If you want your students to read – or read more, check out these suggestions for making independent reading more successful.

First: get to know your students as readers

Start the year by giving your students a short survey.

My favorite questions are:

  1. How do you feel about reading? Why?
  2. What is hard about reading?
  3. What’s easy about reading?
  4. Do you have a favorite book? What is it?
  5. How many books did you read last year?

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You might want to share your own answers to these questions with your class before they take the survey.

They may think reading is hard, but cannot say why. By sharing your own answers, you can help them find a voice.

A quick survey like this will tell you a lot about your students. Of course, as the year progresses, you’ll learn more about what they like and don’t like.

Just collect the surveys, review, and stick in a file. These are just a way for your to understand your class a bit better.

Next: get a buy-in

Kids need to know WHY they should read, and your students are old enough to understand the research behind the push for them to do more independent reading.

Here are the statistics:

Research done in the 1980s revealed that in order for students to gain vocabulary and build up their understanding of words (and increase comprehension), they need “extensive reading across a broad range of subjects.”

You may want to share the infographic below with them.

Why students should read 20 minutes a day

If your students can understand and buy into the value of reading, you will be ahead of the game — and they certainly will be as well!

Then: set reading goals

Are you on Good Reads? If so, you know that they have a yearly reading challenge. How many books can you read in a year? I love it and always participate in it and love trying working on meeting or beating my goal for the year.

So, why not set up the same kind of excitement and challenge for our students?

A great way to open reading workshop is to help students set up their goals.

It can be fun to have a class reading challenge, but if you have students that are resistant to that, just go ahead and set individual goals.

The reading survey can help you guide students as they create goals. The student who didn’t read a single book last year may want to just focus on a goal of finding a book he or she likes and finishing it.

Try this:

Instead of setting up goals for the whole year or even for a grading period, try creating goals for one week or a month. Smaller goals will be easier for struggling readers to achieve.

Provide reading time

If you want your students to build the habit of reading, you have to give them time to read.

Yes, they should read at home, but think about the last book you needed to read. It can take awhile to get into a book. You may need to spend some time with it — more than five minutes before going to bed — in order to really get into the story and understand the characters.

Our students are the same way.

When you carve out some precious classroom time for independent reading, you are showing students that reading is so important that you will do it in class.

Allow reading choices — real choices

It is helpful to treat your students like adult readers.

However, I don’t mean they should be reading adult books — I do mean that they should be allowed to choose what to read.

If a student is stuck on reading only fantasy or wants to simply read comics…well…the school year is long, my friend!

You will be able to gently nudge your students to try new genres and topics as the year progresses, they get more confident in their reading, and you get to know what they like.

Try this:

Rather than insisting that students read a particular genre, find a book you’re familiar with that you think a student will like.

A personal recommendation with the phrase, “I thought of you when I read this…” can go a long way!

Candy books?

I call them “candy books” — these are books that are easy to read, not very filling, easy to forget…and maybe they leave you wanting more.

You know them…the Captain Underpants of the literary world.

Should students be allowed to read them?

I think so, and I’ll tell you why.

Again, I go to the adult reader. I like to read cookbooks. Weird, right? I don’t ever actually cook any of the recipes, but I like to look at the pictures!

This is one of my favorite things to “read” when I’m unwinding at night.

They aren’t great literature, but they are completely entertaining!

Of course, though, I probably would get bored by reading cookbook after cookbook — I’d want to mix it up a bit.

Our students can do the same.

If you notice students who are reading texts that are far below their ability and they are consistently choosing those texts, it’s probably time to have a conversation to discuss why.

And that brings us to tracking out what our students are reading…

Checking in

I’m a huge fan of Nancie Atwell. Her book, The Reading Zone and In the Middle are wonderful resources if you are getting started with reading workshop.

One of the best ideas I adopted from her books is “Status of the Class.” It’s a way to check in with your students to see what they are reading and how they are progressing.

I changed the way I use this “check in” method — and you can see how I collect reading data from my students in the video below.

Why this works:

The status of the class page can be a great reflection piece for students. They can see what they’re reading, how they are progressing, and what their reading habits look like.

For students who ARE reading:

Status can show them how fast they’re moving through texts, what kinds of books they’re choosing, how often and what books they’re abandoning. It can give them a real sense of accomplishment and reinforce their goals.

For students who AREN’T reading:

Status can be a great place to start a discussion with a student. It helps me ask questions like:

  • why aren’t you reading?
  • what’s preventing you from finding a book you love?
  • how can I help?
  • what kind of books do you love?

It is also a great way to meet with parents, learning support staff, and even your librarian along with a student. We are all trying to help that child find and love a book!

Because — this might be the first time that has happened!!

If you’d like an editable status of the class along with 17 mini lesson topics for establishing your independent reading program, you can find them here.

learn more about tips for a reading challenge

Abandoning books?

As adults, we abandon books all the time!

We should allow our students to do the same.

But when?

You can use Nancy Pearl’s “Rule of 50”; which states that if you are under 50, you should read 50 pages. I’ve adapted that rule. Students subtract their age from 100 and read that number of pages before deciding to abandon a book.

Here is another reason for dedicating a sustained period of time for your students to read —

They need time.

If you read one page of a book at night before you go to bed, you’ll never truly “get into” the book — it may never grab you because you just haven’t given it enough time.

By providing students time in class, even if it’s a solid ten minutes, we’re giving them a chance to give a book a chance!

Read alouds

Often we think that reading to our middle school students is “baby” and they won’t respond.

Give it a try!

Choose a funny book with short chapters that can capture their attention at the start of the class.

One of my favorite read alouds is Dan Gutman’s Get Rich Quick Club. This is a fast read with short chapters — most likely below your students’ reading level, but so much fun to read. Especially if you like to use accents and different voices.

Another great read aloud is Eoin Colfer’s The Wish List. I love the Artemis Fowl books (also great to read to your class!), and this stand-alone book is interesting, clever, and quirky.

Another that is great to read around Halloween is Bruce Coville’s The Monster’s Ring. The story about a boy who can turn himself into a monster in order to get revenge on a bully. Another very easy read, but fun, short chapters that will keep your students’ interest.

And I love all of Carl Hiaasen’s kids books like Hoot and Flush.

Why it’s worth a try:

You won’t always hit a home run when choosing what to read to your students. Sometimes you might just want to read the first chapter to see if it interested them.

But reading out loud can help students get through the difficult first chapters where the characters and plot are introduced.

What if you don’t like to read out loud?

Try a book on CD or download the audio book from your library. Many of Bruce Coville’s books have a full-cast audio with sound effects. So engaging!

What about grades?

Some teachers will ask students to write them a letter each time they finish an independent reading book. Some ask that students write a journal entry.

Before you do that, consider this:

What is this going to do to your grading workload? Sure, the letter sounds like a great way to dialogue with your students, but consider how much time that is going to take.

If you are really committed to writing letters back and forth with your students, try it for a month or two first.

Try this instead of setting up your independent reading program for the entire year. That way you can adjust what you want your students to do.

Other options for assessment:

  • If you are using status of the class (see above), you use that to determine if students are consistently reading.
  • Have a “spot check” with students asking them to give you a quick review of a book they’ve just finished.
  • Instead of a letter, students can just meet with you to tell you about the book. This way you don’t have anything to grade.
  • Use your mini lessons and independent reading. For example, students can look for examples of imagery or dialogue in their independent reading books.

My favorite assessment:

I LOVE using book talks as a way for students to share what they’re reading and it provides a great assessment tool. Add to that a speaking and listening component, and you have a great assessment!

You can schedule book talks by grading period — or monthly.

Why these are great:

Book talks can really start a reading frenzy! Students want to read what their peers like, and so one great review can start a class reading a title or series!

Your reading goals

If your students have set reading goals for their independent reading, you should too!

In addition, you should read with your students during independent reading time.

Try this:

Read a book that is popular with your students. It is a great way for you to recommend titles and have discussions with students.

Have a reluctant reader who is really struggling? Read the same text as that student. Just a comment like, “I just got to the end of chapter 2, and I can’t believe what happened!” can be a great way to motivate a student.


“I haven’t read that far; don’t tell me what happens next!”

Why this works:

When your students see that you value reading, they will place more value on it as well.

How to run a successful independent reading program in middle school

Rejoice in Reading Achievements

When is a little party a bad idea?

Celebrate your students’ successes in reading — whether it’s monthly, quarterly, or at the end of the school year.

Here’s the easy way:

Simply use this poster to track the total number of books your class has read. Laminate the sheet and use a white board eraser to keep track.

You don’t have to go crazy…just acknowledge your students’ efforts!

So what do you say? Ready to start independent reading with your students?

In case you need a bit of help, check out these resources in my shop.

Let me know how it looks in your classroom in the comments!

With gratitude for all you do,