Independent reading is a term coined to describe when students choose books of their own interest, read on their own time, and in their own place. The reading isn't assigned nor is it assessed!! Over the years, independent reading has been called SSR (Sustained Silent Reading), DEAR (Drop Everything and Read), DIRT (Daily Independent Reading Time) or GRAB (Go Read a Book). However, the concept has never changed. Students are allotted 15 minutes or more to read; that's it, just read. From a librarian's perspective, it is a beautiful thing!!

Sadly, the increased rigor of the instructional day is squeezing out this vital component of the literacy curriculum. Some teachers may mistakenly believe that they DO NOT have time for kids to simply read. Research shows, time and again, that teachers can't afford to skip independent reading. In fact, independent reading provides students with the opportunity to practice the reading skills that have been modeled for them during instruction. It improves reading achievement, builds vocabulary and fluency, and increases background knowledge.

However, independent reading won't be nearly as effective, if students are merely given fifteen minutes after lunch or at the end of the day to read willy nilly. They need access to a strong library. They need to read at their own comfort level. And perhaps more importantly, they need to need be accountable for their reading.

There are many hotly debated commercialized programs, like Accelerated Reader and Reading Counts, that use computerized testing to monitor students' comprehension. There are a few similar free websites like Book Adventure and QuizWik. Personally, I am not a fan of reading quizzes to test students, but that is a whole 'nother post.

My school has never purchased a commercialized program, so I needed to develop a program that worked for me in my classroom. I wanted my students to be accountable for their reading. My idea of independent reading wasn't the random reading that I was observing my students doing. They were actually picking up different books every day. What?  I needed an easy to manage way to monitor their reading.

If you are looking for an alternative to quiz based reading, the foundations of this program may appeal to you!

Many professionals will recommend that educators drop everything and read while their students are doing so! However, as a classroom teacher, I could NEVER have done this. Not that I didn't desperately want to, but I felt that I needed to be with my students ... circulating, conferencing, checking in. I strongly believed that my involvement in their reading was the foundation for their success. We had independent reading for twenty minutes after lunch, and I was usually actively involved for all twenty minutes.

Be involved in your students' choice of reading materials.

Yes, independent reading should be a time for students to choose their own books. However, they should also be choosing books that are a good fit for them! As students are reading, speak with them about their books. Ask them why they chose their books. Have them read a page aloud for you. Ask them a question that helps you to determine their understanding of the premise. This should not be a time for nit picky questions, but more general. For example ... "The cover shows a boy with his dog. Can you tell me a little bit about their relationship?" This allows students to share what they know without making them feel as if you are testing them.

Require students to be accountable for their daily reading.

Teachers have been doing this since the dawn of time: book summaries, reading logs, sticky notes, and reading journals ... just to name a few! As a classroom teacher, I tried them all and VERY quickly became weighed down in paperwork and was unable to keep up with students daily reading. So, I devised a simple bookmark that would allow me to track a students reading with just a glance.

Students would record the date on the left and the page numbers that they read on the right. For example, they would record 9/25 and then 6-23. If they read more than once during the day, then they record more than one entry. I LOVED this ... Kids were accountable, and I wasn't entirely bogged down in logs, journals, and sticky notes. The kids really liked this too. How could they not? It is painless!

Encourage students to be accountable for the books that they have read and to keep a reading log.

Have students keep a list of the books that they read throughout the year. There isn't anything quite as affirming for students as to watch their logs get filled up. You don't need anything fancy ... a simple log like this one will do ya!!

Every kid will try to tell you, at least once, that they have read a book that they really haven't. That's what I love about the bookmarks! With a quick glance you can see how much that students are reading in one sitting. It is has now become really easy to tell whether or not students are reading a whole book. If a student is averaging 10 pages a day and then all of a sudden, they complete the last fifty pages in one day, something's up!

Before students were allowed to record a book on their reading log, I would need to conference with them. Students would leave their completed book in the corner of my desk, and when I had a few minutes, I would call them up to chat. A quick two or three minute discussion, in conjunction with their bookmarks, is really all that I needed.

I also had a strict rule that students were NOT allowed to abandon a book unless we had a conversation about their choice. Personally, I believe that life is too short and there are too many great books, to finish a book that you aren't enjoying! But, I wanted students to be able to verbalize their dissatisfaction. This also created a perfect opportunity for me to suggest another book.

Consider creating reading incentives.

This tip may not be very popular with everyone! Many of you may want to say that students should read for the intrinsic value in it. As a librarian, that would be my DREAM!!

However, reality can prove otherwise. Some students are truly motivated with a little extrinsic reward. So, each time that a student added a title to their reading log, they received a sticker on their Reading Chart. You can use the prepackaged charts found at many teacher stores or create one yourself. Here's an example of a super simple one.

Each time that a student completes a chart, you may consider a reward! A few of my students' favorite rewards were free books from the next Scholastic Book Order and free periods in the library.

When I was running this program in the classroom, I had problems with a few of my stickers falling off of the charts. Then, I had a problem with a little hoodlum taking stickers from one chart and adding them to his. Clearly, this was very upsetting to the students as they were earning prizes when they finished a chart. This problem was solved easily by numbering the books on the Reading Log. If students had ten books on their log, they should have ten stickers on their chart.

As a current librarian, I want to encourage all teachers to keep independent reading as part of your literacy program. Speaking from twelve years in the classroom, I believe that this concept is easy to manage and will strengthen your existing independent reading program. The BASIC program is free for your use. It includes step by step directions, a letter to send home to parents, a book note for parents to complete when their child finishes a book at home, bookmarks for students to track their reading, reading logs to track their books, and reading charts for display.

If you think that you could use any of these tips, forms, or charts click on the box below!! In an effort to promote reading everywhere, The Basic Independent Reading Program is FREE at my TpT Store.

*********  Attention Librarians:  *********

I know that we take our jobs in reading promotion seriously! Although it is often one of the most satisfying aspects of our job, it can also be the most challenging. Some of you may be in charge of implementing your school's commercialized programs, while some of you may support your teacher's in their individual classroom's reading programs. 

But, consider what I am doing. Each year, I have a library theme, and I run THIS same independent reading program school-wide. I provide the teachers with letters home to parents, with theme related reading charts, and with supporting lessons in the classroom. Teachers maintain the book conferencing, reading logs, and charts in the classroom. I am in charge of the incentives. As students finish a chart, they bring it down to the library. I give them a new chart and a prize of their choice. Prizes include free books, pencils, a free library period, a no homework coupon, and ice cream coupons that can be redeemed in the cafeteria.

Perhaps, a school-wide program is not feasible for you. But, maybe a teacher or two might be interested in the program! I believe that anything that we can do to support our teachers in their reading program is beneficial to everyone involved.

I have several independent reading programs tailored to specific themes with bundles of bookmarks, logs, posters, charts, folder covers, and prize coupons available at my TpT store.

It's almost that time again ...

Time to welcome our students back into our libraries, back to our shelves, back to our books!! I am sure that librarians everywhere are readying their proverbial bag of tricks; you know, that one we use to teach our kiddos about library book care.

I actually have a REAL bag of tricks! It's my daughter's old battered purple book bag, and it is full of objects that should remind students of a book care rule: a dog's leash, a baby bottle, a box of crayons, an empty pudding cup, a water bottle, and a plastic bag. In my introductory book care lesson, I encourage my firsties to be brave and stick their hands deep into my bag. As their arm goes in, I may pretend that the book bag is eating their arm and that they should avoid the slithering snake inside. Hey, it keeps things interesting! As they safely pull out their object, together we review the book rule that goes along with that object.

BUT, I am ready for a change. I need to shake things up a bit. So, as any good standing librarian would, I set to scouring the Internet and researching on Pinterest. I stumbled upon several interesting ideas. I also discovered that there are tons of innovative and energetic librarians out there!! Here is a quick collection of six ideas for teaching book care. Wait a minute ... the purple people eating book bag is also an idea, so that's really like SEVEN ideas.

(1) Don't Let the Pigeon Read the Books

This video may be a few years old, but The Pigeon is truly timeless, and this clever video is quite hilarious. At three and half minutes, you can easily find the time to include it in any book care lesson.

(2) Doctor Doctor

If you have spent any time on Pinterest, you have most likely seen this picture of the librarian who dresses up as Dr. Evil. She engages the kids in an activity in which they have green happy and red unhappy faces and they display the correct face for the action that she is taking. I LOVE this picture. It just makes me giggle. I was able to find it on a wikispace titled Adventures in Librarying. You can read more about her lesson HERE. If you happen to be Dr. Evil, I would love to hear from you and give you the props that you deserve!

(3) Animals Should NOT Borrow Library Books

Do a quick Google search of that title. Go ahead. You will find a number of very fun and FREE Powerpoint Presentations and Prezis made by some fellow librarians. This concept is based on the book Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing by Judi Barrett. This could really be an entertaining lesson! Just think of all the ridiculous things that could happen to books when certain animals borrow them. We ALL know what happens to books when a dog gets ahold of them. Grrr!

(4) Mr. Wiggles

I have used this book EVERY year with my kindergarten students. It really is perfect for an introduction to book care. Mr. Wiggles is quite sad about all of the negative things that can happen to library books. There are a number of bookmarks, posters, and activities online revolving around this little worm.

(5) No! No! Never! Yes of Course!

There are many great variations of this theme. They generally revolve around a type of sorting activity. Students sort pictures of book behaviors into the No! No! or the Yes! categories. You could use printed pictures of objects and activities or create a digital version for the Smart Board. Check the Smart Exchange for a few that librarians have uploaded.

(6) Books ARRRR Treasures

This year, I am decorating the library with a beach theme, Reading is a Shore Thing. I can't wait to get into my library and start decorating. I have a whole Pinterest Board full of ideas. As I was looking at Book Care Lessons, I was trying to find one that would fit my beach theme. I couldn't quite find one that would fit the bill! So I created one. 

Kids love pirates! To really engage my first and second graders, I am going to make some eye patches out of black craft foam and rubber bands. As they come into the library for the first time this year, I will distribute them and let them wear one for the lesson. How fun is that? 

I put together this Powerpoint Presentation. The premise is that there are ten different book behaviors on the pirate scrolls. As I read each behavior, the students will yell "AYE" or "AVAST" depending on whether the book behavior is positive or negative. Can it get any better than wearing an eye patch AND yelling in the library?

After we complete our Powerpoint Presentation, I have created this little mini book for us to work on together. Each student will get their own copy, and I will read it with them. As I read the book care behavior, they will color the trash can or the treasure chest, depending on whether the behavior is a good one or a bad one. It will make for a quick assessment.

Feel free to adapt this concept to your own library lesson on book care!! If you'd like to save yourself a bit of time, you can click on any of the pirate pix above to purchase the prepared lesson at Teachers Pay Teachers.

If you are a fellow blogger, I would love you to link up a blog post that you may have written about how you review book care with your kiddos.  Let's help each other get our Back to the Library Groove on. AARRR!

I ABSOLUTELY love it when a teacher's inquiry leads to one of my all time favorite aspects of librarianship: creating engaging research projects for kids!! So, when a fifth-grade teacher stopped in the library for her morning cup of coffee, and asked me if I had any ideas for a dinosaur research project for her reading group, I was thrilled. REALLY. It was the near the end of the year; tests were over; kids were tired. It was the perfect time to create a bit of research magic. Could I pull anything together for this group of boys, struggling to read and with less enthusiasm for research than getting their teeth pulled out one by one? You betcha!! I had an idea, and I knew that those boys were going to love it.

From the moment that I had cracked open the book series, Dinosaur Wars, by Michael O'Hearn, I knew that THIS concept, a battle of beasts, would be the perfect foundation for a research project. This book series by Capstone is a favorite among my dinosaur lovers. Each book gives you factual information about two different dinosaurs, focusing on their strengths and weaknesses, and then pits the two dinosaurs in a battle. The book culminates with a narrative of this showdown.

What kid, well what tween, does NOT love the gnashing of teeth, the gory flow of prehistoric blood, and the demise of at least one of the ferocious beasts!! Thus, our dinosaur research project, Battle of the Beasts was born.

WE HAD A BLAST! Students researched an assigned/chosen dinosaur, and then partnered with a peer who had researched a different dinosaur. Students used the knowledge that they acquired and their research notes to put their dinosaurs together in an imaginary head to head combat.

After students research the strengths and weaknesses of their dinosaurs, Library Patch students meet head to head, to conduct a theoretical Battle of the Beasts. Which dinosaur will outlast the other?
After students put their dinosaurs to the test, they took their notes and their ideas and created a written narrative of the battle that would have taken place if these two dinosaurs were to meet. They typed their narratives into a Google Document using their Chromebooks.
Ultimately, students created a research poster outlining pertinent facts about their dinosaur and a narrative describing the battles that their dinosaur confronted.

How about a little testament to the kids' genuine enthusiasm for this project? Their teacher said that students were visiting her during their free time ASKING if they could work on their battles. Now, that warms this librarian's heart.

Ready to do battle yourself? Well, you are in luck. Click HERE or on the pix below to take you to a FREE project outline. The project outline includes links to a couple of great videos that you can use to get your kids hooked, a hyper-linked list of dinosaur research websites, a step by step guide on how I conducted this project, and a free graphic organizer.
 Click for a FREE download
It's everything that you would need to prepare for a battle of epic proportions!!

Happy Researching!

Each and every year, I present a lesson on "Just Right Books."  Each and every year, I feel that it falls just a little bit flat. I continue to see kids choose those GIANT books that I just KNOW are not a good fit. I really don't want to become the book patrol and force each kid to read out of their books, just so that I can ensure that they have a good fit. I want the kids to choose just the right book independently.  I have scoured the Internet for ideas. Here are a few of my favorite finds ...

* has THIS lesson comparing book choice to Goldilocks.

* BrainPopJr has THIS video and lesson suggestions.

* Jo Nase, The Book Bug, wrote THIS great post about using Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians. She has some great freebies to go with the book!

* Scholastic promotes the PICK strategy in THIS article.

* The 2 Sisters uses shoes as the foundation for their discussion.

Over the years, I have tried several of these strategies. I compared book choice to Goldilocks, but the kids seemed too focused on Goldilocks and her porridge. I created a PPT describing the IPICK method, but I seriously lost the second and third graders part way through that. I knew that I needed something different. Thus the birth of "If the Book Fits ... Read It"

I used a combination of the shoe analogy with my own version of the PICK Strategy. I have found it to be the MOST effective lesson yet. I loved it. Maybe you will too. Here goes nothing ...

Introduction ...
Begin your presentation by asking kids what it might mean to have a book fit “Just Right.”  Allow kids some time to talk to each other as you circulate among the discussion.  Ask kids to share one criteria for a “Just Right book.”

Now ask kids to think about what makes a pair of shoes "Just Right." What do they take into consideration when choosing shoes? Lead students to realize that there is generally more than one criteria. The same thing goes for books. We need to keep several different criteria in mind when choosing a "Just Right" book.

Introduce the acronym PICK for both shoes and books. This is NOT the usual acronym that you see with Just Right Books, but my very own version. "P" is for Purpose. "I" is for Interest. "C" is for Comfort, and "K" is for Keeper. Be sure that kids know what these words mean in general.

Continue the lesson by comparing shoes and books.

"P" is for Purpose ...
Show pictures of shoes that have specific purposes: i.e - ballet slippers, rain boats, and scuba flippers. Ask students to share how each pair of shoes is used. Ask them if they have a certain pair of shoes for a certain purpose at home. Then, initiate a discussion on why kids read books. Be sure that students mention both entertaining and informational purposes. Further discuss how the purpose for reading influences the types of books that you might choose.

"I" is for Interest ... 
Ask kids if they have ever been shopping with a grown-up for shoes. Does the grown-up always agree with them about the shoes that they like? Does the grown-up want you to try on a pair of shoes that you don't like? Lead the discussion towards the idea that everybody likes different things. What interests one person doesn't interest everybody! I show pictures of flip-flops, cowboy boots, and clown shoes. Then I discuss that I really only like one pair of these shoes. I don't mind if someone else wears cowboy boots; they look great on some people. They just aren't for me! Further explain that books are EXACTLY the same way. Certain people love certain books, but they may not be "just right" for everybody. I then give the kids the following tips for finding books that interest them.

1. Look at the front cover. I talk about both the quote, "Don't judge a book by its cover." AND "A picture is worth a thousand words."

2. Read the blurb on the back. This short summary will help a reader get the gist of the story.

3. Flip through the pages. Pay attention to the size of the text and illustrations.

4. Think about whether you have enjoyed this series, subject, or author before.

"C" is for Comfort ... 
Both books and shoes should be comfortable. Ask students what makes a pair of shoes comfortable. Then, I show the kids a picture of bunny slippers and explain that there isn't anything as awesome as your favorite comfy slippers. However, I then pose the question of whether I should wear my slippers everywhere. There is usually instant laughter. What a perfect opportunity to talk to kids about that favorite book of theirs! We all know those kids that choose the same book EVERY time they come to the library. Yes, it's comfortable, but you can't read it all the time.

Now show pictures of sneakers or another pair of comfortable shoes. These are perfect for wearing all day!

Then, show a picture of a pair of high-heeled shoes! Explain that these shoes sure look good ... at least on me! But, that I can only wear them for a short period of time. They pinch, and rub, and hurt my feet. They aren't good for the long haul.

Pose the question to the kids, "If books were like shoes, which pair should we be reading most of the time." 

Follow up by asking students what makes a book comfortable. Then introduce, or reinforce, the Five Finger Rule.

Five Finger Rule ...
0-1 Fingers: Too easy ... Like the bunny slippers! Nothing wrong with a little cozy and comfy, but we shouldn't read it ALL the time.

2-3 Fingers: Just right ... Like a pair of sneakers. Books that are just right are best for reading. They are comfortable enough to stick with for a little while.

4-5 Fingers: Too hard ... Like a pair of high heeled shoes or new dress shoes. Challenging can be TOTALLY worth it ... if you LOVE the book, but it won't always be comfortable.

I think that the Five Finger Rule is a great tool to teach kids. It can help them to be more independent and reflective in their book choice, but I believe that it should be taught as a guide only. If a student is genuinely passionate about a subject, series, or title, and the text is deemed too hard, they should have the opportunity to try to wrestle with it!

"K" is for Keeper ...
I think that once a student chooses a book, they need to consider whether that book is a keeper. There are too many books in this world to stick with one that is not interesting! That is not to say that we don't need to "encourage" kids to give a book a chance or get heavy-handed with those perpetual book bouncers, but more that sometimes we DO pick books that aren't "just right" for us! It's okay to not finish a book. A kid who doesn't like reading simply hasn't found the right book yet. Kids need to ask themselves the following questions as they begin reading a book.

1) Has the story hooked you? caught your attention?

2) Do you understand the story?

3) Can you tell a friend about the setting, main character, or problems in the story?

4) Would you recommend this book to a friend? or read another book by this author?

Well, there you go ... a unique way to tie together the Five Finger Rule and the I PICK strategy! My kids have really been able to relate to the shoe/book connection, and it has been great fun to present it in this way! 

A huge "Thank you" to Annie Lang at for the wicked cute bookworm clipart! 

I have outlined my "If the Book Fits ... Read It" lesson plan here for you. If you are interested in purchasing the Powerpoint presentation of this lesson, head on over to my TpT store by clicking on the pix below!

Happy Reading! I am off to find my bunny slippers and a historical romance novel. Don't judge - Even librarians need some comfy and cozy :)

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My name is Sonya Dykeman, and I am an elementary school librarian in upstate New York. I taught third and fourth grade for 12 years, and then I went back to school, so that I could get my dream job. I have been in the library for 5 years, and I can honestly say that I LOVE it! Feel free to message me at

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