The Case for SSR: Why My Students Read Choice Books Daily

Why do I begin every class period with ten minutes of SSR (silent sustained reading)? Here’s my top five reasons:

5. Soothing Start

Let’s face it, being in school can make for a really hectic day. Students are required to physically and mentally jump from class to class for hours while being asked to remember and apply information and complete work promptly. English class is absolutely no exception to this; we have a lot to cover: reading, writing, grammar, speaking, listening, critical thinking… the list could really go on! Starting class with SSR helps us squeeze in a little bit of reading while also slowing everyone down in their busy day.

During SSR, students can sit anywhere they choose, so long as they are reading. My comfy seating is often used during this time, but some students like to sit on the floor or just move by a friend. By the time my timer goes off, indicating the end of SSR, there is a relaxing atmosphere in the room. It’s easy to transition into our lesson after that calming ten minutes.

4. Quick Connections

A few times a week during SSR, I like to walk around the room with a clipboard and write down the titles of the books each student is reading. I ask what page they are on, what’s happening in the book, and if they are enjoying their book. As a teacher, the opportunity to connect with every student within the first ten minutes of class is invaluable. I also love to stay updated on what students are reading so I can recommend books to other students.

3. Modeling

Any of my students will tell you, I’m wild about reading. I don’t need too much arm twisting to sit down and read at any point during the day, so I ADORE that I can read with my students during SSR. It is important that students see adults modeling healthy learning habits. When I sit down and read my book in front of everyone, I get to be that positive model. It’s a lot easier to convince students to read when they see I enjoy it myself.

2. Community Building

English class is a wonderful place to start building communities around literacy.  We talk about books frequently in my classroom and students know I take these conversations seriously. I like to ask students if they would recommend the book they are reading to anyone else or just if

anyone is in a really good spot on their book. When I get a new book for my library, I like to “introduce” the book to the class and ask if anyone has read a book by the writer in the past. Getting students talking about books is one way to sustain a culture of literacy because students participate meaningfully in these conversations.

I have also had some success in tracking reading as a class and setting reading goals. My eighth graders this year were especially prolific in their reading; they read 120 books as a group by the end of trimester one!

1. Student Choice

Throughout the school day, there may not be a multitude of opportunities for students to choose what they study. Integrating plenty of student choice is a difficult task, but letting students choose their own SSR books is one way I can do this every single day.

I was fortunate to attend the NCTE conference last year in St. Louis. It was an incredible three days of English teacher paradise and I came back to Iowa with resources, ideas, and inspiration galore; however, the greatest take away by far, was the repeated case for teachers to let students choose books and give them time to read at school. Taking this teaching advise has been the most game-changing decision I have made in my classroom and has brought a lasting sense of community to my class. It all reminds me that sharing in the joy of reading is the privilege and purpose of my work!


Want to read more about the importance of teen reading? Check out my post about promoting reading at school.

Literary Theory for Youth, About Youth

As an English major in college, I learned about literary theory and it not only became my favorite way to analyze a novel, but my go-to for analyzing any text or art I encountered. As a reader, it was rewarding to think deeply about how a work perpetuated societal expectations of women, represented race, or glorified specific social classes. However reading with lenses remains an ambitious skill to teach because it is different from reading comprehension: it is teaching critical thinking. Asking students to read with a critical lens requires them to first, deconstruct and extrapolate stereotypes that exist around groups of people, second, identify if and when those stereotypes occur in the literary work, and lastly, decide if the text supports or challenges those stereotypes. For many reasons, I see this type of critical thinking as the most important skill I teach. Of course, I acknowledge that comprehension is the foundation of all reading activity, but to stop discussion of a text at comprehension and character analysis denies students the opportunity to explore and evaluate the relationship between the text and their world.

The reality of having a passionate belief in teaching critical thinking is that I spend a ton of time reading, wondering, and talking about how to do it well. I knew before I went into a teaching program that figuring this out would be a personal mission of mine and my investigations of this were mostly theoretical. It wasn’t until a course I took on reading and teaching Young Adult Literature that the lightbulb turned on about how I would actually put it into practice in a classroom. In their article, “The Youth Lens: Analyzing Adolescence/ts in Literary Texts,” Lewis, Petrone, and Sarigianides (2014) describe the teaching of a Youth Lens, which readers use to examine the stereotypes of young people. These researchers argue that a “universal” experience of youth does not exist, meaning all people have been young, but their experiences and selves during that time are not cut from one adolescent pattern. Their article asks readers to scrutinize representations of youth in texts (Lewis, Petrone, Sarigianides, 2014). There it is, I realized; I could start my students’ critical thinking about texts by examining how they are represented in the text. It works because the experience of being young is shared among all students in the classroom.

Two years after learning about the Youth Lens, I was fortunate enough to student teach in a classroom with a teacher who wa and still is on the front lines of putting this theory into practice in her classroom. I was amazed to hear what seventh grade students had to say about representations of youth in The Outsiders during my student teaching experience and I was eager to bring the Youth Lens to my own classroom.

So, here I am, at my first year anniversary of my first English teaching job and I am teaching Youth Lens to eighth grade students. I get so excited about teaching Youth Lens because I see the empowerment at work in my students as they speak up about how they are more complex and less predictable than they are portrayed in the media.

I begin our study by asking students to make a list of character traits that describe themselves. A few days later, I ask students to compile a list of words the describe junior high students in general. We move from individual to small group lists to a whole class list. These lists are usually made up of words that are predominantly negative.

Student-created list of words that describe junior high students.

I remind students of the list of words they made about themselves, which is usually more positive, or at least, more varied in either direction, than the list describing junior high students. I ask them, “How are these lists so different? How do you see yourselves so differently than the way you see the group you belong to?” This is how we begin discussing stereotypes: centered around the idea that teens are stereotyped. While reading The Giver, I ask students to annotate the text when they see a stereotype about teens reinforced OR broken. As a final project, I ask students to write a short essay answering the question: Does The Giver support or challenge stereotypes about young people? 

What I love about this unit is that it truly challenges all students to think and use the text to support their thinking in writing. My students are currently working on writing their essays and I am ecstatic to read what they have to say.

Thanks for reading! I would LOVE to hear what you’re doing to teach critical lenses at any level, so please share! Stay critical, my friends!