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5 Ways to Reclaim Time for Independent Reading


Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom is out now. Heinemann’s newest offering is author Kari Yates’ getting-started guide to creating the reading classroom of your—and your students’—dreams. In today’s post adapted from the book, Kari gives you five ways to find time for independent reading within your already packed daily itinerary.

By Kari Yates

There’s no question that running is good for me. It keeps me healthy, gives me energy, and helps me clear my head, process ideas, and just plain feel good. But if I didn’t push back against a long list of competing demands, my running shoes would never see the light of day.

The same thing can be true in K–5 literacy classrooms. It’s not enough to agree that independent reading is good for kids; we have to push back against the long list of competing demands to make sure independent reading gets the time it deserves.

As Mike Schmoker points out in “The Crayola Curriculum” (2001), the unfortunate reality in many literacy classrooms is that way too much other stuff is taking place in the name of literate activity: worksheets, crossword puzzles, word searches, cut-and-paste activities, coloring pages. None of these activities honor what study after study has concluded about how kids learn to read: they need books in their hands, books they can and want to read.

To become strong independent readers, students need to spend big chunks of uninterrupted time reading independently every single day. For that to happen, teachers and administrators need to work together to get independent reading on the schedule; keep it there; and honor it every day as sacred.

Simple Starts is packed with smart steps for transforming independent reading into a truly reader-centered, joyful time of day. But before you can begin to provide reader-centered instruction, you’re going to have to find time for generous amounts of daily independent reading.

Kids can’t learn to read at the level required for success if they are not spending the majority of the time authentically reading real texts and talking and writing about their reading. The formula for learning to read is clear:


Everyone who ever found more time for independent reading started off wondering where the time could possibly come from. The good news is, thousands of teachers have figured it out and so can you. Here are five simple starting points to help you reclaim precious minutes:

  1. Tighten up transitions. You can “find” an extra ten to twenty minutes each day by sticking to the schedule and making clean transitions. Trim three minutes from bathroom break, another two when the kids get back from music or art, and a few more by shortening the snack break, and you’ve already grabbed an extra six or seven minutes.
  2. Trim some fat. If there’s no single activity you can completely eliminate, trim five or ten minutes from several. This adds up quickly.
  3. Integrate social studies and science with reading. Supplement your science and social studies instruction by reading aloud high-quality historical fiction, biographies, and expository texts. Integrate content area learning into independent reading by stocking your classroom library shelves with nonfiction related to social studies and science.
  4. Have kids read while you are working with small groups. You are probably already working with guided reading groups or providing other small-group instruction. Rather than have kids work in centers or at stations, gradually introduce independent reading as the primary activity for the rest of the class.
  5. Eliminate artificial activities. Reclaim any time spent filling out worksheets and workbooks. These are not authentic tasks. By substituting real independent reading, you’ll not only help your kids grow as readers but also have a whole lot less “correcting” to do at the end of the day.

Saying yes to daily independent reading will require the courage to say no to something else. But something you truly value is worth fighting for.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Kari Yates is a program manager for literacy and English learners, helping teachers and administrators plan literacy instruction. Visit her web site and follow her on Twitter at @Kari_Yates.

Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom is out now.

Topics: Reading, Independent Reading, Kari Yates, Simple Starts

Date Published: 03/24/15

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