Click play below to hear 5 tips to reinforce during independent reading time:
After a long break, there’s bound to be some challenges that arise when students return. Before break, your students were in a routine and had good stamina for independent reading. But now, it’s almost like starting from the beginning all over again. To help your students regain their momentum towards independent reading, I’m sharing 5 tips to implement during your reading block.
Having unstructured time and probably not reading during break, means you’re going to have to retrain your students on reading procedures during their independent reading time. Each tip improves their stamina, involves student-led reteaching and goal setting, and recognizes positive praise.
Your students’ behaviors coming back from break can feel like all of your hard work was forgotten during their time off. However, their independent reading time will be back on track in no time with the implementation of my 5 simple and effective tips!
In this episode on independent reading tips, I share:
- Ways to increase students’ reading stamina
- Why the first of the year is a great time to revisit previous reading goals or set new ones
- A fun way to reteach reading behaviors to your students
- Examples on how to make independent reading time fun in your classroom
- FREE Reading Challenges
- FREE Independent Reading Bookmark
- Check out the Stellar Teacher Reading Membership
- If you’re enjoying this podcast, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts!
Related episodes and blog posts:
- Episode 54, 5 Ways to Keep Students Engaged in Reading up Until and Through Winter Break
- Episode 14, Reading Response Ideas Reenergize Independent Reading Time
- 5 Mistakes to Avoid During Independent Reading Time
- Independent Reading Time: 4 Easy Ideas to Hold Students Accountable
- 5 Ways to Reset Your Independent Reading Time
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- Shop my TPT store here
- Instagram: @thestellarteachercompany
More About Stellar Teacher Podcast:
Welcome to the Stellar Teacher Podcast! We believe teaching literacy is a skill. It takes a lot of time, practice, and effort to be good at it. This podcast will show you how to level up your literacy instruction and make a massive impact with your students, all while having a little fun!
Your host, Sara Marye, is a literacy specialist passionate about helping elementary teachers around the world pass on their love of reading to their students. She has over a decade of experience working as a classroom teacher and school administrator. Sara has made it her mission to create high quality no-fluff resources and lesson ideas that are both meaningful and engaging for young readers.
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I know many teachers are getting ready to go back to school. And I think it’s pretty safe to say that there are usually some challenges that we face when returning to school after winter break.
Our students have just spent at least two weeks being out of their normal school routine. And this means that they maybe have been staying up late or sleeping in late or living in their pajamas, traveling or having guests come over and probably eating some extra sweets. And it’s possible that they’ve had some extra screen time.
With all that to say, during these past two weeks, it’s possible that they have forgotten how to do school. I remember one year when I was teaching fourth grade, that first day we came back from break was just awful. And I was one of those teachers who I love my students, I love teaching, I always look forward to seeing them after long breaks.
But looking back on this specific year, I think that our first day back must have been on a full moon or something because my kids just came back all out of sorts. I had kids that came running and screaming into the classroom right away in the morning. They were constantly out of their desks and talking out of turn during our morning routine. I had kids that brought their Christmas gifts with them. And they were playing with toys in their desks rather than doing their work.
And I had one boy that kind of cracked me up. But he brought multiple baseball hats to school. And as soon as I would take one away, he would magically produce another one. And I at least took three hats from him that morning. And there was so much correction and redirection in the first 30 minutes of the day, it was shocking.
I mean, I had such a well oiled machine. And we had solid routines before break that I was just a little bit shocked at the behavior my students displayed when when returning. And I remember that as soon as I got my kids settled down and working.
I had one student that came up to me. And she said with a big smile on her face. She said Mrs. Marye, it’s kind of like we forgot how to do school, isn’t it? And I just shook my head and I said, Yep, that most definitely is.
But two weeks away, our kids can easily forget how to do school. And one of the things that can be really hard to get back into our normal routine is our independent reading. If you’re an upper elementary teacher, then more than likely your students were reading for 30 to 40, uninterrupted minutes before break. And chances are that when we think about how our students spent their holidays, they probably weren’t reading for 30 to 40 uninterrupted minutes every single day, if they weren’t even reading at all.
So knowing that there might be some bumps and hurdles your first week back, I wanted to share a few ideas that you can use to reset your independent reading time. So that way, you can quickly get back the momentum that you had before break. And if you feel like you’ve never really got into your independent reading group, because let’s be honest, that can be a really hard part of our reading block to tackle. Just consider this to be your chance to refine this part of your reading block.
So I have a couple of tips for you. The first thing you want to do is probably readjust your independent reading time. If your students were reading 30 to 40 minutes back in December, you probably want to start your first week back in January with just 15 to 20 minutes of independent reading.
I always think we want to set our students up for success. And even if they were able to do 30 to 40 uninterrupted minutes, that might be a difficult thing for them to do after having two weeks off. So start with a shorter amount of time for independent reading. That way you know your students will be successful.
I always think it’s better to have students complain that you’re ending your independent reading early, versus having them ask you how many more minutes do we have to read?
I kind of like to view the first week back in January, almost as we’re starting over again. So I would use a class tracker, we would set a goal and we would basically rebuild our stamina. And every day, we would go a little bit faster but rather than starting off where we left off every day, we would add a few minutes and that way it was just it was easy for the students, it was easier to ease into it.
For my students who didn’t read over winter break, it wasn’t as daunting to think about reading for 30 to 40 minutes when we started the week with just 15 to 20. And usually, starting off with a shorter amount of independent reading was really good for my students, and they realized how much they enjoyed it and missed it. And we were able to get back up to our 30 to 40 minute pretty quickly. So take a week, slow down, readjust your independent reading time and rebuild that stamina.
The next thing you want to consider doing is having your students either set new reading goals or having them revisit the reading goals that they set back in August or September when you started the year.
I always think January is a great time to do goal setting. And I know a lot of teachers will do like New Year’s resolutions with their students anyways. And so you might as well just put a little bit of a reading focus on it.
And I always think that if students have something really specific and meaningful and something that they are working towards, they are going to be much more likely to stay on track and be invested in their independent reading. And so really, you can have them think about what are the things that they want to accomplish in their reading lives.
And I like to have students set goals that are really tangible to them. So rather than having them think about reading levels, or things from an academic perspective, think about if they were going to set a reading goal for themselves, what would it be? So do they have a specific number of books they want to read? Do they have authors or genres that they want to explore? Are they trying to read a certain number of minutes or chapters every day, week, month.
So really let them kind of decide what they want their reading goal to be. Because again, if they get to set it, they’re going to be motivated to try to achieve that goal.
And anytime that I have my students set a goal, especially if it’s a bigger goal, like a goal for the entire year, or even if it’s a goal for the rest of the school year or a month, I like to have them try to break that down into smaller, measurable goals that they can track each day or each week.
If they’re trying to read a certain number of books in the month, then if every day they can add to their list or add to their tracking sheet, then they’re going to be a lot more motivated to stay on task during independent reading time. So I really like to take some time when we first get back and have students think about their reading goals.
And I like to have them set goals individually, I like to create a bulletin board of their goals, then a lot of times we will think about like for example, if I have a bunch of students that are setting goals that are related to the number of books they want to read, then we can put those numbers together and say great as a class, this month, we’re going to be working on reading a certain number of books and so turn their individual goals into class goals. And it just can create a lot of excitement and momentum when you first get back.
And like I said if students have something that they’re working towards, they’re going to be a lot more likely to be on track and invested in their independent reading time. So definitely take a little bit of time that first week back to set some new goals for your students.
Okay, the third thing you want to think about doing when you return from winter break is spending that first week back to reteach your key reading habits and behaviors. I kind of think of this first week back as a chance to relaunch your reading workshop.
So at the start of the year, we usually say you’re going to take two to three weeks, and you’re going to really teach your students what are the habits and behaviors of a successful reader. And rather than teaching content, you’re going to focus on helping them know how to build their reading stamina, how to keep their book box organized, how to talk about books with their classmates, how to find books in the library, how to write about books.
So all of those things are important to teach at the beginning of the year. But they’re also really important to revisit in January. Again, if students have had two weeks off, it’s possible that they have either forgotten some of these things, or they just need a refresher.
And I know that teachers always feel so rushed to get through content. But if you can slow down and really make sure that your students have the right habits and behaviors, then you’re going to just be a lot more effective with your instruction when you jump back into your content lessons. So that first week back, I would encourage you to plan all of your mini lessons to be basically reteaching those important habits and behaviors that you taught at the beginning of the year.
And one of the ways that I really like to do this is rather than having me reteach those lessons, I like to let my students be the teachers. And so usually at the start of the week, we kind of brainstorm you know, what are some habits that we need to remind ourselves of? What what are the things that are going to make us successful readers the last part of the year?
And, you know, students should remember some of those lessons from the start of the year so we kind of brainstorm them. We prioritize them. And we come up with what are the five most important behaviors that we really need to focus on. And then I will let my students work in groups. And they get to plan and prepare the mini lesson for each of those behaviors.
And I’ll usually share with them or they can pull out their journals and reference the anchor chart that we use to teach that lesson at the beginning of the year. And then I encourage them that they have to work together to plan a little mini lesson to reteach that habit or behavior.
And this is great for the students, because one, they’re taking ownership of it. And I always say that if students have to teach somebody how to do something, and it’s going to become a lot more internal to them. And students have fun with this, because usually, you know, they can show you the students the right way to build stamina and the wrong way, they can show students the right way to talk about books with their classmates in the wrong way. So they enjoy the demonstration aspect of it.
And then also, like I said, they enjoy being the teachers. And so rather than me doing the reteaching, I let my students do that. So again, if you take that first week, let your students review and reteach each other the habits and behaviors, then when you jump into your content, your students are just going to be a lot more focused. And they will use their independent reading time a lot more effectively.
The fourth thing that you want to keep in mind when thinking about returning to independent reading after winter break, is you want to make sure that your independent reading time is fun. I talk about this a lot. But reading should be fun, our reading block really should be our students favorite part of the day. And I always think that fun. And enjoyment is such an important part of our reading instruction.
And especially if you think about coming back from winter break, you probably have some students in your class that aren’t excited about returning to school, they would rather be at home. And you probably have some kids in your class that don’t like reading yet. And they probably aren’t looking forward to reading for 30 minutes every day, this isn’t their favorite part of the day.
And so we have to be really intentional about planning things that are going to help our students love and enjoy the independent reading part of our day. And so while in an ideal world, you know, reading would bring some intrinsic joy and motivation. That’s not the reality for all of our students. And so sometimes we have to plan some external things that are going to make them have fun during independent reading.
So a couple of things that I like to do and would usually incorporate into our return to school plan, if you will. But January is a great time to do a reading challenge with your students. Reading challenges can be just a really simple way to make reading fun, it kind of becomes a game, usually with a challenge, there’s a reward at the end that students are working towards. And so there’s that little prize or something that they want to achieve. It’s goal oriented. And they’re also focused.
And so it’s, you know, something, whether it’s two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, they know that there’s going to be an end to it. So you can do a reading challenge for the number of minutes students are reading, the number of books, I love doing genre challenges. So you can challenge your students that during the month of January, they need to read a book from every genre, you can do picture book challenges.
I mean, there’s so many different ways that you can challenge your students with their reading. But incorporating a challenge, when you return from winter break can just make the independent reading seem a little bit more fun.
Other things that I would always try to do in January is I would try to introduce new books to our classroom library. So when students came back from winter break, there were new books that I could reveal and put in the library. So they had some new things to read.
And one of the things that I always loved doing anytime I introduced new books to our classroom library is I would create a waitlist for some of them. So you know, I would try to introduce the books to students, or at least let them be present when I’m unpacking the Scholastic box. And I would pick a handful of books, some chapter books, some picture books, a variety of genres. And I would, you know, put them up on my whiteboard and then create a waitlist.
And I would just put five slots, you know, for each book, and students could sign up to read that book, which means then that there is this sense of urgency, and there’s this sense of excitement. And if only five kids get to read this book first, they want their name on a waitlist, and then that’s motivation for them to read the book in a relatively short timeframe because other students are waiting for them. So introducing new books and then creating a waitlist can also be a really great way just to create some fun and excitement around independent reading.
Other really simple things to do or you can give students new reading journals, and you can have them decorate it or you can have them add to the decorations of their current reading journals. You could introduce new reading response choice boards or give your students some new ways that they can respond to their independent reading.
You could start incorporating book talks or other ways to hold students accountable to their reading that are a little bit more fun than just responding in their journal. You can have a new class goal and discuss how you’re going to celebrate that goal at the end. You can even incorporate buddy reading.
I know buddy reading is really popular in lower elementary, but I loved letting my fourth grade students buddy read with each other, it’s not something that we would do every day. But that’s, you know, something that oftentimes we would incorporate into our Friday routine, and just let students share picture books with each other.
So that’s a super simple way to just I don’t know, create a more fun and enjoyable reading experience. It could even be as simple as playing new music in your background during independent reading time. So you just really want to think about what are some fun things, some new things that you can incorporate into your independent reading block that first week back just to create a little bit more excitement for your students and make it to be a part of the day that they really look forward to.
And then my last tip for resetting your independent reading time is to be really intentional about providing positive praise. I have seen this quote a lot on Instagram or Pinterest. But I’ve seen it where it says, “What gets rewarded gets repeated.”
And so we have to think that if we want our students to quickly jump back into their independent reading routine, then we need to make sure that we are praising and rewarding the behaviors that we want them to replicate.
This can be done in a really simple way, a couple of things that you could do just to provide a positive environment is you could do a student of the day. At the end of your independent reading time, you could highlight one or two students that you noticed, doing a really good job of staying on track of reading the entire time of, you know, keeping their book box organized and responding in their journal, whatever you want to highlight, you can just acknowledge a few students.
You can pass out little stickers during independent reading time and as your students are reading, you can just walk around and put a sticker on student’s hand or on their desk, if they’re on task.
One of the things that I would always try to do that first week back is I would try to have a little mini reading conference with every one of my students. So rather than pulling groups during independent reading time, I would circulate around and I would you know, just touch base with all of my students. And I would always find one behavior that I could praise them for.
And whether it was reading a new book, or staying on task, or being helpful to a classmate, or following the directions right away whatever it was, or applying reading strategies, whatever you can notice, let them know that you’ve seen them do that behavior, and that you’re so proud of the work that they are doing.
And, you know, just encourage them to keep working hard on their reading. So I would try to have a face to face short little conference with every student, nothing formal, nothing that I would write down nothing where we talk about goals, just a chance for me to verbally encourage them in their reading.
And then I would also always send home a positive note sometime during that first week, either an email or a sticky note or something just to let all of the parents know, at some point, not necessarily every day or every student every day, but at some point sending a note home. So that way, the parents knew that they are working hard on their reading.
And a couple of things that I always think about when I’m thinking about praise and encouragement with students is I would always try to praise the effort, not necessarily the achievement. So you know, with the reading, they’re really focusing on their behaviors and their habits. And not necessarily if they finished a book or a chapter or if they completed an assignment, but just the the act of reading and being engaged in talking about books and taking care of their books.
And then the other thing that I would always try to focus on and this can be hard, but I would always try to praise what is working versus calling out the negative behaviors. And especially with something like independent reading, it can be really easy to identify the student who is off task, the student who is you know, just fake reading and flipping through their pages, or the student that isn’t reading at all, and focus on them. And you know, tell them get back on track, you need to keep reading.
But I always found that calling out the negative behaviors doesn’t actually change the behavior the way that I wanted it to. And so I would always try to praise what was working. So rather than calling out the negative behavior, I would identify a student who’s doing what I wanted the rest of class to do.
I noticed that, you know, Jimmy is staying in his desk and reading the whole time. I noticed that Suzy is really into her book because she has a you know, I can see her facial expressions. She was laughing when she was reading. You know, I noticed that Bobby is reading a variety of genres this week.
Or whatever it is, highlight the positive behavior versus calling out the negative behavior. And then students naturally are I think they want to please their teachers and they want to make their teachers happy and they want that acknowledgement. And so if you can just be in the habit of highlighting those positive behaviors that usually will fix the negative behaviors from the students who might not be doing exactly what you want them to do.
So, hopefully you have found or heard a tip that you can use this next week when you reset your independent reading time. So let me just recap and review.
When you’re thinking about returning to school this next week, and you’re getting ready to reset your independent reading time, you probably want to readjust and shorten your independent reading time and then spend the week rebuilding your stamina. I would encourage you to have your students set new reading goals or revisit goals they set back in August.
You want to spend time reteaching your key habits and behaviors. And especially if you can let your students do the reteaching that would be even better. And you want to be intentional about making reading fun and enjoyable. And then finally provide positive praise and reinforcement for the behaviors that you want replicated.
So hopefully this makes you a little bit more excited to return to your class and see your students and just get back all of that momentum that you had before winter break when it comes to your independent reading.
And I would love to know what you think about this episode. And if you want to take a screenshot and tag me on Instagram, I would love it if you would share which tip you plan on incorporating into your reading block. So I hope you guys have a stellar week and I can’t wait to chat with you guys next week.
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