Sheltered Popular Literature

To develop life-long reading habits, the only true necessity is plenty of time and access to good books.  However, children benefit greatly from reading role models, adult and peer engagement, and even direct instruction in how to select books.

Sheltered Popular Literature is an approach to promoting Free Voluntary Reading.  It was envisioned and first described by Stephen Krashen, but it remains largely unused in language classrooms.  Unlike more intensive reading approaches, Sheltered Popular Literature supports but does not stifle autonomous reading; students are given choice in books and limited accountability.  Books are not limited to “classics,” as the goal is to introduce children to high-interest books to help them discover what they love to read and feel comfortable navigating the library.


Elements of Sheltered Popular Literature

While supported with some direct whole-group instruction (around 15 minutes), most time is spent reading in small groups and one-on-one conferencing.  This is often called a reader’s workshop approach.

Whole-Group Instruction

Presentation of Literature

Krashen encourages presenting books thematically around a bigger issue or topic (2003).  Krashen suggests “discussion of the values expressed in the reading as well as the insights they provide on the culture…will (hopefully) help students discover one or more kinds of light reading they would like to do on their own” (1997, 14).

For example, Donalyn Miller presents books from a genre of the week: introducing books and talking about features of that genre.  My ESL students enjoyed discovering authors from their home countries.  Focus the discussion around any themes, genres, authors, or topics that interest students.

Read Alouds

Read aloud to students to make books more comprehensible and enjoyable (Krashen 2015; Trelease).  Read alouds can be enhanced with discussion after the reading (Fisher, 2004).  At first, students may need to read aloud one group-assigned book (perhaps offer limited choices or use a student book suggestion).  Later, simply read an exciting excerpt to build interest.  Put the book down and it (and the whole series) will go flying from the shelves.

Book Commercials

Also called book talks, book commercials “advertise” a book that children can later choose to pick up.  The book commercials typically last only 5 minutes or less, and can be done by teachers, or later by an enthusiastic volunteer student.

Small Group/ Individual Instruction

Literary Circles

Student leaders select a book, then generate excitement by gathering their friends and sharing the book and voluntary discussion.  When students choose the books, generate the questions, and lead discussions, they feed off each other’s excitement for books.

Readers Conferences

According to Penny Kittle, the primary means of assessing reading habits is by sitting alongside children and conferencing with them (73).  This low-accountability, authentic assessment opens up an encouraging dialogue for new readers.

Readers Notebooks & Story Retell Notebooks

As an alternative to book reports, ask students to respond to text in Reader’s Notebooks.  There are many alternatives, and giving students choices is the key to buy-in.  Personalized notebooks help students develop an identity as a reader.


Allington, R. & Gallagher, K. (2009).  Readicide : how schools are killing reading and what you can do about it.  Stenhouse Publishers: Portland, ME.

Miller, D., & Anderson, J. (2011). The book whisperer: awakening the inner reader in every child. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

Fisher, D., Flood, J., Lapp, D., & Frey, N. (2004). Interactive readalouds: Is there a common set of implementation practices? The Reading Teacher, 58, 8-17

Kittle, Penny. (2013). Book love : developing depth, stamina, and passion in adolescent readers. Portsmouth, NH :Heinemann.

Krashen, S. (1997).  Free Voluntary Reading: It Works for First Language, Second Language and Foreign Language Acquisition. MEXTESOL Journal, 20(3), Winter Issue,  11-17.

Krashen, S. (2003). Free Voluntary Reading: Still a Very Good Idea. Explorations in Language Acquistion and Use. 15-29. Retrieved from:
Krashen, S. D. (2004). The power of reading: insights from the research. Westport, CT:  Libraries Unlimited.

 Krashen, S. (July 2015). Reading Aloud: What To Do and What Not to Do. Language Magazine.  Retrieved from:

Trelease, J. (2013). The read-aloud handbook. New York: Penguin Books.


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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