Free Voluntary Reading: Troubleshooting

Free Voluntary Reading is simple: students pick any book and read for fun with no tests or comprehension questions.

FVR can take many forms.  Some more involved ways to encourage FVR might be a field trip to the public library (Ramos) or a summer reading initiative (Allington).  However, teachers and students just starting to develop reading habits should try just ten minutes a day of Sustained Silent Reading, then build from there.  Troubleshoot problems by asking children for feedback and thinking about what is engaging from their perspective.

Things go wrong when:

  1.  The books are too hard.

Free Voluntary Reading is for independent readers who can decode simple text. Prior to Free Voluntary Reading, shared stories are an important first step before we hand children a book to read on their own.   

“Sustained silent reading is not for beginners. Beginners need other kinds of comprehensible text. It also will not help advanced readers who have already established a reading habit,” says Stephen Krashen (2011, 31). If you struggle to find high-interest, low-Lexile texts, Beniko Mason shares a list of easy book suggestions for the earliest readers.

    2.  The books are boring. 

Forget children’s classics; choose high-interest books, comics, and graded readers.  Your students are the real experts on which books are high-interest, so be sure to ask them what type of books they like.  Routinely encourage children to put down any book they think is too hard or boring.

3.  They hate to read. 

Only if we hold them accountable for reading will they reject reading.  Free Voluntary Reading requires minimal accountability so “incentives, positive or negative, are not used” (Mason). Do not use tests, comprehension questions, or teacher-created discussion prompts.  If discussion time, reading logs, or any other response-to-text makes your children feel like they are tested, abandon it (Krashen, 2011a, 85).

4.  They aren’t sure what to do.

Explain, model (by reading yourself), and practice the expectations. Monitor chatting children and explain that they are ruining the reading experience for everyone when they talk.  For excessive page-turning, take away magazines (re-introduce them later with more mature readers). Be matter-of-fact and ask children to “give the page a chance” or remind them they can choose another book.

5.  They are just pretending to read.

Rarely, a few children choose to obstinately sit there.  As long are they are quiet, just let them be bored for a while.  As soon as they think you aren’t bothered by them not reading (if they think you are not holding them accountable), children will read.


Allington, R.; McGill-Franzen, A.; Camilli, G.; Williams, L.; Graff, J.; Zeig, J.; Zmach, C.; Nowak, R. (2009) “Ameliorating summer reading setback among economically disadvantaged elementary students.”

Krashen, S.  (2011a). Free voluntary reading. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Krashen, S. (2011b)  Non-Engagement in Sustained Silent Reading: How extensive is it? What can it teach us? Colorado Reading Council Journal, vol 22: 5-10

Mason, B., & Krashen, S. (1997). Can extensive reading help unmotivated students of EFL improve? I.T.L. Review of Applied Linguistics, 117-118, 79–84.

Ramos, F. and Krashen, S. (1998) The Impact of One Trip to the Public Library: Making Books Available May Be the Best Incentive for Reading. The Reading Teacher, vol. 51, no. 7: 614-615



Published by

Claire Walter

I am an ESL teacher and I promote differentiated, compassionate instruction and assessment for English Language Learners.

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