get them more involved and connected with the books! Great job!


    • lenasprinkle
      Jun 25, 2012 @ 12:55:04

      They do “fight” sometimes! During my literacy block, we had free friday where they would get to sit any where in the room as we read aloud the book. They really enjoyed that, and at first they tried to take advantage of it (off task, talking) but they soon understood that I still expected the same from them, regardless if they were sitting in their desk or on the couch. At the middle school level it’s hard to have the “centers” so the temporary library is the closest I can get. 🙂 Thanks for your comments!


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