How Can We Include Silent Reading Amidst Other Important Reading Components?

intention-setting reading instruction silent reading student-centered Oct 24, 2023

Lit Bits is where I provide brief responses to literacy instruction questions. Teachers submit their questions, and in response, I create a short video accompanied by a blog post. You can fill out this form and submit any question about any element of literacy, and I might answer it here on the Lit Bits blog and in my video segments on the Elm Tree Education YouTube channel.

Question: How can we include silent reading in addition to all the other important reading components we need to include in our instruction? 

Isn't that just the age-old question for teachers? How do we fit it all in? Especially when you're not an elementary teacher, and you have a lot of different content areas you need to cover. In answering this question, I must acknowledge that I don’t know your context to provide specific advice. However, I aim to offer some general insights that will be helpful. If you need a more tailored strategy for your schedule, I invite you to schedule a complimentary call with me. Together, we can examine your schedule and work towards finding a solution.

Science of reading ≠ phonemic awareness and phonics

Before I dig into my response to the question, I want to clarify one thing. When considering literacy instruction, do you thoroughly explore the entire body of research on children's reading development? "Science of Reading" has recently become synonymous with teaching phonemic awareness and phonics. However, the research on reading has grown exponentially over the past few decades and encompasses much more than just these two areas and from many different disciplines. Therefore, it's crucial to ensure you access reliable sources that reflect research-based practices for a comprehensive classroom approach. Feel free to reach out if you would like guidance in finding trustworthy information.

They must be reading independently at some point in your day

The research says we need to make time for kids to read independently. So, it does need to be a priority. There's a lot of rhetoric about silent reading as of late. For some reason, it's gotten a bad name, which doesn't make sense because you must practice to improve at anything. Dick Allington, the famous literacy researcher, is often quoted as saying, “Without extensive independent reading practice, reading proficiency lags.” 

I think the other thing holding some teachers back has been the mandates and newly adopted curricula that don’t emphasize silent reading, but you do need to give kids time for independent practice.  It’s part of the gradual release model of instruction, which we also know is best practice.

They must have a purpose for reading

However, that silent reading doesn't mean it's willy-nilly silent reading. You want to ensure that independent reading time is purposeful instead of having something like DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) from the 1980s and 1990s or SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) time. So it's not just time to practice reading for enjoyment; we give students a reason or something to do with the reading during that silent reading time. Again, that independent part of the gradual release model would be asking kids to try something they’ve first seen modeled and then supported with some guided practice or collaborative learning.

If kids are struggling and then they're being asked to read silently, they're probably just going to fake read or continue to switch books out and those kinds of things, so there does need to be some intentional practice happening with the books they are reading.  Research reveals that our struggling students often have limited opportunities to practice reading due to interventions that pull them away from this crucial time. It is imperative, therefore, to carefully consider when these students get independent practice sessions.

They will be more engaged if the purpose is relevant to them

When you give them a purpose for their reading, make it student-centered. To ensure the relevance of reading for students, it is crucial to connect the purpose of reading to something meaningful to them. So, why do they need to be doing [whatever the target is] while they're reading or after they read? 

When you think about that, something to aspire to is that you have had conversations with each one of your students. You've gotten to know them deeply as readers. Not just what the assessments you're mandated to give say, but also their identity as a reader, their beliefs about reading, what they enjoy, their interests, and what they want to learn more about. If you take all that information and then sit down and have a goal-setting (or I like to call it intention-setting) conference with the student, together you can identify the student’s next steps as a reader.  Something they are getting close to doing but not quite yet and set an intention (or goal). It should be realistic and attainable.

But don’t stop there! After co-constructing the intention, you will follow up with an action plan.  Too often, we set goals with students but don’t give them the map on how to achieve that goal or the deadline for checking in on progress towards that goal.  Then, this work will frame how they utilize independent reading time.  Every student in your classroom works on something to help move them forward as readers.

Final thoughts

Setting an individualized purpose for students during silent reading will automatically boost student agency and be responsive to the wide variety of readers in your classroom. Again, if you want more support on something specific with your schedule, please schedule a complimentary 30-minute Zoom with me to strategize how to make silent reading a standard part of your day. 

If you have any literacy instruction questions for me, please submit them at, and they may just get featured in an upcoming segment and blog post!

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