The Ultimate Guide to Making Silent Reading Fun
Updated: Aug 18, 2018
Maybe it's because I became a teacher in a post NCLB, Race to the Top, Common Core, era, but I like to know what I am doing in my classroom is research-based and the best use of my students' time (and mine). So how do I often spend my spare time? Researching new ideas and the best ways to teach my little readers, #teacherlife. The number #1 takeaway from every article, book, journal, and post I have ever read:
Students need uninterrupted time to read books they enjoy every day.
That's right, good old fashioned DEAR (Drop Everything And Read..what I call this time), SSR (Silent Sustained Reading, Read to Self, whatever you want to call it, is the most important thing students need to be doing every day in class.
How I Run DEAR in my Classroom
For the first 9 weeks of school, I introduced DEAR with the reasoning of why we need to read silently every day and then the expectations for this time. The students knew better than to try and switch out books during this time, take an AR test, go to the bathroom, or do anything other than reading their book.
I also take the time to emphasize they should enjoy this time because they should be reading a book they like; if they don't like what they are reading they need to take more time selecting books and finding genres or authors they do enjoy reading.
Then, I set the mood. I search on youtube for instrumental mixes that set a relaxing but productive tone. I can't tell you why, but the music is a game changer. All of a sudden, the room stops being awkwardly silent, the students don't feel the need to fill the silence with some type of sound, and it drowns out any of the little noises that some students would find distracting (you know, the foot tapping, lip-smacking, loud breathing, that drive some of us insane...yep Sammi Dumas another shout out for you). Quite frankly, the music makes it cool.
I got to a point with my students where if I cut down DEAR time to anything less than 15 minutes, they complained. It was one of their favorite parts of the day #proudteachermoment.
What You Can Do to Mix it Up
But, as with all good things, too much and we get bored. So sometimes, we need to put in a little extra work to make silent reading time more fun.
1. Flashlight Friday
It is as simple as it sounds, on Fridays we turn off all the lights, close the blinds, and the kids use flashlights when reading their books. They LOVE IT. They get so excited I can even push the reading time on those days to over 25 minutes. The kids bring in their own flashlights and extra batteries, I keep them in a bin, and I always have a few wonderful parents who donate extra flashlights for any students who don't have one. I make it clear if I see their light shining anywhere but their book, they lose the privilege and return to their seats. No one wants that to happen so I have only had to use that consequence twice in two years (pretty solid success rate if you ask me)
2. Give sunglasses
Yep. Just say something fun like "our reading has been so hot lately, we need to wear shades today" and bam, all of a sudden it is the best day ever because they get to wear sunglasses inside. This can also work for task cards. Take them around the room, students write on their binders or clipboards, and now a regular center has become the coolest thing ever called "read the room".
All reading, all day. I remember when I was in elementary school, we had Tropical Reading Day every single February. I remember the outfits I'd wear, the cool glitter sunscreen gel my mom let me bring to school when I was in second grade, I remember all of it. This year, I decided we'd have our own Tropical Read-a-Thon before testing. It was hands down my favorite day of the school year and my students. It was a last minute choice and I had less than a week to prepare. I sent a note home with students the Thursday I decided to throw the read-a-thon and a reminder note in Tuesday folders. I went to a dollar store in town and luckily they had plenty of Luau themed party supplies. I stocked up on decorations and extra floats for less than $10 (score!!). I was beyond nervous that morning that students wouldn't be excited about participating. I don't think I had ever been so happy to be wrong, everyone in some way wore beach apparel, brought floats or towels, and were eager to start our day of beach reading. Their engagement was at 100%, they built their reading stamina, it was beyond a feel-good teacher days. It was perfect.
*Note, if you want to try a tropical reading day in your classroom, warn students ahead of time that you cannot inflate the floats for them. See my little friend on the HUGE Narwhal float? She thought I was going to be able to blow up all their floats by myself. I luckily used that moment to warn all my students the day before they need to come with floats already inflated. Blowing up Mr. Giant Narwhal would have taken at least an hour.
Summing it Up
Ways to make daily silent reading fun every day:
Make sure the students are picking books they enjoy, if they can't find one on their own, help them
Remind them why it is so important
Ways to Mix It Up