You’ve established independent reading in your classroom. Congratulations! But now what? How do you make independent reading meaningful for students? Once students are actually reading, there are many independent reading activities you can do to take advantage of reading time without killing the fun!
(Still working on establishing an independent reading routine? Learn about putting together a great classroom library!)
Independent Reading Activities Idea #1: Quick Reading Skill Reviews
You’ve got students engaged in a book! Don’t forget to have students actually think about their reading now.
Now, don’t go crazy. If your students are new to independent reading, you don’t want to assign a whole project or essay to go with it. That’s a fast way to kill any excitement your students might have for choice reading.
However, I think it’s totally ok to ask students to reflect on their reading. Their choice novels can function as excellent examples for implementing other reading strategies.
The key is to keep any assignments or tasks short and simple. (I honestly wouldn’t even call anything you hand out an assignment or homework.)
I love short and easy exit tickets for this. Each takes less than five minutes to complete, but review an essential skill or a literary term. The task or question you put on these exit tickets should be short and applicable to nearly any novel.
For example, having students describe the protagonist of their book reviews an important literary term, asks students to reflect on their reading, and can be answered regardless of which novel students are reading.
You can create your own exit tickets or buy some already prepared for you. I love these exit tickets for reviewing reading strategies and these exit tickets for reviewing story elements.
Independent Reading Activities Idea #2: Literature Circles
Once students are comfortable with reading independently and have brushed up on their skills, launch into a bigger independent reading project. Literature circles are a natural progression from independent reading.
(Not sure how to even begin putting together a literature circle? Check out this post!)
Personally, I would separate a literature circle from independent reading activities. Either continue to do independent reading along with literature circles or suspend independent reading while doing this unit.
Literature circles use the skills that students have built up while independently reading, but they limit choice. While independent reading allows students to choose almost any novel, literature circles are usually more limited. You might provide students with a list of possible novels or they may need to find a group willing to study the same book.
Like independent reading, students will have to use their reading strategies and discipline to read a novel on their own. They might have fewer choices to read, but they’ll have peers with whom to discuss their ideas.
Interested in a done-for-you literature circle? Try this one based on three social justice novels.
Independent Reading Activities Idea #3: Let Students Get Creative
Personally, I love letting students do something creative when the opportunity is present. It’s a fun way to engage students who might otherwise be less interested in literature. There are so many ideas out there that can be applied to any novel.
A common activity is to have students design a new book cover for their chosen novel. This kind of activity is perfect because it can be done with any novel but still requires students to think about important symbols, characters, and events in their book.
Another activity that students love is to create an “Instagram” post. The post can be about the book or a fictional post from the perspective of an important character. So much of our students’ lives involve social media; they dive right into assignments like this. You can have students create this post on any blank paper or give them a premade template like this.
There are innumerable ways to let students combine their creativity with analysis.
Independent Reading Activities Idea #4: Turn Choice Novels Into Mentor Texts
One of the amazing benefits of lots of reading is that it tends to improve writing as well–but only if readers are analytical about the words they read. Asking students to look to their chosen books as mentor texts is one way of helping them to make the connection.
There are many ways of doing this. You could assign a scavenger hunt and have students look through their choice novel for examples. Students can record excellent examples of strong writing, examples of literary terms, or examples of story elements. You could easily adapt this Figurative Language Scavenger Hunt to be used with novels.
Another way to use any novel as a mentor text is to assign students an author study. Again, you don’t want to assign too much work with independent reading, so maybe you could allow students to choose an author to study from any whole-class novels or their choice novels.
An author study forces students to examine the way words are used in writing. Eventually, they’ll try and mimic their chosen author’s style.
One last idea is to have students pull in their books for grammar lessons. Teaching sentence types? Have students identify sentence clauses in a paragraph from their book. Parts of speech? Have students list strong nouns, verbs, or adjectives from their novels. You could even have students list sentences from their book that break grammar rules for an interesting discussion on when and why to do so.
When trying to make the most of independent reading, it’s important to remember that it should be fun for students. Ideally, independent reading should mimic reading in real life.
“Real readers” don’t sit down after finishing a book to write an essay about it. They might, however, write a review or discuss the novel with a friend. They might create art after being inspired by a great story or imagine alternative scenes or endings.
When deciding what independent reading activities to add to your classroom, make sure they don’t detract from the pure enjoyment of reading a book for fun.