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Voluntary Reading - 1


Andrew P. Johnson, Ph.D.
Minnesota State University, Mankato

This is an excerpt from my book, 10 Essential Instructional Elements For Students With
Reading Difficulties: A Brain-Friendly Approach, published by Corwin Press (2016).

A reading teacher’s number one job is to help students fall in love with

Of all the research-based strategies described in this book, wide reading is perhaps the
most effective and the easiest to implement. Extensive reading has been linked to improvement
in general knowledge, vocabulary, spelling, verbal fluency, and reading comprehension
(Cunningham & Stanovich, 2001; Krashen, 2004). Also, the amount of reading students do is
positively correlated with word identification skills, academic achievement, comprehension,
reading fluency, and writing (Cunningham & Allington, 2007; Guthrie, Wigfield, Metsala, &
Cox, 2004). Finally, increasing the time spent reading independently has been shown to be an
effective way to reduce the gap between high and low achieving readers (Allington, 2012;
Krashen, 2004).


Voluntary reading is the type of reading that students do on their own outside of school or
classes assignments. Below are described four very basic strategies for promoting this.
• Help students fall in love with books. Reading is a pleasurable act. That’s why so
many people do it. Your prime directive as a teacher of reading should be to help your students
fall in love with reading. Once this occurs, much of your reading instruction takes care of itself.
• Make good books readily available. Students will read for pleasure if they have
something pleasurable to read. In your classroom, you’ll need to have an assortment of
interesting and enjoyable books. These books should be of varying levels (two to six reading
levels above and below grade level); both narrative and expository; and encompassing a wide
range of genre, types, and subjects.

© Andrew P. Johnson, Ph.D.

Voluntary Reading - 2

• Practice reading every day. Just as one practices a musical instrument or an athletic
skill; students need daily reading practice if they are to improve their reading skills. Students in
the primary grades generally need a minimum of 15 minutes of independent reading practice
each day (although more is always better). Students in the intermediate grades generally need a
minimum of 20 minutes of independent reading practice every day. Students in high school
generally need a minimum of 30 minutes of independent reading practice every day. These
times are merely suggestions to give you a sense of where to start. It may take time initially to
develop the reading stamina necessary to read this for long, especially if students haven’t had
experience with independent reading.
Reading practice should occur every day (Allington, 2012). It shouldn’t be bumped or
impinged upon by other activities or special events. Also, reading practice should be used just
for reading. It shouldn’t be used to catch up on other work, to test, to conference, to grade, to
study, to do homework, or to do anything other than read and enjoy books. Also, daily reading
practice should reflect the types of reading that adults do in the real world when we read for
pleasure. Thus, students should be able to choose the books they will read and they should be
able to read independently without the threat of comprehension worksheets, book reports, or
quizzes. There are other times and places to assess comprehension.
• Read to students. Having an ongoing book that you read out loud to your students is a
simple yet effective way to draw them into books. It also provides rich opportunities for
incidental learning related to events, concepts, and vocabulary. Even five to ten minutes a day
will expose your students to a variety of authors, characters, new vocabulary, genre, and
concepts. It can also be effective in helping students settle down so that they’re able to
concentrate after a recess or at the beginning of a reading class.

Other strategies are described my book, 10 Essential Instructional Elements For Students
With Reading Difficulties: A Brain-Friendly Approach, published by Corwin Press (2016).


Voluntary Reading 1: Amount


Voluntary Reading 2: Some Data


Voluntary Reading 3: Voluntary Reading and Achievement


Voluntary Reading 4: Ways to Promote


Allington, R. (2012). What really matters for struggling readers: Designing research-based
programs (3/e). New York: Longman.

© Andrew P. Johnson, Ph.D.

Voluntary Reading - 3

Cunningham, P. & Allington, R. (2007). Classrooms that work: They can all read and write
(3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Cunningham, A.E. & Stanovich, K.E. (2001). What reading does for the mind. Journal of Direct
Instruction,1, 137-149.
Guthrie, J.T., Wigfield, A., Metsala, J.L., and Cox, K.E. (2004). Motivational and cognitive
predictors of text comprehension and reading amount (pp 929-953). In B. Ruddel and N.
Unrau (Eds.) Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading (5th ed.) Newark, DE:
International Reading Association.
Krashen, S.D. (2004). The power of reading: Insights from the research (2nd ed.) Portsmouth,
NH: Heinemann.

© Andrew P. Johnson, Ph.D.