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Matching Books to Readers and Booklists

Independent Reading

Children make great contributions to their own learning when they are given some control and ownership of the reading process. Independent Reading is a time when students self-select and read appropriate books on their own. Independent Reading provides an opportunity to apply strategies that are introduced and taught during teacher read alouds, shared reading, and guided reading. When materials are "just right" and students can read independently, they become confident, motivated and enthusiastic about their ability to read. Independent reading plays a vital role in children’s continued development as readers, and engaging in a text they are able to read by themselves, without support, is an essential component of their reading lives.  

Matching Books to Readers

This process begins with support from teachers and parents in guiding the child to select a "just right" book, i.e. material that is at their independent reading level.  Gradually, this process of self selection places the responsibility for choosing books in the hands of the student. This teaches them that they have the ability to choose their own reading materials and that reading independently is a valuable and important activity.  At third grade and above, if a child is reading a “just right book”, he or she should be able to complete a book within one week or less, assuming he or she is reading at least 30 minutes each night in addition to daily reading at school. 

Research demonstrates that a “just right book” is defined as a book the child is able to:

  • Read aloud fluently with expression.
  • Read with 96% accuracy.
  • Follow the plot closely.
  • Answer literal comprehension questions.
  • Make inferences about characters, relationships, and themes across a text.
  • Summarize what has occurred in the text.  
  • Respond thoughtfully and thoroughly.

Remarkably, while reading instruction has evolved and shifted over the last few decades, the standard for determining a child’s independent reading level has not.  At a glance, it may appear that the book a child is reading is too easy, but in fact, the child is involved in very important reading work.  When children read at their "just right" level their reading should appear effortless.  This allows children to incorporate new vocabulary and continue to build background knowledge without simultaneously wrestling with text that is too complex.  As children move into upper grades, they will rely heavily on vocabulary and background knowledge to engage in thoughtful, higher-order literacy.  Children must be encouraged to select a variety of literary forms. It is at the independent level that comprehension, vocabulary extension and fluency are improved.

In order to determine a child’s reading level or band, teachers use a variety of assessment sources.  Some include Columbia University Teachers College Leveled Reading Assessments, student-teacher conversations, and written responses to reading when age appropriate. 

Remember, there are many factors that determine a child’s success with a book including:

  • Previous experience
  • Background knowledge
  • Interest in the topic
  • Distraction during reading
  • Energy level

Book Band Characteristic Lists as well as Leveled Reading Lists are linked.  Within the lists there is a break down of the text features for each reading level or level band: character, lesson/theme, setting, plot, as well as an outlining of tricky parts embedded in each band that students wrestle with when they read. This is intended to offer teachers, students, and parents insight into the kind of thinking a child engages in to fully comprehend the texts at each reading level or band.

It is important for teachers to assess the skills and strategies a child uses as he or she reads to determine whether or not a child is ready to move on to the next level of “just right” texts.   Specific skills and strategies are monitored and taught within each level or band.  Teachers College notes, "When a child does demonstrate mastery of and consistency with the skills and strategies within a level, the child is most likely ready to move on to the next level. The child may need support as she moves to a new level of difficulty, and one of the best ways to offer support is to provide a book introduction."

Important Book List Links:

Book Series and Collections Levels A-T

Book Level Characteristics Bands and Book Lists K-Z 

Leveled Reading Lists A-M revised