Saturday, October 15, 2016

How to Incorporate Free-choice Reading with Older Students

It's my mission in life to make sure secondary students don't lose their love of reading. Elementary teachers do a fantastic job of making reading a magical experience, and I believe this magic can continue in middle and high school as well.

One way I have fostered a love of books in my classroom is by allowing my students to read for 10 minutes at the beginning of each class. I prioritize this time more than any other time during my 90-minute class. We never skip it...ever. I tell them that it belongs in the forefront our time because reading is essential to becoming better writers and thinkers. I allow them to choose any free-choice book that they desire.

During this time, I read with my students. Even though I have a million things I need to be doing, I don't do them. I read. I model how much I value my reading time by not allowing any interruptions during this time. I will always have students who blurt out questions that popped into their heads during this time, but I silently ignore them and later remind them that we are to be quiet and respectful during our reading time.

Once we establish this habit, all of my students have their books out reading....or appear to be reading.... As much as I would love to think all of my 75 teenage angels are blissfully engaged in reading each day, I'm a realist and know that this isn't the case. However, I do want all of my students to actually read, so I give fun little assignments make them accountable for their daily reading. I want these assignments to be fun as to not take the joy out of reading, but I also want these assignments to ensure that everyone takes their reading time seriously. 

Tip: Undoubtedly, you will have students who forget their books some days. I keep a stack of UpFront nonfiction magazines in my room so that when a student forgets, they read a magazine. If a student makes a habit of forgetting their book, then I conference with them and let them know that this will reflect on their grade and help them find a book that they like well enough to not forget.

How to Incorporate Free-choice Reading with Older Students 

1. Make sure students have a purpose for reading each day. For me, this means that I allow my students to find their own vocabulary words for the week from their free-choice books. I give a thorough explanation of how I do this in my most popular blog post, How and Why to Use Word Walls with Older Students, but here is an overview: After our reading time, I give students about 3 minutes to fill out a Frayer model for one challenging word they found from their reading that day. Then each Monday, I choose the best of the best words and those go on our Word Wall.

Some other purposes for reading each day can be formed as a type of bell-ringer activity.


*Monday Madness: Describe one thing that is driving you crazy about your book right now
*Monday Matinee: If you were the producer of the film version of your book, who would you hire to play the lead?

*Tuesday Time Warp: Pretend this book was in a different time period. How would it be different
*Tuesday Technique: What are some techniques the author uses to create suspense or intrigue?

*Wednesday Word Work: Find one word that challenges you
*Wednesday Walk and Talk: Find a walking partner and discuss your books while taking one lap around the room

*Thursday Throwback : Think of one book or movie from your past that this book reminds you of
*Thursday Tweet: In 120 characters, sum up the plot line of your book so far

*Friday Feel Good : Find one line that makes you smile
*Friday Flashback: Ponder what one character in your book would be like as a child. Describe one scene from their childhood

Sidenote: Now that I'm brainstorming these book bellringers, I'm thinking that a full set of these would be so helpful for teachers to have on hand. Is this something you would be interested in? There are so many awesome bellringer resources out there, but I haven't seen any that directly incorporates free-choice reading. Let me know in the comments if this is something you would like to have!

2. Have an end date in mind. I set mine up to where students know they need to be finished with a book by their first mid-term. If they finish before this date, they get another book. I don't like to rush their reading, but I also want to make sure they actually finish a book. This is also a great opportunity to practice goal-setting with older students. I went to the ILA conference in Boston this past summer, and my favorite presenter set reading goals with each student at the beginning of the semester. By conferencing with students and checking in on their personal reading goals, he was able to get 9th grade boys to read an average of 15 books each school year. Amazing right? 

3. Have a fun celebration for the end of each free-choice reading time period. I have done a number of free-choice reading events, but here are my favorites: 

*Speed-Dating a Book. This activity serves two purposes by giving students an opportunity to discuss their book in a creative way and encourage excitement around selecting another book for the next round of free-choice books. 

I added these free conversation starters and directions to my TpT store, but the gist is that you line your desks and chairs so that students are facing each other just like in a speed dating format (I only used one row of desks with two chairs on each side to save time). Then, students talk to each from their book's point-of-view. For example, "Where are you from? Tell me about your setting." After about a minute of conversing, one row rotates and discusses their books with someone new. It only took me about 10 minutes to add plastic table cloths, string lights, and candles to my tables, but the students LOVED this added touch. Also, note the Harry Potter ambient noise playing in the background ***heart eyes*** You can find all of my favorite HP ambient sounds and how I use them on my Harry Potter Classroom Pinterest Board 

I share all of my English teacher ideas on Instagram first, so be sure to follow me @Bsbooklove 

* Host a book tasting. This project is fun because there is food involved. I normally save this book project for our last day of the semester so that I can have an educational semester-end party (that sounds so lame now that I'm typing it) #PartyLikeanEnglishTeacher 

This is another freebie that I have in my store, but as an overview, students use the symbolic meanings of texture and taste to create a culinary creation that represents their book or a character in their book. I give project options that don't involve real food in case some students don't have the means to cook at home, but most of my students opt for the cooking choice. 

Follow my Instagram @Bsbooklove 

After seeing what a success my Book Speeding dating was, I think that I'm going to set up this book tasting differently this time. Instead of letting each student go to the front of the room and explain their creation, I'm going to line up the chefs (two groups at a time) and do it like a culinary expo where the "tasters" walk by each chef and the chef explains their book and culinary symbolism before giving the taster a sample. I will add more pictures to this post once I try it this way! I think this will make it more interactive. 

4. Sprinkle in anti-readicide book projects when you need an active and fun filler lesson (hello picture day!) I use these little activities with our required class reading as well as for their free-choice reading. If you practice once with a required reading, then it's easy for students to do these independently for their free-choice reading. Also note that some teachers advocate not attaching any assignments to free-choice reading (See a great post about this by a fellow English teacher here: Adding Free Choice Reading to Your Classroom ). However, I have found that my students--especially my male students-- like having to feel like they have to read. It gives them an excuse to need to do something they might otherwise look uncool. I do strongly agree that the assignments should not be work though. They could be creative and fun! Here's my growing list of anti-readicide book projects:

Holiday Fun with ANY Book 
(For days when you wouldn't get much teaching done's looking at you Halloween) 

I hope that this post gives you some ideas and helps promote the love of reading in your classroom. If you want to get more secondary English ideas, I would love for you to sign up for my newsletter by adding your email address to the sign-up box at the top. 

Happy teaching! xoxo Ashley 


  1. Would love some ideas for independent reading bell ringers :)!

  2. I would love more ideas for the free reading bell ringers!!!

  3. Hi Ashley,

    I just purchased a bunch of your amazing resources on TPT. I can't wait to use them with my Gr. 12 Literacy Intervention class. I tried to download your OneNote interactive vocabulary activities templace, but One Note is not cooperating. Is there another way I can download it?

    Thanks again!

  4. If you haven't done this already, I would love more bell-ringer ideas for free choice-reading.

  5. Bell-Ringer activities would be awesome! :-)

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