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Enhancing Sustained Silent Reading

Even if you’re already sold on sustained silent reading, you may be wondering how to make sure that your students are really benefiting from the experience.  Since most educators and researchers tell us that SSR should be a non-graded period, we are left with the question of how we can help students extend and transfer the benefits of their efforts.


While we know that good readers constantly interact with what they’re reading by making connections, asking questions, clarifying meaning, etc. these are process skills that are difficult to recognize in our students.  Yet these are the very skills that students should use during SSR in order to practice and refine them for use in other settings.  Robert Marzano suggests in Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement (ASCD, 2004) that students will benefit greatly from writing about or representing information about their reading.  A journal established for this purpose would allow students to track their reading over a period of time. 

Such a notebook could also serve as a place for students to take notes on mini-lessons offered occasionally during SSR time.  While the primary objective of a sustained silent reading period is to provide students the time to read books of their choice, many feel that it is acceptable to periodically offer a mini-lesson, which is geared toward providing students with skills to enhance their reading experiences. 

Students of all ages need to talk about what they’re reading.  This interaction with others allows them to deepen their understanding while benefitting from what others have experienced during their reading.  Literature circles or more informal peer discussions are excellent companions for SSR.  If you do not want to structure your students reading by narrowing the choices to a few books, you can also establish these groups based on theme, genre, conflict or a number of other criteria. 

Whole group sharing is another possibility that allows students to talk about what they’re reading.  One word of caution—while this might seem like a harmless activity, we’ve all had the student (and friends) who can’t just tell a little about the book.  Sometimes the synopsis of the book takes longer to hear than it would take to read the book.  For whole group sharing, consider setting a framework for the talk.  For example, for one week, ask individual students to share their favorite character and one quote or action from that character.

Another idea is to set up a book swap area where students can rate the books they’ve read or prepare displays to sell the book to other students.  This type of activity allows students to share their enthusiasm about a book without always having to stand in front of the class and talk.

Sustained silent reading has many benefits for students.  Find the elements of the program that best meet the needs of your students and build on those elements

Want to read more about sustained silent reading?  Check out these web-sites:

Additional resources:

  • The SSR Handbook:  How to Organize and Manage a Sustained Silent Reading Program, by Janice L. Pilgreen, Boynton/Cook, 2000
  • Building Student Literacy Through Sustained Silent Reading, by Steve Gardiner, The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005.
  • Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement, by Robert Marzano, ASCD,  2004

Theresa Hinkle is a retired middle school teacher, literacy facilitator, and a researcher who conducts workshops on literacy.

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