Independent Reading Journal Assignments


How can we help students to LOVE reading?


One approach is to implement a school-wide independent reading program.  But it is not as simple as it sounds.  Some schools have attempted this hastily and failed.  However, some have planned carefully and succeeded.  You will need to provide ample resources and support for teachers, students, and parents.  You will also need incentives and accountability measures.  Check out the SRT (Strategic Reading Time) Users' Manual (which is explained in more detail in my latest book, Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action) for a comprehensive program you might want to use with your school.  Make sure you also download the SRT Reading Tracker-Worksheets 1 and 2 and Intro to SRT PowerPoint, and SRT Expanded Reading Prompts and Sample Break-up Letters, as well.

Also, consider these questions: 

What do you already know about your students' reading habits and interests?

Here's a great reading interest survey adapted from Donalyn Miller's Book Whisperer, originally found at

What should students read for “Independent Reading”?  Where can we find good books?

  • Students should read books that are “just right”—i.e., books that they can read and understand without assistance.
  • Check out the Recommended Reading page for tips on where to find good books!
  • Check out  This article ("Get to Know Goodreads: Share this primer to the social reading site and help teachers and kids connect with great books" by Travis Jonker) explains how the Website works and how it can be useful to teachers and students (aged 13 and up) alike.
  • NPR conducted a poll of teens, and here are the "100 Best-Ever Teen Novels." (Thanks to Tricia Lindstedt at PCSST for this lead!)
  • For younger students, check out this fun list: "67 Books Every Geek Should Read to Their Kids Before Age 10" (Thanks to Allison Dent, one of my former students I am proud to say, for this lead!).
  • For boys, check out the Boy Book of the Month and Books for Boys, both curated by Jim Nicosia (Thanks to Gregg Festa, Sr., for this lead!).
  • Also, check out Popular Young Adult Books featured on Goodreads.
  • This one came recommended by a student: "Sofa Adventures: Reading Lists for Kids."  You don't have to buy a sofa, and the book recommendations come with blurbs. (Thanks, Susan and Mary Lowe!)
  • GoodReads is another great source of book ideas.  Here is a GoodReads recommended list for middle school students.
  • What Should I Read Next provides recommendations based on titles you enter.  Super-helpful! (Thanks to Shannon Marshall at Great Oaks CS for this lead!)
  • Success in the Middle: Books for Middle Schoolers provides links to a handful of helpful sites.

How can they tell if a book is “just right”?

  • See “5-Finger Rule Poster” in the Download Zone.
  • Teachers should also make students aware of their reading level early in the year and help them identify books based on that reading level; they should help students monitor their reading levels throughout the year.  See Guided Reading page for more information on how to assess and track student reading levels.  See Recommended Reading page, too.

How can we inspire students to fall in love with books?

How much should students read?  How should this amount be framed: Nightly?  Weekly?

  • Some schools advocate 15-20 minutes per night, some 1-2 hours per week.  PS--Giving students time to read during the day will inspire them to read more at home.  Whatever you decide, it should be a school-wide policy to ensure consistency.

Which teacher is responsible for keeping track of independent reading homework?

  • Specify role by grade—e.g., literacy teacher or homeroom teacher?

How will we integrate independent reading into the school day?

  • Yes/No?  Will you use DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) in the schedule?  Something else?  Different by grade?  Should literacy teachers allocate a set number of minutes per day/week during class?

How will we assess students’ independent reading?

  • Reading logs:Do you have a particular format you want people to use?  See various samples in the Download Zone.
  • Reading response questions: See “103 Things to Do Before, During, After Reading” by Jim Burke, “Reading Response Questions” by Nancy Patterson, and “Student Reading Response Journal Questions” by Leslie B. Preddy in the Download Zone.
  • Periodic 1-on-1 conferences
  • See Book Talk Project page.
  • Short speeches about the main characters, the conflict, why you like this book, or how this book compares to others you’ve read by the same author, in the same genre, or on the same topic.
  • Book letters/notes (between student/teacher or student/student in a notebook, like a correspondence journal).
  • Check out 180 Ways to Respond to Independent Reading (a FREE download).  Many thanks to Barbara Daniels for contributing this incredibly helpful set of ideas!!!

What should the reading log include?

  • Author, title, genre, pages read, minutes read, place for parent to sign=DEFINITELY
  • Space for students to summarize/reflect=MAYBE.  It depends on how else you will assess students’ reading.  For example, if you give a weekly independent reading quiz (in which students have to answer generic questions), then they don’t have to write something every night.  Or, you could have them write a summary after every 30 pages or once a week when they hand their logs in.

How should parents be involved in students’ independent reading?  How can we support parents in these efforts?

  • Provide a letter home to parents about this independent reading initiative.  Train them in how to fill out the reading log and their role in it.  Also, if possible, discuss reading during parent meetings and provide some modeling/training in how to talk to children about books.

  • Parents should sign the reading log. (What will you do if they don’t?)

  • Parents should read aloud to their children in kindergarten; children in other grades can read on their own.

  • Parents should be encouraged to read the same book as their children so they can talk about it.

  • Parents should ask generic questions about the reading.  See “Ways You Can Help Your Child With Reading at Home” by Katy Wischow in the Download Zone.

  • Here's a great Website with books (some free!) that kids can read along to:

What should we do about SUMMER READING?  Check out this blog post!

Here's a helpful blog with "Five Ways to Celebrate Summer Reading" by Alycia Zimmerman.  She makes reference to Scholastic's Recommended Summer Reading Lists for 8-10 year-olds and 10-12 year-olds.

Here's another helpful blog by Donalyn Miller, who wrote The Book Whisperer, which I also recommend!  The book explains how she enables her students to fall in love with reading and read 40 books a year.  Also, check out the Recommended Reading page on her Website, which she updates frequently.

Here's a link to the 2012 Top 10 Summer Reading Lists  for Kids and Teens (Books for Elementary, Middle, and HIgh School Students) assembled by Elizabeth Kennedy at

Here's a FREE SUMMER READING PACKET, perfect for use with middle and high school students!  See an updated version in the Download Zone.

Also, although this list was originally compiled for ELA curriculum writers, it also includes texts that would fit nicely in summer reading: Selected Texts for Grades 4-12 ELA, 5-11-15.

IN THE DOWNLOAD ZONE for Independent Reading:









19 Reading Response Questions For Self-Guided Response

by Terry Heick

Though I’ve been busy with TeachThought for the last four year, my original ‘trade’ was teaching English (literature, writing, digital media, etc.)

I was recently going through an old folder of reading reflection prompts and forms, and found a reading log that I called a “Self-Guided Reading Response Log” (whatever that means). It’s a few years old, but I remember using it first as a way for students to get “points” in a reading program we were doing at the time.

I thought it might be useful to share for the student-centered approach it takes, and its usefulness across content areas (depending on what you want them to analyze). It’s primarily about the craft of writing and elements of style, but 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and several others would work after reading almost anything.

And you are reading and writing in your non-ELA classroom, yes?

See also our TeachThought Curricula: 15 Reading Responses To Non-Fiction Texts

How I Used It

Anytime students read any text, they’d take this form and select a certain number of prompts to respond to. If they had trouble selecting the prompts that were most appropriate to their text, I’d assign them by simply circling the ones I wanted them to focus on, and handing the form back to them, but ideally they’d do this.

That was the point. I didn’t want to “school up” everything single thing they read, but I did want to help them understand the relationship between reading and writing–between craft and purpose. I wanted them to think, on their own, I read this, and I picked these questions to use to guide my writing.

By the January, they had it down and would just hand me their responses labeled accordingly. Mr. Heick, I left a reading response on your desk somewhere.  I used it that year with 8th graders, and it worked well once they got used to each prompt, what they meant, and what “exemplar” models of each looked like.

This was important–they needed to see what a “quality” response looked like. I modeled a few using think-alouds, shared a few of the better examples from students, etc. I was also sure to include some quality responses that weren’t necessarily from the wordsmiths in the classroom, and was sure to include those that used diagrams, concept maps, and drawings as well. Once these questions were demystified a bit, it was all downhill.

I’d score the response, as with all writing, out of 4 in half-point increments. I used a universal rubric to score–1 point each for textual evidence, clarity, creativity, and overall quality. Easy to grade, and easy to differentiate for all reading levels, text forms, etc.

Today, this would probably make more sense as a Google Form. No forms to make copies of, nothing to lose, simple to document, so if you’re feeling industrious, knock yourself out and let us know in the comments that you’ve done so so we can use it too. I included a slightly modified version of the questions below.

In summary, these reading response questions are universal, academic, standards-based, differentiation-friendly, and allow for some degree of student-choice.


1. Why did you decide to read this material?

2. Compare and contrastthis text or media with related text/media.

Be specific–what text or media, what are the similarities and dissimilarities, etc.

3. What did the author’s purpose seem to be?

What seemed to be the Author’s Purpose in creating this text? Why do you think they might’ve written it? What were they hoping this text would accomplish? Why do you think so?

4. What can you tell me about the theme?

What was the theme? What were some of the theme topics (love lost, overcoming adversity, civic responsibility, etc.)? What is the author’s overall message to their audience? Is there a sentence you can choose from the text that captures that? What supporting details allow you to make this inference?

5. What is the author’s position on any relevant theme or issue?

As a result of this reading, what can you infer is the author’s position on any relevant theme or issue? This will often be a social issue–poverty, love, war, courage, race, etc.

6. Who is the audience?

Who wants or needs to know this information? Does there seem to be a specific audience the author is trying to reach? Why do you think so? If not, what makes you think there is not a specific audience?

7. What is the overall tone of the work?

What does the author’s general attitude towards their audience? How do the language, content, imagery, and allusions combine to give the reading a “feel,” or tone? What details help you to understand this? What can you infer about the author’s position on important themes or issues because of that tone?

8. What point of view does the author write from?

What point of view was the book written from? What does the author seem to assume is true? Is the author biased in any way? Does the author seem to be aware of this bias? Might it be done on purpose to further the theme? Is it satirical? Ironic?

9. What are the most relevant supporting details?

What is the relationship between the author’s purpose, thesis or theme, and supporting details?

10. How is the book structured?

What structural elements did you notice in the book? How did these elements impact your understanding of the content? Were there any text features that were super helpful—or just plain annoying? What could they have done differently, and what effect would that change have had?

11. How would you describe the author’s writing style?

What elements of the author’s writing style did you notice? How do these elements impact your understanding or enjoyment of the text?

12. Does the author have credibility to write about this subject or topic?

Why or why not? Be specific.

13. What is the general mood of the text?

What is the author’s general attitude toward their topic? What details makes you think so? How would this text make most people ‘feel’? What is the relationship between the tone, mood, and purpose?

14. How is the plot, argument, or information organized?

Cause/effect? Chronological order? Compare/contrast? Question/answer? Lots of options here–be specific, and defend your answer.

15. What would you change?

Choose one important part of this reading that the author could’ve made a different choice—the structure, organization, purpose, audience, characterization, pacing, supporting details, mood, etc.—and then explain how they could’ve done it differently, and what effect it would’ve had on the reading.

16. Open

Create your own response. Be creative, playful, and fun. If it’s not any of the three, I’ll hand it back.


17. Index the characters

List the full name of all characters you’d consider important (be prepared why you included someone or left them out). For each character, include one line from the text characterizing them; also, label each character as major/minor, flat/round, and static/dynamic character.

18. Could you connect with any of the characters?

Could you see yourself in this character at all, in any major or minor way? How did this affect your reading?

19. What were the (significant) characters motivated by?

What were the significant characters motivated by? What was the protagonist motivated most by? How did this affect their experience in the story? Was their source of motivation something that you could relate to?

19 Reading Response Questions For Self-Guided Response; image flickr user thomasguinard; 19 Reading Response Questions That Work With Most Texts

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