In the early elementary school years, early literacy is a strong focus. Our goal as educators is to build strong, fluent, confident decoders and readers. We want students to build stamina and engage with books for much of the literacy block. You can do this with first graders starting on the very first day of school!

Independent reading is seen by some educators as a waste of time, just page flipping. I even had an administrator tell me that half the students in any given class would likely have their books upside down during this time.

With an organized and intentional launch your independent reading can:

*Build fluency

*Provide “just right” decoding practice

*Build a love of learning

*Increase comprehension

*Increase text dependent discussions

Independent reading is also a great task for students to be engaging in when teachers are working with small groups or individual students.

After a few years of practice, here are the three steps I follow to launch independent reading in the classroom.

Step 1: Model Independent Reading

Show students what it looks and sounds like to be an independent reader. Share examples and non examples… they love the non examples (ie me crawling around with a book on my head).

You can even make an anchor chart for what it looks like and sounds like to be reading to themselves.

Call upon a few students to be student role models and then talk about how it looked to be readers.

Then send students off to practice for a period of time you are pretty sure they can be successful! I start with literally one minute of practicing and then reflecting on if we met the expectations.

Step 2: Build Stamina

Use a visual to show students how their stamina as a group is growing. Set clear expectations for how long you’d like students to be able to read. At first, I set the goals. “Let’s try reading for two minutes today.” Before long I start to set the timer and just see how long they can read independently. We build this stamina as a whole group so there are few distractions as they get used to this routine.

I liked having a basic drawn stick figure climb a set of stairs as students increased reading stamina.

It doesn’t need to be fancy, just take a little time to come up with a routine and stick with it! You can set initial goals and then upgrade. So for example, after we get to the top of the staircase, maybe the next stamina mission is Mr. Stick blasting off into space.

Once your students are able to read with adequate stamina on their own, it is a great time to begin to incorporate these tasks as part of literacy block that they can choose to do independently.

Step 3: Incorporate A Task/ Comprehension

Keep your students focused as they read with comprehension or word work tasks. Maybe they will go on a word hunt. Maybe students will have a sticky note task. You can choose what works best for you, but having this task right at their fingertips is a huge benefit.
I often use the same comprehension prompts that students use during their time in small group reading instruction. I print those prompts on sticky notes and leave them in the independent reading station, so students can complete these tasks on their own.

As their stamina increases, you can really keep students engaged and moving into those comprehension skills during this time.

Want to know what I do during my small focused reading groups? Check out this post!

launching first grade reading groups

Have more tips? I can’t wait to hear them! Please add them below in the comments!

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