Two Simple Rules for Engaging Independent Readers


Recently I was rereading Jan Richardson's The Next Step in Guided Reading, I came across a small section in her book about engaging independent readers.

Two simple rules for engaging independent readers: it’s a easy and challenging as this.
It's a fabulous book, and one of the books I wrote about in this post.  While most of the book is dedicated to planning and teaching your guided reading groups, she did write some about activities the other kids are engaged in while you're teaching.

This quote about intermediate readers struck a nerve:
Two simple rules for engaging independent readers: it’s a easy and challenging as this.
Here was my thought process immediately after reading it:

1.  Yes! That's amazing! And simple! And so understandable!  And the kids will get it!

2.  Hey, wait.  What about the fifth grader who picks "Go, Dog, Go"?  Because there is always that one kid.

I can't help it, after 17 years of teaching reading, my brain goes straight to the level.  BUT what if we ignored the level and instead thought about why that child is choosing Go, Dog, Go.  Helping him find the right level isn't going to solve this student's problem.

Because that kid probably doesn't really want to read Go, Dog, Go.  Other than a quick trip down memory lane, most fifth graders have more sophisticated interest levels than Dr. Seuss.  He'd probably rather choose a text that he finds interesting but doesn't know how to do that or believe it even exists.
Independent reading boils down to this: If students don’t love what they’re reading, they’ll never learn to love to read.
Can we print this out?  {You can do that here} Tattoo it on our hearts?  Wallpaper our classrooms with it?  Maybe plaster the room where we go to discuss student data and turn kids into numbers and forget why we started teaching in the first place?

Engaging and supporting readers takes a big time and effort investment on our part.  Spending time getting to know a student, pulling resources, coaching a student to create engagement is hard work.  But it is worth.  Guiding a student to books in the blue zone does none of these things.

If you’re looking for more ideas helping engage readers, here are some great resources:


But wait a minute-what about the just right book?

The just right book is a real thing and has it's place in the reading world.  When students are still learning to read, it is our job to select their instructional materials at a just right level.  Let's face it-Level E books are not the most engaging texts in the world.  Their purpose is to teach kids to read, not to create students who love to read.  Once students begin reading more independently, pleasure reading should be, well, pleasurable.

How many of us are reading YA novels? I enjoyed Percy Jackson, Gregor the Underlander, and the Hunger Games series as an adult.  I recently reread Daddy Long Legs because my fifth grader was reading it, and I have always loved that book.  These may be well below my reading level, but I loved every minute of it.

What are you doing to create a love of reading in your classroom?  I’d love to hear your ideas!


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1 comment

  1. I so agree with you, Megan! My books are organized by genre for that reason. I find that oftentimes, when kids finish a book in one genre, if they don't have a good idea about what to read next, they'll search for another, similar kind of book. And that's great! Two other things I do - as I (or kids) do book talks, all students take out their "Books I want to Read" list and write them down. And I encourage my students to advocate on behalf of books for their friends, making suggestions, helping them find good books. I love listening to the discussions! I have learned to give up (some) control about what kids read and let them find what's right and enjoyable for them at that time. Most kids know what they need when they need it!

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