Supporting Independent Reading


A recent article in USA Today, “Do food stamps feed obesity?”  would be a great Science in the News reading (a supplementary reading assignment described in Literacy in Science: A Natural Fit) or supplementary reading for Unit 3 of the Reading Apprenticeship Academic Literacy course Reading Science.

As a classroom teacher, I would give students 10 minutes of class time once a week to skim free copies of the local paper, chat with a partner and identify articles to read at home in order to complete a current events assignment. Through this simple routine, students read about 1500 words a week—about 45,000 words a year—in addition to the other reading we did in class.

The goal? Our state standards require students to read 2 million words a year independently—I wanted students to read about a third to half of the 2 million words in my content area. Language Arts teachers could have the other million or so.

In Reading Apprenticeship classrooms, reading plays a central role since students need both instructional support and increased opportunities to read if they are to practice more skillful ways of reading and accelerate their literacy development.

Science in the News (SINs) is designed to support independent reading— self-selected content area reading. Many teachers support this reading routine during class time at the beginning of the year and find that students can complete the majority of reading independently, at home, later in the year.

Built into this routine are supports for:

  • Engagement: readers can select articles (within the assignment guidelines) based on relevance and interest.
  • Fluency: One great aspect of this assignment is that it can be used to “stretch” reading opportunities by using texts of greater complexity (for example, as with the Neandertal articles from Science or less complexity from a source like Discover for Kids) based on the reading levels and needs of students.
  • Acquisition of strategic reading: through recursive modeling and practice of identifying and marking important details and main ideas; visualizing; composing summaries and asking questions, students learn to use these independently.
  • Building knowledge of scientific processes and research.

Imagine using the USA Today article in practice to introduce the SIN activity and model the assignment:

  • Project the article. If possible, make copies of the article for students to read.
  • Make and distribute copies of the Science In the News Organizer.
  • Invite students to read the article and Think Aloud with a partner about the prompts on the organizer.
  • After a few minutes, ask partners to share what they discussed in their reading.
  • As students share details, confusions, terms and words they noticed, annotate the projected copy of the article with students’ Thinking Aloud comments.
  • Ask students to annotate their own copies.
  • Invite students to continue working in pairs to highlight, circle and annotate their pages.
  • Punctuate the pair work with whole class discussion and modeling of reading work at the overhead, supporting students as they work together to make meaning of the reading.
  • Once students have a good sense of how to proceed with annotating the text, ask them to finish the assignment at home.
  • The following day, begin with a pair discussion of the reading assignment.
  • Follow up with a whole class discussion of how reading in this way impacts understanding and engagement.

For best results, use this assignment frequently and regularly. Remember that less modeling will be needed over time and that soon the class time will be devoted to discussion of the content and reading processes.

The USA Today article would also be great to use with the Essential Questions Organizer from the Reading Apprenticeship Academic Literacy Reading Science unit, as it explores a major theme of the unit, correlation and causation.

How do you incorporate independent reading in your content area course? Share your ideas by clicking “Leave a reply.”

Tags: , , , ,

4 Responses to “Supporting Independent Reading”

  1. Cyndy Greenleaf Says:

    I have been interested to see all the news coming out again this spring about the nation’s obesity crisis, given the First Lady’s initiative. Right now, the PBS website has a lot of new and useful resources focused on this topic, developed for use by teachers. You might want to take a look.

  2. Cindy Ryan Says:


    “Supporting Independent Reading” is critical in all disciplines and must be explicitly modeled by the teacher with students also demonstrating their thinking processes. So many students are “pretend” readers – just glancing over words, but not actively reading and thinking about them.
    I do like the use of informational texts (newspapers, journals, magazines, etc.) to make science less intimidating yet still relevant content area.
    I have found that USA Today works well with so many facets of Reading Apprenticeship and Academic Literacy. My students are attracted to the color, graphs, succinct articles of USA today than to our local paper (which does not resemble USA Today).
    Also, I am thinking of using David Zinczenko’s “Eat This, Not That (for kids)” as a supplementary source for the science unit next year. While it tells what you should eat, it forces the students to research and compare/contrast the products in more depth. It will be interesting to see how this works.

    I do enjoy all the blogs you have posted, and I hope this continues. I have forwarded this site to mnay of my colleagues for ideas and support of what they are doing in their content areas!

  3. Cindy Ryan Says:

    Teenage obesity and teen self-image are relevant and important issues. I recently attended a bookfair and picked up a copy of “Eat This, Not That (for kids).” I’m planning to embed this text into the science unit next year. The book does not go into great detail, so I plan to require research assignments delving deeper into the knowledge of food labels and what we are putting into our bodies.

    This is a great article!

Comments are closed.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 75 other followers

%d bloggers like this: