Fostering a Personal Reading Life

Laura reminds us all of a simple concept if you want to get good at anything practice is essential!

Some days I feel discouraged about the state of reading in schools today. These feelings come from, the number of worksheets or novel packets students have to complete while reading a book. These feelings intensify when I see children reading far below grade level completing phonics and syllabication worksheets. Boring! Useless! No room for books in that data collection diet!

All children deserve a rich, personal reading life. And many teachers are working toward that goal. However, that’s not good enough. I want every teacher and every school to make that goal a priority.

Developing a Personal Reading Life

Children who have a personal reading life choose to read during choice time at school. Equally important, they read voraciously at home. Books call to them. Stories grip their hearts and minds. These children can’t wait to have time to read. I recall my grandson complaining that lights out on school nights were 8:00 pm. “I don’t want to stop reading,” he’d tell me. So, I purchased a small flashlight and encouraged him to become a “flashlight reader.” However, I told him that if he was caught, he had to tell his parents the truth: His grandmother gave him the flashlight so he could read under his quilt!

Practice Reading Like an Athlete

It’s weird that everyone accepts that athletes need practice to improve muscle memory and automaticity with moves and plays. No coach would let a team compete without practice. Like athletes, readers need daily practice at school. That’s how children become ‘flashlight’ readers who develop personal reading lives.


Choice in reading is key. Choice motivates and engages readers. Choice enables them to explore genres, authors, and topics they love. Choice enables them to develop literary tastes because they are discovering what they enjoy and what they don’t want to presently read. What follows are ways teachers can showcase independent reading to help students develop a personal reading life.

Access to books is key. Make enlarging your classroom library an important goal. Aim for 500 to 1500 books.

Classroom libraries. Organize books by genre. Feature books by placing them on a shelf with the cover facing outward. Change these displays every two weeks. Spotlight authors and genres by placing books on windowsills or lean them against the wall under the chalkboard. Leave a trail of books for students to notice and browse though.

Teacher Book Talks. Take a few minutes to book talk new arrivals. Read the back cover matter or the first two pages to raise students’ interest and awareness of new books.

Independent reading. If you value independent reading, then set aside fifteen to twenty-five minutes for students to read choice books at school at least two to three times a week.  

Comfortable places. Think about where you sit and read. Most likely, it’s not at a desk, but in a comfortable chair. Let students sit on a rug or on pillows and help them move into a different zone while reading.

Homework. The most important homework is 30 minutes of independent reading each night. Avoid having parents sign a paper that guarantees their child read—trust your students and look at the glass half-full. Avoid having students write a nightly summary of the reading. Do you summarize books you read? If the answer is “No,” then don’t ask students to do it. Keep reading a real world, authentic experience.

Closing Thoughts

When you set aside time for independent reading at school, you let students know reading is important!  Choosing books for independent reading is students’ pathway to developing a rich personal reading life. It’s also the best way to enlarge students’ vocabulary and ramp up their reading achievement!

Look for my next blog; I’ll be discussing assessing independent reading!

 For more in independent reading, check  Teaching Reading in Middle School