Silent reading is the gift that keeps on giving

Image via Microsoft

Sunlight fills the room.  Soft, soothing music fills the air.  I look up, and thirty-three teenagers, each one holding a different book in front of himself/herself, are reading, spellbound. I pinch myself as I thank the universe for the advent of silent reading.

It wasn’t always like this.  My first two years of teaching, I had students keep a log of the books and page numbers that they read.  I urged students to bring books from home, and I attempted to initiate conversations about what they were reading after each silent reading period.

The result?  Students kept logs sporadically because they became bored with their originally-selected books, and could only muster up the energy to read a few pages a day.  Many forgot to bring books from home, and stared at the ceiling rather than read the textbooks that I plopped on their desks as an alternative.  The forced conversations went nowhere.  And, what’s worse, students tried to sneak text messaging and/or homework time into the time allotted for silent reading.

So how did silent reading become the Godsend it currently is?

  • I do not require any assignment with silent reading.  Students need to learn that reading is FUN, and when an assignment (even something as simple as a book log, reflection, or book report) is given, reading becomes a (negative) chore that students will learn to resent, not love.
  • I play music.  When silent reading is too silent, students become fidgety and uncomfortable.  Remember, this is the overstimulated generation.  Therefore, I have created a YouTube playlist with relaxing piano music for the students to listen to.  (This is better than my two previous sources – and Pandora, which both now contain commercials.)
  • I make students clear their desks.  All writing utensils, binders, notebooks, papers, purses, backpacks, etc. should be on the floor, away from students’ desks and laps (a backpack on someone’s lap means that s/he is texting behind it–why else would any self-respecting human being jam a backpack between himself/herself and a desk for one hour?).
  • I model this skill.  At the beginning of the year, I read along with my students for the fifteen-minute increments of time.  As the year progresses, I wean away from reading along with students in order to catch up with some of my own work (taking attendance, grading an assignment, or updating the class website).  With some groups, you will have to model this skill until the end of the year.  With others, you will be able to wean yourself away from the reading like I did.
  • I provide the books.  Students will not always have books available at home; while I encourage students to bring their own books from home, I provide a large library of books in my classroom.  At my school, teachers donate books that they have finished reading by leaving them on a special shelf in the photocopy room.  Whenever I see a book on the shelf, I snatch it up and add it to my library.  The books I have on my bookshelf are extremely varied: I have books that are at the elementary school level, all the way up to classics.  I include fiction and nonfiction, and have recently procured graphic novels.  Students can select any book they would like without judgment.
  • I set a timer.  There is something about uttering the phrase, “All right students, silent reading begins NOW” as I press the ON button on my timer that makes the students begin reading right away.  If a few students are still chatting, I stop my timer (which has a handy “beep” noise every time I press it), stare at them until they notice me, and say loudly “I am waiting to begin silent reading.  Silent reading will not begin until everyone is reading.”
  • I make funny faces at my students.  On the rare occasion that a student is not actively engaging in silent reading, I catch his/her eye and then I pretend that I am flipping through an imaginary book in front of me.  I mouth words like “wow,” or “hmm” (as I press my index finger into my cheek) as I continue to flip through my imaginary book.  I must look pretty darn silly doing this, because the student always giggles and then returns to reading his/her book.

One of my all-time happiest moments as a teacher is when a mother of one of my students wrote me a thank you card at the end of the year, telling me that her child once had a teacher who had turned him off to reading, and that I had brought the love of reading back to her son.  She thanked me for making her son the avid reader that he once was.

This student is a perfect example of silent reading having the potential to change our students’ perceptions of reading: many students feel as if reading is a tedious activity that is forced upon them; silent reading will convince many students that reading can be a self-directed activity that brings them joy and sparks their interests.

Silent reading also increases students’ vocabularies by exposing them to new words, and if students continue to read more because they enjoy their silent reading time, then their vocabularies will expand exponentially, making silent reading truly the gift that keeps on giving!

“The more you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” –Dr. Seuss

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4 thoughts on “Silent reading is the gift that keeps on giving

  1. This is wonderful! I loved reading growing up and I think about how this generation’s experience with reading must be so different. There are so many distractions! Texting, facebook, iPads, gaming. Kudos to you for working at finding a formula that works. And using your modern day savvy tech skills to share it!

    • Here’s my YouTube playlist:

      I would like to add more classics–I have added quite a few piano covers of newer songs, and I find my students bopping their heads to the music and mouthing the words instead of doing their silent reading! Let me know if you have any suggestions =D

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