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Sustained Silent Reading: How to Set Students Up for Success

Sustained Silent Reading: How to Set Students Up for Success


Sustained Silent Reading strengthens our students’ love of reading. We must provide time during the school day to read for enjoyment if we want them to be lifelong readers.

I’m sure you’ve heard some of your students say they don’t like reading. I don’t know about you, but every time I hear this, it’s like a punch in the gut. So I make it my mission to turn those students into readers.

It is important to create a positive reading culture in our classrooms. This can go a long way in encouraging our learners to read. This can involve reading aloud, building a classroom library with a variety of texts, and setting aside regular time for independent reading.

Reading plays a vital role in our academic and personal growth, so no matter how packed our schedules are or how many other tasks we need to accomplish, we must provide time for independent reading as frequently and consistently as possible.

What is Sustained Silent Reading?

Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) is a period of uninterrupted silent reading time incorporated into the school day. During this time, students choose their books and read solely for pleasure.

To be clear, SSR is not meant to replace reading instruction and assessment. Instead, it should add to the existing curriculum so students can experience a broader range of texts.

SSR allows readers to explore various genres, topics, authors, and book series, allowing them to determine their reading likes and dislikes. For example, they can experiment with different types of books, ranging from mystery and adventure to science fiction and poetry.

Through SSR, students develop a habit of reading in and out of the classroom. When they get to read what they find interesting, they are more likely to continue doing it on their own time and will start to see it as a pleasurable activity instead of just a school task. This, in turn, can lead to a greater love for reading.

Sustained Silent Reading: Why Your Students Need to Do It
Photo by RODNAE Productions

What are the benefits of Sustained Silent Reading?

Truthfully, everyone has the potential to become a reader if given the proper guidance and support. As language arts teachers, we have a responsibility to help our learners unlock that potential and develop a lifelong love of reading.

Becoming a lifelong reader has numerous benefits that go beyond just the joy of reading. For example, reading is an excellent way to learn about new things and explore different perspectives, which can broaden our knowledge and understanding of the world. Additionally, reading has been shown to improve cognitive function, including better memory retention, improved critical thinking skills, and enhanced problem-solving abilities.

Lifelong readers are also more likely to have better communication skills, as reading improves vocabulary, grammar, and writing skills. Furthermore, reading can reduce stress and provide an escape from the daily grind, which can lead to improved mental health. Overall, becoming lifelong readers can enrich our lives in countless ways and open doors to endless possibilities.

In the classroom, three benefits of Sustained Silent Reading stand out:

  1. It provides natural differentiation for reading.
  2. It provides necessary reading practice.
  3. It provides opportunities for reading accountability.

Let’s take a look at each of these three benefits more closely.

1. SSR provides natural differentiation for reading.

Sustained Silent Reading is naturally differentiated. First and foremost, students choose their own books from a variety of genres: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. As a result, everyone gets what he or she needs and wants. In addition, they set their own pace since there are no assignments or deadlines.

Since we want to motivate students to read more at home, independent reading time at school should be enjoyable. It shouldn’t seem like another assignment or chore. Although most of our curriculum is mandated for reading instruction, students should have free choice during SSR time. They rarely get to make their own choices during the school day, and this is one of those times they should.

Choosing Good-Fit Books

One of the keys to successful SSR time is to ensure that readers choose good-fit books. They will have difficulty focusing if they don’t have the right books to read, and you know what happens when kids can’t focus… there will be off-task behavior.

A good-fit book is within a comfortable reading range and aligns with personal interests. We tend to assume that all upper intermediate and middle school students know how to choose good-fit books, but this is not always the case. Some may need guidance in this area.

Teaching students how to choose good-fit books allows them to learn what they are comfortable with as readers and to differentiate for their needs. As they progress with their reading, students should be encouraged to choose from a variety of genres based on their own goals and self-analysis.

One way I encourage students to read in a variety of genres and keep track of their reading habits is with the 40 Book Challenge. This resource includes:

  • Teacher Guide
  • Quarterly Reading Log (customizable in PPT)
  • Yearly Tracker Form (customizable in PPT)
  • Genre Descriptions Handout (fully editable in PPT)
  • How to Choose a Book Handout
  • 10 Milestone Certificates (customizable in PPT)

2. SSR provides necessary reading practice.

Whenever we learn something new – a skill that is important to master – we must practice. Of course, that’s not a secret code to success. But for some reason, this is often overlooked when it comes to Sustained Silent Reading.

I always say reading is like playing a sport or an instrument. If you want to get good at either one, you need to practice. Being a good reader takes practice, and practice builds stamina.

My students rarely come in at the beginning of the school year, ready to read silently for the time required. As we know, some learners keep up with reading over the summer, but many do not. So it’s essential to build their stamina right from the start.

Building Reading Stamina

Sometimes we begin with only 5 minutes of SSR to build stamina. That’s all the class might be able to handle at that point in time. Then, we add time to each session until they can read for the allotted time. Typically, I add one minute every few days until they get where they need to be. This process can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks.

Unfortunately, many students and teachers give up on SSR before building their stamina. It can be challenging for students to focus if they’re not used to it, so they abandon it thinking it’s too difficult or a waste of time. But I promise you, the hard work will pay off!

3. SSR provides opportunities for reading accountability.

When teachers begin with Sustained Silent Reading, they sometimes ask, “How do I hold students accountable for their reading?”

My response is always to just talk with them. While tests are typically used to evaluate reading comprehension, they don’t provide much insight into students’ reading habits. Therefore, testing them on their independent reading is unnecessary. This is not the time to assess their reading comprehension. Save that for reading instruction.

My two favorite ways to monitor progress during SSR time are Status of the Class check-ins and one-on-one conferences.

Checking in with Status of the Class

Status of the Class is a quick, easy, and effective way to formatively assess independent reading. It only takes a few minutes to check the entire class, but it can provide a wealth of information, including the types of books students like to read, who is or is not reading, and how they are pacing themselves.

When conducting a Status of the Class check-in, I observe each student as they begin reading. This involves looking over their shoulders to see book titles, what pages they are on, and which genres they’ve chosen. I take note of this information to keep track of their progress and habits.

Sometimes, I also ask a quick question about their reading to see how they are engaging with the text. For example, I might ask what they think of the book so far or if they have any predictions about what might happen next. This approach helps me stay informed and provides an opportunity for personalized guidance and support.

You can get a copy of my Status of the Class form (and many other goodies) in my Free Resource Library by joining my email list with the link below.

Conferencing with Students During Reading Time

When we conference during SSR time, I have a casual one-on-one conversation with a student away from the rest of the class. It’s a natural conversation about what they’re reading and their thoughts about it. I keep conferences short (2-3 minutes each) and try to see each student once per week. Later in the school year, I might see them once every two weeks.

Not only does conferencing help build rapport, but it helps to determine if students are reading and comprehending the books they are choosing. If someone seems to be struggling, it is important to intervene quickly and provide support. It’s also important to challenge students who are ready with new genres, authors, topics, and the like.

Conferencing with students provides opportunities to discuss the books they are reading, their opinions about them, and any challenges they are facing. These conversations can also help teachers provide recommendations based on individual interests and reading levels.

Abandoning Books

As adults, we typically don’t force ourselves to read texts that we don’t like. The same goes for our students. If someone is reading a book that is not a good fit, he or she should be able to abandon that book.

Encouraging students to find and read books they enjoy during SSR time helps them achieve the overarching goal of reading more! This type of authentic conversation is an essential step in fostering success with independent reading.

Sustained Silent Reading provides uninterrupted quality reading time for students that strengthens their love of reading. It has proven to be a successful strategy year after year in my classroom. I hope I’ve inspired you to try it with your students!

If you need help creating an environment where students can focus on their reading, you might want to read 6 Effective Ways to Calm the Classroom.

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Jan's File Cabinet Intermediate and Middle School Language Arts

Hello there!

I’m Jan. I’m a pet mom, an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and a MASSIVE book hoarder. My philosophy of teaching is simple… start where students are and build them up with the right interventions at the right time. I enjoy making digital and printable resources for upper intermediate and middle school language arts.

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