Rethinking Silent Reading in the Elementary Classroom
Do you have designated silent reading time in your classroom? Have you heard the terms SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) or DEAR (Drop Everything And Read)? Silent reading is a very common practice in classrooms across the United States, where teachers allow time for students to choose a book to read silently on their own. But does this practice align to the science of reading research? And how might we adjust our silent reading time to support all of our readers?
In 2000, the National Reading Panel looked at studies that asked if encouraging students to read more would lead to improvement in reading ability. This is usually the reason why silent reading is included in classrooms. There’s the hope that independent time to read will result in students who read more and that, in turn, will lead to improvement in reading ability. The National Reading Panel found, however, that there is no evidence in the research to support this idea.
And honestly, if we take a step back and think about what we know about explicit instruction, we can probably admit there are flaws with silent reading time. Our strong readers (i.e., fluent decoders) will likely improve because silent reading time becomes time for authentic practice of decoding skills they have already acquired. But our struggling readers (i.e., students who are not yet fluent decoders) are not able to practice the skills they need with the corrective feedback and support they require during a silent reading time. Unfortunately, we may be creating wider gaps for our students.
With that said, it might surprise you to hear that I am not suggesting we cut silent reading time from our classroom schedule. Instead, I believe we should rethink the way we’re doing silent reading to make it more inclusive and meaningful for all of our students. In the rest of this blog, I will share some ideas for rethinking silent reading time in the classroom.
Change What Counts as “Reading”
My number one suggestion for rethinking silent reading time is to change what counts as reading in your classroom. In other words, expand your reading options to include options beyond physical books. Include options like audiobooks, podcasts, and digital books. These options allow students to listen instead of doing all the decoding themselves. Listening to text that students cannot decode themselves supports content knowledge and vocabulary as well as listening comprehension. And these are important things to provide, especially for our struggling readers! If you can’t provide the support and corrective feedback required, why not let a student listen to high-quality text where they can build vocabulary and knowledge?
My favorite option for digital books and audiobooks is Epic. Epic is free for educators to use in their classrooms during school hours and it includes an amazing amount of read-to-me and audiobook options for students. You can search by topic of interest so there’s always something students will be excited to read!
My favorite podcast resource is a website called Listenwise. This website features student friendly podcasts about a wide range of topics. There is a free version and a paid version. I have created a resource that includes posters with QR codes for many of the free podcasts on Listenwise.
Offer More Supportive Texts
I have two ideas to support student reading to make their decoding practice during silent reading time more productive. They include sharing books about content you’re learning in other subjects and making decodable texts readily available.
If students have a lot of background knowledge about a topic, they can usually read harder texts on that topic with more success. Capitalize on this by creating collections of books around topics you’re learning in science, social studies, math, or reading. You can create collections of physical books or use the collection feature on Epic. In my classroom, I have a book display shelf that I change regularly to showcase other books about topics we’re studying. My students love seeing the new book options and they’re quick to grab these books!
Make decodable texts an option for students to choose. Decodable texts are books that have controlled phonics patterns. In other words, you’ll only find words that students can read based on phonics patterns they’ve been taught. You can build a decodable text library that you slowly roll out as phonics patterns are learned. You can share with students or groups of students exactly where to find decodable texts for patterns they’ve already learned. In my classroom, I have special baskets for my different intervention groups so they know exactly where to find books they can decode!
Give Students a Way to Share
Some students will love silent reading time because they love having time to read or listen to books. Other students struggle to see the purpose. Giving students an authentic purpose for their reading can be highly motivating for some students.
Here are some ideas for student sharing:
• Write book reviews that can be posted for other students to read. These can be various lengths, from a 1-sentence summary to a more elaborate essay. Include options like drawing, creating comic strips, or digital creations for more engagement!
• Create a bulletin board where students can share titles of books they enjoyed. Or combine these two ideas by creating a bulletin board where students can share their book reviews!
• Provide time for students to share about their book with peers or the teacher, like you might do during a conference. Kids love to talk with each other and with interested adults!
Take Advantage of Silent Reading Time to Offer Support
Silent reading time provides a great opportunity to check in with students. While the class is reading on their own, you can take advantage of extra time to work with students individually or in small groups. You can listen to a student read 1-on-1 or ask them to share about what they’re reading. You can pull students or small groups to review a key skill they’ve been struggling with or preview an upcoming skill. You can help a student fix or finish an assignment. There are so many possibilities! In my classroom, I have a basket where I keep unfinished work, work that needs to be corrected, or notes about support my students need. During silent reading time, I try to work through that basket with students while everyone is engaged in reading.
- Epic Educator Ambassador Hannah Irion-Frake’s Blog:
- Reading Rockets: Rethinking Silent Reading:
- National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read:
- https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/repor t.pdf