Part 3 of 6 – Balanced Literacy

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”
~ Maya Angelou, poet

This is the 3rd post in a series of 6 titled: Balanced Literacy

Balanced Literacy consists of the following: Guided Reading, Reading Aloud (modeled/shared reading), Self Selected Reading, Word Work, Modeled/Shared Writing, and Guided/Independent Writing. All of these involve every aspect of literacy such as reading, speaking, writing, and communicating. Please remember that all of these work together like a balanced diet. When you have read aloud to your child and follow the steps for guided reading, it is easier for them to read independently during self-selected reading, because you have role modeled reading during the read aloud and provided skills and strategies during Guided Reading. Each piece fits together like a puzzle completing a complete picture. If one part is skipped, the picture will be incomplete. Thus, be sure to incorporate all 6 parts of balanced literacy.

Letting your child select their own books motivates them to read and instills a love of literacy. They are empowered.

reading quote/ self selected reading

Have you ever started a book and not completed it because it wasn’t compelling? Have you ever had to read an assigned book that made you fall asleep? Neither scenario causes a love of literacy. In fact, they are a turn off. When we let our children select their own books, they will be motivated to read them.

The American Association of School Librarians defines Independent or Self-Selected reading as, “the reading students choose to do on their own. It reflects the reader’s personal choice of the material to be read as well as the time and place to read it. Independent reading is done for information or for pleasure.”

The following 7 rudimentary steps will get you and your children started with self-selected reading.

  1. Help your child determine their Independent Reading Level.

    There are 3 levels of reading: independent, instructional, frustration. Independent is usually ½ to a full grade level below the instructional level. The instructional level is reserved for Guided Reading. Staying in the independent level for self-selected reading promotes fluency and the love of reading, because the child is successful on their own. I always say, “Lots of easy reading makes reading fun and easy.” When there is no formal assessment available to know the independent level. Use the 5 finger rule.

    The 5 finger rule is simple: Have your child read a page for longer books or a whole book for short, picture books. Each time your child gets stuck on a word, put up one finger. If they have all 5 fingers (well, 4 fingers & the thumb) up by the end of the page or book, then the book is too challenging for them. Select a lower level and do the 5 finger test again until your child can successfully navigate a book independently without 5 errors per page or book. This indicates a “just right” book or a book that is at their independent reading level. This simple rule helps your child with self selected reading.

Independent reading will look different depending upon the age of the child. For emerging readers, they will look at pictures and tell the story using pictures. Thus, remember that independent reading will look different depending on age and developmental stages.

2.  Give your child a place and time to read independently for at least 15 minutes every day.

self selected reading

Comfy reading nooks encourage reading. Photo Credit:

If you have the space, create a cozy book nook. It can be as simple as a sheet tied up in a corner creating a little fort. Children like to go to “secret” places. Help create one with tubs of books, magazines, newspapers, and other reading material. Self selected reading allows the child to choose their own space, place, and time as well as what they will read.

“If you are going to get anywhere in life you have to read a lot of books.” ~Roald Dahl

  1. Let Children Select Their Own Books

This is a time children choose their own books. They are smart enough to make their own book selections and will be more motivated to read what they choose for themselves. Let them select the genre: poetry, biography, autobiography, history, science, fiction, non-fiction, etc.

I know that I am highly motivated to read my new magazines when they come in the mail. I’m not so motivated to read a medical journal that is assigned reading. The same principle applies to our children.

Pam Allyn, a literacy advocate and the author of several books on reading for educators and parents, states that kids embrace reading when they can make a choice.

“You become a lifelong reader when you’re able to make choices about the books you read, and when you love the books you read,” she said. “You tend to get better at something you love to do.”

She also argued that when children choose their own books, they’re more likely to work through them, even if they’re a challenge, and that educators should have faith in their students to find good reading material.” ( If we stop telling kids what to read, they might start reading again

  1. Take your children to the library often so they have a large variety of books to choose from. Set up opportunities so that your children have a wide variety of books and reading materials to choose from.  This is a key component to self selected reading.

  1. Let them have a Kindle or another e-book device and subscribe to free e-book sites which allows them to select books of their choice.

    I taught my children how to discern if a book was good for them or not. By teaching them to focus on language that is good, true, pure, and lovely, (The rule in our home.), they learned to be independent, confident, and self regulating which are all life skills. I remember a time when one of my sons was about 10 years old. He was reading a book he selected from the library which was too fat for me to pre-read to check out its appropriateness. Well, a few days later, he brought the book to me informing me that it had a “dark” theme and too many curse words. It was a proud mom moment. 🙂 I wouldn’t have had the chance to be proud if I hadn’t taught book discernment and allowed for self selection. So be sure to build confidence in your children by allowing them to select their own books.

  1. Let your children choose their own books. (I know I already stated this. It is so important that I’m listing it again.) 🙂

    Choosing their own books motivates them to read, because they choose topics they like. Don’t make them read a list of books that is assigned reading. (Save that list for Guided Reading.)

  1. Let your children select their own reading materials.

    They don’t have to stick to books. Let them read magazines, recipes, newspapers, comics, directions to games, brochures, or anything in print. As an adult, I read mountains of information every day, but rarely do I read a complete book. This doesn’t make me a poor reader or someone who doesn’t love to read. It only makes me someone who doesn’t love to read complete books. I enjoy articles, magazines, blog posts, and non-fiction material. If someone told me that I could only read novels or the classics, quite frankly, I’d probably hate to read. Once again, this principle is true with our children.

In Summary, let your children choose for themselves what they will read, and you will see them reading more often. Their reading will soar. 🙂

“‘What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?'”
~ Lewis Carroll, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

self selected reading

Photo Credit:

Let’s make a positive difference~ one word at a time.


Please share this article with others that you think would benefit from these tips. Also, please ask any questions that you may have about teaching children reading or writing. Leave your questions in the comments. I’ll answer. 🙂

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