Sustained Silent Reading in Language Class

Raingutter bookshelves in my classroom

Do your students do any kind of free reading or sustained silent reading (SSR) in your world language classroom?  

In my classes my students spend 5-10 minutes (depending on their level and amount they enjoy the activity) twice per week reading books and magazines of their choice.  I do not tell them what to read, I only insist that it be in Spanish. I do not quiz them or assess them in any way. I simply require them to have reading material open in front of them during the reading period.

Most students actually enjoy this! Give it a try!

What about accountability?

We need to stop trying to hold everyone accountable for everything. (This could be a whole blog in itself!) Have a little faith that there exists printed material in the target language that is interesting enough to hold a teenager’s attention for at least 5 minutes. I like to point out to my students that this should be the easiest and most relaxing/enjoyable part of their day at school. Most would agree.

Sometimes I switch it up and instead of SSR we do book sharing. Students select a partner and they look at books together. They really like this and believe it or not, they stay on task pretty well.

On a related note, stop worrying about making kids read books appropriate for their lexile score or reading level. Stop putting color-coded stickers on books and telling the level 1 kids they should only read the books with the yellow sticker. I tell kids to look for books that interest them. I tell kids to grab a whole armful of books so they can cast one aside if it is not interesting to them. I tell them that if they love Twilight in English and they want to look at Twilight in Spanish to go right ahead even if it is three inches thick and they are in week three of level 1!

How to get books

How do you get the reading materials?  I started out with a grant from the NEA of $2000.  Each year I add a few more items to my library.  I purchased many of my books through Scholastic’s Club Leo.  I also purchased many from Mary Sosnowski since I see her at just about every conference I attend during the year!

I also purchase magazines whenever I am in a Spanish-speaking area or country, and my friends sometimes save magazines for me.

Another idea would be to print out interesting online content and place it in several binders or if you have technology available, open up a few cool target-language websites and allow students to browse if they choose.

How to store reading materials

Raingutter bookshelves are cheap, durable, and easy to install (get your principal’s permission first!).  I was able to use that wasted wall space under my whiteboard by having a gutter installed there. The books also really add color and style to my classroom!

You can also prop books up on the chalk/marker tray of your chalkboard or whiteboard!

I observed a really innovative Denver teacher who took advantage of the school’s recent purchase of several laptops.  She used the boxes the laptops came in as mini individual libraries. Each student simply grabs a box on his way into class and has several books to choose from!

I’ll bet YOU can think of some clever ways to integrate more reading into your classroom, too! Let me know how it goes for you!

What better use for the chalk tray of that old blackboard?
A Denver Mandarin teacher created mini individual libraries using laptop boxes!
I use the space under my whiteboard to store more books!


  1. Hi Kristy! I am definitely intrigued by this idea but am also extremely hesitant. I have a couple questions if you don’t mind as I try to wrap my brain around this idea?

    1) I teach at a school where a majority of my stuents are college bound, which sounds great but they are only motivated to do things that go in the gradebook. How do you get “buy in” for an activity like this?

    2) I have Spanish 1 and 2 students, so even if they don’t understand everything that is there, I should still expect them to sit and read through the books? How do I start this activity? Do I tell them to look for things they already know? New things to look for? Or to just sit back and enjoy reading for a while?


    1. I talk with my students about how important reading is for their language development and how colleges will make them take a placement test. I also chat informally with my students to see if they are reading a “comfortable book” and what they are getting from it comprehension-wise.
      I’d maybe wait a semester or so for Spanish 1 to start this. Then, gear them toward the super easy novels! It is also ok if they don’t understand 100% as long as it is pretty close and they feel comfortable. Many teachers also offer class stories typed up as an option!

  2. Love some of your ideas here, though I’m guilty of having my classroom library leveled for simple book reports that my students do. Love the idea of SSR time though, where the color-coding goes out the window and students can take a peak at whatever they like.

  3. Thank you for the hints! I have permission for rain gutter bookshelves but am not quite sure how many to use and where to put them. I am thinking of one underneath my bulletin boards like you have done with your old chalkboard. Thanks for sharing that idea! About how many books do you display at once in your classroom?

    1. I keep most of them out all the time, but I keep some in baskets right on the student tables and rotate those. I also rotate the seasonal/holiday books in and out.

  4. I teach 8th grade ELA. I run a program called Reading All Year (RAY). It is a hybrid of what Donalyn Miller and Nancie Atwell have created. My kids choose all of their books. I encourage them to explore various genres, which they willingly do. Like Claudia, I require writing about the books, but students have complete autonomy in what they write and about which books they write. I teach them reflection — a combination of summary and personal connection. They love this and do it without being asked.

    Incidentally, the only thing I would recommend, and I believe Stephen Krashen bears me out on this, is that you do some SSR every day. There is always 5-10 minutes, no matter what the unit is.

    Thanks for a valuable and thought-provoking post.

    1. Hi Mark!
      I’d like to do more SSR. I don’t really have an “excuse” for not doing it every day other than on the days when we read something more lengthy as a class I also want time to do activities to help develop their other language skills so I tend to not do SSR on those days. I am hoping to expand my collection of magazines next year as the students really love them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. Kristy,
    My students love SSR in French 1 and 2, and I let them read whatever they choose. One issue that I have, though, is that the majority of my students will always choose a magazine. With this I know there is a lot of looking at pictures, but also trying to read captions and figure out vocabulary in relation to the picture. Once in awhile I will choose a day where they have to choose a book and the magazines are not available. I hate to force them to read a book instead since that goes against the whole idea, but on the other hand, I’d like them to give books a chance!

    In my French 3/4 class, it’s different because they are now required to be reading a novel of their choice during reading time and then once in awhile I’ll tell them it’s a magazine day.

    1. This past year I began rotating my book selection, too. Having all books available at all times was getting dull by the end of the year. SSR in my Spanish classes is 5-10 mins in Spanish I, 10-15 mins. in Sp II, and 15-20 mins. in Sp III (each class reads longer 2nd semester). We also read twice per week. I also remove magazines and newspapers from time to time. Of course, I totally LOVE having this time to read, too!

  6. I teach a high school elective, Reading for Pleasure, which is essentially SSR for a semester. I DO hold the kids accountable by asking them to write three days a week…I teach them the reader response method of writing about books…I also require books for the class. Kids set goals for the class, and most want to become faster readers, so books works best. Many of them want to improve their ACT scores, and we have discovered that SSR for increasingly longer time (we’ll eventually read the entire 55 minute period) DOES increase students’ stamina when they test…but we read for pleasure and respond to each other as interested audiences. This class changes minds and lives.

    1. Wow, that is great, Claudia! I would love to know more about the structure of that class. I am also a certified media specialist but I teach Spanish full-time. I would totally support a class like that in my school!

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