Do you have an uninterrupted sustained silent reading, or SSR, time in your day? This year was the first year that I had a carved out time of 30 minutes in the schedule specially designated for sustained silent reading. At first I thought, “30 minutes for first graders? That’s impossible!” However, I quickly came to realize that not only was that time necessary, but it was also extremely beneficial for my students. The best part about it though was how much my students grew and LOVED it! This year I had more growth in reading than ever before. It is my belief that this designated SSR time had one of the biggest impacts on their growth.
One of the most important things to having a successful SSR time is having a strategy to build stamina from the very beginning. I usually use the first week of school to get to know one another and begin to set up of the shell of what our schedule will look like for the year. But during the second week of school, I begin right away with SSR. I always create an anchor chart as a visual for students to see their progress.. And of course they love it! Below you’ll see an example of the anchor chart I created last year.
Alright so if you have your anchor chart, you’re ready to begin! During a class meeting, I explain in detail exactly what this time is and why we have it. We sit and discuss what it looks like and sounds like during SSR time. I have them do most of the talking and help guide them when needed. We discuss how it is not a time to get up from seats, go to the bathroom, get new books, or discuss with friends. As far as reading materials for this time, students get 5 new books from the library each Monday morning. They keep these same books for the entire week and can read this during SSR. This is in addition to their books from their guided reading group. Setting expectations for what this time looks like and being prepared with materials in an organized way is so important in setting the foundation for this time.
Once expectations are set, being consistent and upholding those expectations are key. I have a strategy to show students how serious I am about building our reading stamina. I set a timer for them to see, review expectations again before beginning, and ALWAYS stop the timer and reset if ANYONE is off task. This shows students that this time is serious and important and it is up to the entire class to be successful during SSR. For example, let’s say we’re trying to meet our goal of reading for 5 minutes for the day without stopping. During this time, Jimmy keeps looking up at the timer or aimlessly around the room. Well at this point, I stop the timer and we discuss again what it looks like during that time and reset. Some days you’ll have to reset the timer 5 times. Some days maybe you won’t even get to 5 minutes but I promise it is so worth it in the end when you finally make it to your goal whether it be 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or longer! When you look around and see every single child engaged in their books and excited about reading, it’s worth it all the stops and resets.
Another key factor in developing a successful SSR time is motivation and constant reminding of expectations. One way I like to motivate students during this time, especially at the beginning, is by taking pictures of students who are doing a phenomenal job. I find that when using pictures of themselves as a model, students put forth more effort to keep up that example. I put their pictures on the anchor chart we’ve created together and we review the chart EACH time before we begin SSR. The consistency of the review I believe is also a crucial part of students really developing this discipline.
This year, I embarked on a flexible seating journey, which changed a lot in our classroom and SSR was one of them. With the various seating options we obviously had a lot of expectations around treating their seats which transferred over to SSR time. However, I always let them choose how they want read. If you think about how we work, relax, or read as adults, we’re not always sitting in a chair or at a desk. We might be on the floor, a couch or even laying down- whatever is comfortable for us. Well shouldn’t we allow the same thing for our students? I think the choice of what comfortable reading is for my student was part of the reason SSR was so successful in our classroom this year. I used to be the teacher that said they couldn’t lay down or they had to sit in a seat and when I reflected I kept asking myself “but why?” You can take a look at some of the ways my students were most comfortable reading their books!
Now even with all these expectations, choices and repetition, does that mean that our time always goes perfect? Absolutely not. They are first graders! But majority of the time, it’s magical! Here is a clip of my students towards the end of the year during SSR. I was just sitting there looking around and couldn’t help but record the magic of them all reading and engaged in text. We had SSR everyday up until the second to last day of school. They BEGGED for it. It was because of the importance that I helped establish in the classroom and you can foster this engagement too! Of course this doesn’t happen overnight, especially in the younger grades. This take weeks of hard work and maybe even longer depending on your group of kiddos. It took us about 2 months to successfully read for 20 minutes everyday. But by the end of the year, students were reading for 30 minutes everyday. Always engaged just like in that clip. If you do these things right from the beginning, I promise you’ll see the magic of SSR too.
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