How To Organise An Effective Quiet Reading Time | Series 1, Episode 14

Episode 14 - How to organise an effective quiet reading time.

Episode 14

Episode 14 show notes

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Episode 14 transcript

How to organise an effective quiet reading time

On Twitter recently, a reading lesson plan did the rounds. You may have seen it. It included timed expectations for things like sitting down, getting books out, and reading with a ruler. Think synchronised reading in a dark authoritarian dystopian state full of rules that must not be broken. Great if you want children to think of reading books as a necessary suffering where silence and compliance are not just an aim but a collective duty.

No! forget all that. 

Here are some more exciting ideas for How to run a reading session, reading period, reading time or classroom book discussion. 

From the get-go, If you want to get all the school staff and stakeholders onside, don’t use jargon. Jargon intimidates and puts off those who don’t understand it. We’re all teachers, so use your skills to explain in clear and concise language that can be understood by all of your audience. Try to avoid word salad edu-jargon that will confuse your teaching staff. In the depth of the Midlands, I once saw on the timetable “Asynch Morph Stream”. No, it wasn’t a Tony Hart’s plasticine creature in a spot of bother, it was a reading group. Use words that everyone will understand, whether it’s a teacher, a consultant, a CEO, a teaching assistant, support staff, a parent, a carer, and most importantly, a child. 

So don’t call it Drop Everything and Read (DEAR), Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), or a Million Minutes. Use these terms with parents and they’ll probably think you’re getting overfamiliar, talking about Prozac or discussing how long it is until the weekend. So call your reading lesson what it is – ‘quiet reading’. 

This isn’t a discussion about behaviour, save to say that if you want to promote reading for pleasure, then reading must be a pleasure. The minute reading becomes part of a silent atmosphere tinged with a frisson of impending chastisement, detentions or consequences, then the opportunity is a lost one. Books need to be fun, not feared. 

Before planning your reading session consider what you hope to achieve and how practical and constrained those aims might be depending on your school and timetable. For example, for me, the aims might be to ensure all pupils are either reading a book they have chosen or using the time to choose a book, to ensure every pupil takes home a book and to ensure every book is appropriate for the child. 

The constraints might be time and how seriously the school’s SLT consider reading as a timetabled activity. For example, if your reading starts after lunch, will the pupils arrive on time? Will it be impacted by extracurricular clubs? If the timetable says 30 minutes, it is really 30 minutes, or is it more likely to be 20? Is the time ring-fenced, or is it up for grabs by other educational activities that children might be pulled out of your lesson for? If you are fighting for the minutes timetabled, it’s always going to be difficult to achieve your aims for each session. The school’s management must understand that reading time should be protected. 

Before you start, discuss with the class what these sessions are for, what will happen, what your expectations are, and what a good session will look like.

Those children who like structure to build confidence need to know what will happen when, so explain that Mondays will be independent reading, Wednesdays will be a whole class session, Fridays the teacher will read to class etc. Allow the children to make suggestions – their ideas will surprise you and each new pupil-voice idea will build up a bank for years to come.

Finally, agree on what you expect and want to achieve. Try to get this agreed message home to parents as well – maybe in your newsletter, a video/PowerPoint on your class webpage or a series of bullet points. 

Most important of all, don’t be scared to leave the children to read. Sometimes teachers feel nervous if they don’t look as if they are doing something, or not on their feet, or not intervening somehow. But this is a reading session, where independent reading for pleasure is the ultimate long-term aim. So be prepared to let the children sit and read quietly. If the class finds this difficult, model it not by intervening, but by letting them see you reading the book quietly. And enjoying it. Periodically raising an eyebrow. Even chuckling. Maybe roaring with laughter every 15 minutes.

If you’re concerned by psychotic SLT questioning your approach and uttering phrases like “deep dives” and “mocksteds”, have a pre-prepared bullet point list of what your aims are for each reading session, how you will achieve them, and why you believe these activities will work. This will reflect exactly what you discussed and agreed with the class at the start of the year, so your class will back you up. 

Allow the reading sessions to become routine, but not boring. For example, consider using quiet reading of books the children have chosen twice a week (integrate one of these sessions into a library session if you have a school library), book club discussions once a week, teacher-led reading once a week, and group/paired/support reading once a week. 

How to deal with the child who cannot choose a book, or the child who can’t sit still, or the child who doesn’t want to read on their own? 

Don’t fear or obsess over the child who can’t or won’t choose a book.

Instead, observe what they are doing. More often than not they are engaging in reading, just not as we know it. Watch them pick up a book, look at it reject it and put it back. And pick up another, and reject it. Why? Ask them. It was a revelatory moment around 15 years into my teaching career to find out that these serial rejecters of books were in fact reading just as much as the rest of the class. They just weren’t reading the story. Ask these children why they didn’t choose x and y and they will often tell you in great detail, referring to the genre, cover, blurb, type, author, age of the book, and other similar books they didn’t like. You will be surprised by how much they’ve taken in about a book in the process of rejecting it. It might surprise you to find out that these children often make great classroom librarians. 

Not everyone is suited to sitting still and reading a book, page after page, on their own. And that’s fine. 

Some children are put off by long texts that have to be read from start to finish. With these students, use books that can be dipped into instead. Street Beneath My Feet, What on Earth Wallbooks, these books fold out to 2, 3,4 sometimes five metres in length along a table on the floor – four or five children can get involved, physically moving around the text and still engaging in quiet reading activities. This also suits children who don’t like to sit down.

Similarly, use your shelves, window ledges, and countertops as standing reading areas. Magazines, comics, graphic novels, information catalogues and encyclopaedias often work well in these spaces. 

Use non-fiction texts that don’t have to be read in page order. The Britannica books by What on Earth Books are great to dip into. Have a look at Encyclopaedia Infographica which is our non-fiction book of the month for October. 

It’s always worth having a set of choose-your-own-adventure-style books. Usborne has a great series that will appeal to today’s UKS2 and LKS3 – called Usborne Adventure Gamebooks, and you can find some of them on our adventure books page. These can be read individually or in pairs. Because the gameplay involves decisions, both children will be engaged in reading in order to understand the next game decision to make. 

The importance of reading choice

Class libraries are important. Try to have as many books as possible with the cover facing outward rather than the spine. Children always pick these books up first. If you need book blocks, instead of culling old library books, wrap them up like a Christmas present with some of that dull sugar paper that every school seems to have reams of and you’ll have an instant free book block. Look for alternative displays. Spinning bookshelves are always a hit. At times, books will fly off the shelves, literally. And when they do, the children picking them up will develop an encyclopaedic knowledge of your classroom book stock. There’s a page of exciting bookshelves in the resources section of our website.

Go to the school library. At least once a week. It’s a different setting. Different books. And that’s important. 

Let the children, with appropriate permissions if you need that in your school, discuss what each other is reading. And what the other classes are reading. And what last year’s class read – and what the year above Is reading now. Children are fascinated by what their siblings read, what their parents read, and definitely what their teachers read. Don’t just talk about the worthy books. Talk about the stories that were awful, slightly naughty, gory, gross, hysterically funny, fantastically scary – and most of all – the ones that stuck in your mind for years afterwards. Book tasters are always useful, but book tasters with genuine personal anecdotes are a prescription strength reading for pleasure pills.

References and further reading:

  • Schraw et al, 1998; Clark and PhythianSence, 2008 (Don’t use house points etc. to reward reading. Use a reward system that rewards reading by promoting more reading – for example, be the first to read the next new book, bookmarks, book prizes, or book tokens.)
  • Clark and Rumbold, 2006 – There’s a significant link between academic attainment and reading for pleasure. Also: Clark and DeZoya (2011)
  • Quiet reading works and it isn’t outdated. Here’s some evidence: Cuevas, J. A., Irving, M. A., & Russell, L. R. (2014). Applied cognition: Testing the effects of independent silent reading on secondary students’ achievement and attribution. Reading Psychology, 35(2), 127-159. 
  • Harlaar, N., Deater-Deckard, K., Thompson, L. A., DeThorne, L. S., & Petrill, S. A. (2011). Associations between reading achievement and independent reading in early elementary school: A genetically informative cross-lagged study. Child Development, 82(6), 2123- 2137. 
  • Swanson, E., Reed, D., & Vaughn, S (2016). Research-based lessons that support student independent reading in social studies. Preventing School Failure, 60(4), 337-344. 
  • Revisiting Silent Reading (Hiebert & Reutzel, 2010) (in particular, chapter 8)

Episode 14 credits

To see full details of licensing information, Creative Commons, GNU license credits and other attributions that apply to every episode of this podcast, see our School Reading List podcast credits information page.

Credits specific to this episode

  • Kevin MacLeod – Bummin on Tremelo – (purchased lifetime extended license registered to Tom Tolkien license ID FML-170359-11969).
  • Listener submitted monologues from debut and self-published authors including: Phone me when you’re home! By Wendy Garvey, On My Back Paws by Anna Skoyles, Luna and Helio The Eclipse by Gina Keulemans & Why, Oh Why, Am I a Crocodile? by Alex Brooks, illustrated by Hannah Worsley.

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About Tom Tolkien

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Tom Tolkien is a highly qualified (BA Hons, PGCE, QTS) children's literature expert and teacher with over 25 years of experience. He has led inset courses, developed curriculum materials, spoken at conferences, advised on longlisting for several international children's literature literature awards and written for educational publishers including contributing to a BETT award-nominated app. Social profiles: Twitter | Linkedin