Independent Reading Time: 5 Powerful Lessons to Conquer Fake Reading

During independent reading time, I was ready to work with a reading group. But then I noticed one student lying on the carpet with his book not even open. Another child appeared to have been on the same page for 15 minutes, and yet another student seemed to have perfected the art of napping with their eyes open.

I’ve learned a lot since my early teaching years. Thirty years later, my time with reading groups is much more focused, and I am more confident that my students are reading during independent reading time.

But How Big of a Problem is Fake Reading?

You know the fake readers: those students who are on the carpet absent-mindedly flipping through the pages. They could not possibly be reading. You may notice stray eyes, slow page turns, or that one student who is more concerned with the Post-it Note they found on the floor than the book they should be reading.

Here’s why I decided that I needed to tackle fake reading once and for all:

  • The fidgeting and talking took away from the precious time I had with my reading groups.
  • Fake readers made it difficult for other readers to focus.
  • I wanted all my students to see the value of becoming lifelong readers.

I used to feel my stomach muscles tighten every time I looked at the carpet and saw students disengaged from their reading. But now I know how to incorporate reading engagement strategies and keep my readers reading.

I’ve had success with these strategies when I taught both fourth grade and second grade. My students now find and read books they love during independent reading time. I notice eyes on books, reasonably paced page turns, and facial expressions that show my students are reacting to their reading.

This girl is not following independent reading routines!
This student is clearly fake reading!
Photo by Trilik
Takeaway 1
In order to devote your full attention to your reading group, your other students need to be engaged in their reading.

Five Surefire Lessons to Convert Your Fake Readers

1. A Photo Is Worth a Thousand Words

The poem, “Far Away” from the poetry book, Lunch Money, is perfect for a lesson on real reading vs. fake reading. As you can see, Annie is the ideal model for real reading.

This is a great poem to promote "real reading" during independent reading time.
Annie definitely knows what real reading looks like! From the book Lunch Money

After reading the poem, we talk about how obvious it is that Annie is focused on her reading or engaged in “real reading“. Next, we list the ways you can tell if someone is really reading during independent reading time. Students are quick to share their ideas.

  • A “just right” pace
  • Whisper reading or silent
  • Stay in one spot
  • The book is open and right-side up!
  • The students are not distracted by big, black bugs

Then comes the first photo op. Students come up to the front of the room in groups and demonstrate real reading. I make sure to snap a photo of this model behavior.

Finally, photo op number two, AKA the fun part. I ask students to share all the behaviors of fake reading. I can always count on that one student who gets a bit carried away with the description and says something like, “Students are standing on their heads.” However, students are usually very realistic with their descriptions.

The groups return to the front to model fake reading and get their less-than-ideal reading behaviors photographed. Students have a blast, some going as far as to put the book on their heads!

I print and post all photos on chart paper. That way we can refer to them throughout the year.

Try it – Take photos of your students engaged in real reading and fake reading. This makes a great reference for the whole year!

2. Show and Tell Your Reading Enthusiasm

One of my first reading lessons of the school year involves bringing in a stack of books that I read over the summer. I gather the students to the carpet and share children’s books, cookbooks, and novels (well, not all my summer novels). I explain how each book brought me joy and that I want my students to have the same experience from their reading.

I continue to share books I read throughout the year. Nothing beats sharing a book with my class and watching students’ hands shoot up to ask, “Can I have that book next?” Reading enthusiasm really is contagious.

Sharing books from your independent reading life can inspire your students
You never know which one of your books will be just the inspiration your students need.

I make sure to share books from a variety of genres and levels. I am intentional about which students receive each recommended book as the most important factor in having students engaged in independent reading is to give them books they can read!

3. You Can Never Have Too Many Books

If you walk into my classroom, you will see bookshelves covering about every inch allowed by the fire department. Having a wide variety of books for student choice is critical to get your students to participate in “real reading”.

If you need ideas on where to find great book titles, here are some suggestions.

  • Use your local or school library – The school librarian is an excellent resource!
  • If you don’t participate in Scholastic Book Club yet, this is a must. Every time your students order, you earn points for free books!
  • Garage sales are full of book treasures.
  • Ask parents, family, and/or friends for books their children no longer need.
  • Thrift stores are often a great place for bargain books.
This boy is fully engaged in his independent reading.
Facial expressions indicate reacting to reading – a sure sign of real reading.
Photo by WavebreakMediaMicro

4. Your Independent Reading Mishaps

I may begin a lesson on nonfiction summarizing by reading a section of a nonfiction book, and then saying something like, “Wait, what was that about? How am I supposed to write a summary? I don’t get it.”

I ask the students for their advice, “Would you please tell me what to write?”

I inevitably get the same advice, “Reread it!”

They know me well!

Comprehension strategies like making connections, asking questions, and summarizing require students to be engaged in their reading. When teaching comprehension strategies, it is equally important to focus on reading engagement. Students need strategies like rereading to reinforce engagement. Then they can catch themselves fake reading and refocus on comprehension.

5. Make the Most of your Read Aloud

Read aloud time is the perfect time to teach any reading comprehension strategy. I like to use this time to model how I hold the book, read with expression, and go back to clarify when needed.

It’s also fun to model fake reading at this time. Kids love it when I start reading with the book upside-down or randomly stare into space. They call me out on my fake reading every time.

You get engagement bonus points if your read aloud is a book that promotes a love of reading!

Takeaway 2
You can teach reading engagement through models, photos, and a stockpile of great books!

For Students Who Need an Extra Boost

Despite our best efforts, there are students who need an extra boost of encouragement to engage in real reading for an extended period of time.

My free “Reading Engagement Bundle” includes everything you need to find and motivate those students who may need a little extra push. Here’s what’s included:

  • reading interest inventory – No more guessing which books your students will love
  • An engagement inventory – Find the sneaky fake readers
  • Five small group lessons – Dive deep and give your students a purpose for reading
  • 12 prompts to get your students back on track in a snap

Incorporating these powerful reading engagement strategies into your teaching can help you inspire young readers and rid your classroom of fake reading for good.

Takeaway 3
It is important to assess which students are engaged in reading so you can arm your “fake readers” with engagement strategies.

Complete the form below to have the entire Reading Engagement Bundle sent straight to your inbox!

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Teaching blogger for elementary teachers

Mary Wingert, licensed educator (K-12 Special Ed. & 1-8 General Ed)

I started teaching in 1993.   I have taught special education, fifth grade, and fourth grade.  I moved to second grade in 2015, and I am still there today.  

I believe in teaching strategies that are effective, differentiated, and engaging. I am looking forward to building a community of teachers who feels the same!  Read more here.