Kids Who Read Succeed
by Linda Cornwell


Kids need to read a lot.

Time spent reading is important. Kids should read extensively both in and out of school to polish their basic reading skills and develop fluency. During the school day, students need large chunks of time to read extended texts for a variety of purposes: for information, for pleasure, and for exploration. The key to becoming a proficient reader is practice, practice, and more practice.

Kids need access to engaging classroom and school library media center collections.

Kids need to be exposed to a variety of genres and authors, as well as to materials they find relevant and engaging. In addition to an extensive school library media center collection, students need access to engaging books and other reading materials in their classrooms. Classroom libraries should have approximately 8-15 books per student, with new titles added regularly to sustain student interest in reading.

Kids need choice in selecting books appropriate to their independent reading levels.

To practice their reading skills, kids need to spend the majority of their daily reading time with engaging books they can read with accuracy and success; thus, kids need to read materials of their own choosing every day.

Kids need to be read aloud to every day.

Kids need to hear fluent readers read. By reading aloud, teachers and parents model fluent reading, broaden reading interests by exposing kids to genres and authors they might not discover on their own, and encourage positive attitudes toward reading.

Kids need positive reading role models.

Kids need to know that adults value reading and read for a variety of purposes themselves. They need teachers who demonstrate their enthusiasm for reading and who make reading for pleasure, as well as for information, a priority in the classroom.

Kids need to engage in a variety of reading activities every day.

Not all kids enter the reading process through the same "door." Some enter the reading process through writing. Others enter by listening to fluent readers read. Students need a variety of invitations to join the reading club, and teachers need to provide a variety of activities throughout the school day to engage them in reading.

Kids need to talk with others about what they are reading.

Learning is a social event. Interacting with their peers around their reading experiences enhances the learning for kids and increases their motivation to read.

Kids need quality teachers and high-quality instruction.

According to recent studies, neither the parent's level of education nor the family's socioeconomic status are as important as the quality of the teacher and the teacher's instruction in predicting student achievement.


Allington, R. (2001). What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-based Programs. New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers.

In schools with high reading achievement:

  • students have access to an extensive selection of quality, engaging, high interest books and other reading materials both in their classrooms and in the school library media center.
  • the school climate conveys the message that learning to read and the love of reading are top priorities.
  • students are provided with large blocks of time throughout the school day to read for a variety of purposes: for information, for personal enjoyment, and for exploration.
  • reading is integrated into the curriculum, and students have many opportunities to read books other than their textbooks during the school day.
  • teachers use a variety of strategies, including reading motivation programs, to engage students with books and reading; while skills are considered to be important and are taught using multiple strategies, they are not, however, the sole focus of what the teachers are trying to accomplish.
  • teachers value a love of reading and broad reading experiences for their students in addition to reading achievement.
  • teachers and administrators act as reading role models for their students, openly demonstrating the strategies they want students to know and be able to do.


North Central Regional Education Laboratory (2000). A Study of the Differences Between Higher and Lower Performing Schools in Indiana. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana Department of Education.

Voluntary, independent reading serves to:

  • polish basic skills,
  • develop fluency,
  • promote the integration of reading skills,
  • build vocabulary,
  • improve reading comprehension,
  • support writing development,
  • increase knowledge of spelling and grammar,
  • expand background knowledge,
  • foster positive reading attitudes, and
  • develop self-confidence as a reader.


Guthrie, John T. & Alvermann, Donna E. Engaged Reading: Processes, Practices, and Policy Implications. New York: Teachers College Press, 1999.

Krashen, Stephen. The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1993.


  • The volume of independent, silent reading students do in school is significantly related to gains in reading achievement.
    Cunningham, A., & Stanovich, K. (1996). "What Reading Does for the Mind." American Educator, 22: 8-15.
  • Increased frequency, amount, and diversity of reading activity increases reading achievement.
    Guthrie, J.T., Van Meter, P., McCann, A. Wigfield, A., Bennett, I., Poundstone, C., Rice, M., Faibisch, F., Hunt, B., & Mitchell, A. (1996). "Changes in Motivations and Strategies during Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction." Reading Research Quarterly, 31: 306-322.
  • Increased time for reading consistently produces greater gains in achievement in lower- achieving students.
    Keisling, H. (1978). "Productivity of Instructional Time by Mode of Instruction for Students of Varying Levels of Reading Skill. Reading Research Quarterly, 13: 554-582.
  • Increasing the amount of silent reading volume is the most obvious strategy for improving reading achievement.
    Leinhardt, G., Zigmond, N., & Cooley, W. (1981). "Reading Instruction and Its Effects. American Educational Research Journal, 18(3): 343-361.
  • "Reading a lot" is one of the most powerful methods of increasing fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and becoming educated about the world.
    Stanovich, K. (1993). "Does Reading Make You Smarter? Literacy and the Development of Verbal Intelligence." In Reese, H. (Ed.) Advances in Child Development and Behavior, Vol. 25. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • The best strategy for developing comprehension is for teachers to require students to read a significant amount of age-appropriate materials.
    Honig, B. (1996). Teaching Our Children to Read: the Role of Skills in a Comprehensive Reading Program. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
  • Independent reading is a major source of reading fluency.
    Allington, R. (2001). What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-based Programs. New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers.
  • Providing time for independent reading in schools has a positive impact on reading comprehension, vocabulary development, spelling, written style, oral/aural language, and control of grammar.
    Krashen, S., (1993). The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
  • Students who read actively and frequently improve their comprehension of text as a consequence.
    Cipielewski, J., & Stanovich, K. (1992). "Predicting Growth in Reading Ability from Children's Exposure to Print." Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 54: 74-89.
  • Independent reading is a major source of vocabulary growth.
    Nagy, W., & Anderson, R. (1984). "How Many Words are There in Printed School English?" Reading Research Quarterly, 19: 304-330.
  • Because time spent reading is tied to reading and writing competence, many students who do not read in their free time often eventually lose academic ground even if they are not initially remedial readers.
    Mullis, I., Campbell, J. & Farstrup, A. (1993). NAEP1992: Reading Report Card for the Nation and the States. Williams, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
  • The highest achievers in 5th grade classrooms are likely to read over 200 times as many minutes per day (21 minutes) as the lowest achievers.
    Anderson, R., Wilson, P., & Fielding, L. (1988). "Growth in Reading and How Children Spend Their Time Outside of School." Reading Research Quarterly, 23: 285-303.
  • Students who participate in independent reading in school are more likely to read outside of school.
    Pilgreen, J. & Krashen, S. (1993). "Sustained Silent Reading with English as a Second Language High School Students: Impact on Reading Comprehension, Reading Frequency, and Reading Enjoyment." School Library Media Quarterly, 22: 21-23.
  • The frequency with which students read in and out of school depends upon the priority the classroom teacher gives to independent reading.
    Anderson, R., Fielding, L., & Wilson, P. (1986). The Contexts of School-Based Literacy.
  • The love of reading is one of forty necessary developmental assets-building blocks for human development-that help young people to succeed in life.
    Benson, P.L., Galbraith, M.A., & Espeland, P. (1998). What Kids Need to Succeed. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.


Percentile Rank on Standardized Reading Test Minutes of Independent Reading Outside of School Per Day Estimated Exposure to the Number of Words Per Year
98 90.7 4,733,000
90 40.4 2,357,000
70 21.7 1,168,000
50 12.9 601,000
20 3.1 134,000
10 1.6 51,000


Anderson, R., Wilson, P., and Fielding, L. (1988). "Growth in Reading and How Children Spend Their Time Outside of School." Reading Research Quarterly, Vol. 23: pg. 285-303.


  • Kids who read voluntarily and widely practice their reading skills, and practice is essential if kids are to become capable readers.
  • Kids who read voluntarily and widely are better readers, better writers, better spellers, and better critical thinkers than kids who are not avid readers.
  • Kids who read widely increase their motivation to read and have more positive attitudes toward reading. Only if kids find pleasure in reading will they spend lots of time reading.
  • Kids who read widely acquire a rich vocabulary and are more sophisticated users of language.
  • Kids who read widely expand their knowledge about the world. Increased background knowledge enhances learning and contributes to higher academic achievement.
  • Reading widely teaches kids about life, providing them with a sense of perspective and introducing them to a world of possibilities and opportunities.
  • Reading widely allows kids to slip into the lives of others, thereby gaining insights into other people and developing their sense of compassion.
  • Reading develops the imagination and nurtures creativity.
  • Reading helps kids deepen their knowledge of themselves, their beliefs, their values, and their dreams.
  • Reading entertains, providing endless hours of lasting pleasure for the reader.

Successful independent reading programs require:

  • teachers who value independent reading.
  • books, books, and more books representing a variety of reading levels, topics, genres, and authors.
  • large amounts of uninterrupted time during the school day to read for a variety of purposes, including pleasure.
  • free choice on the part of students in selecting their reading materials.
  • positive adult role models for students.
  • daily read alouds.
  • opportunities for students to engage in varied and interesting activities related to reading.
  • informal and formal opportunities for students to talk to adults and their peers about their reading.
  • varied opportunities for students to respond to books.

Reading aloud serves to:

  • model fluent reading,
  • help students develop a sense of story and text structure,
  • expand vocabulary,
  • increase comprehension,
  • promote active listening,
  • introduce students to a variety of genres and authors and broadens reading interests,
  • foster positive reading attitudes,
  • promote independent reading,
  • improve student writing, and
  • create a community of readers.


Chambers, A. The Reading Environment: How Adults Help Children Enjoy Books. New York: Stenhouse Publishers, 1996.

Worthy, J., Broaddus, K. and Ivey, G. Pathways to Independence: Reading, Writing, and Learning in Grades 3-8. New York: Guildford Press, 2001.



  • Does the school climate convey the message that reading for pleasure and reading for information are highly valued?
  • Does the staff feel responsible not only for teaching students to read but also for helping students find joy in reading?
  • Do students see reading as a source of lifelong pleasure?
  • Do teachers and other staff members work with parents and students to implement programs that promote reading for enjoyment?
  • Do teachers and staff plan special events around books and reading such as author visits, read-ins, book clubs, etc.?
Access to Books
  • Does every classroom have a circulating classroom library of 300 600 books, both paperback and hardback, for independent reading?
  • Are students encouraged to purchase books through book clubs or a school-run paperback bookstore?
  • Does every student have a public library card, and are students encouraged to use the public library?
  • Does the school library media center have a large collection of appealing, high interest, relevant reading materials that students enjoy reading for pleasure as well as for information?
  • Does the school library media center purchase the equivalent of two hardback books per year per student?
  • Are students allowed flexible access to the school library media center throughout the school day?
  • Does the school library media center's circulation policy allow each student to check out an unlimited number of reading materials per visit?
  • Does the school library media center provide classroom collections for the purpose of independent reading?
  • Do classroom and school library media center displays call attention to particular books?
  • Do all students have time to read books of their own choosing every day?
  • Is every student read to for a minimum of fifteen minutes, every day by at least one teacher?
  • Do students have the opportunity to read for a variety of purposes throughout the school day?
  • Do students respond to books in a variety of ways (art, drama, and writing)?
  • Do students have frequent opportunities to discuss their books and reading with an interested adult or peers?
  • Do teachers and staff provide opportunities for contacts with authors and illustrators to kindle interest and enthusiasm for reading?
  • Do students read both fiction and nonfiction?
  • Is there a school wide sustained silent reading policy in place?
Role Models
  • Do teachers and other staff members demonstrate their enthusiasm for books and reading by sharing new books and personal favorites with students?
  • Do students see teachers and staff members reading for a variety of purposes, including reading for pleasure?
  • Do teachers and staff members introduce students to a wide variety of genres and authors through reading aloud and booktalking?
  • Do teachers routinely recommend books or other print materials to students and staff to read?
  • Are teachers knowledgeable about children's literature, both new and contemporary books as well as old favorites? Professional Development
  • Do teachers attend professional meetings that feature programs on children's and young adult literature?
  • Are in-service programs on children's literature, reading strategies, and reading motivation made available on a regular basis?
  • Are professional review journals on children's and young adult literature made available to teachers and other staff members?
  • Do teachers and other staff members have the opportunity to review new books and other reading materials on a regular basis?
Adapted from Huck, C., Hepler, S., Hickman, J. & Kiefer, B. (2001). Children's Literature in the Elementary Classroom, 7th ed. New York: McGraw Hill.

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