SSR Tips to Save Your Sanity

Ever wonder how to complete a Book Talk with a student when you haven’t actually read the book? Today’s video is all about how I run Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) and manage Book Talks:

SSR handouts and forms:

Listen & Learn podcast-based lesson:

Billions in Change documentary:

Billions in Change lesson materials:

Have questions about SSR or Book Talks that I didn’t address in the video? Leave ‘em below and I’ll try to answer everyone’s questions in a follow-up video. Teach on, everyone!

26 thoughts on “SSR Tips to Save Your Sanity

  1. Kelly Webber says:

    Hi Laura,
    Thank you-thank you-thank you! I have been using your SSR plan over the past couple of years, and I always have a guilty feeling when I would give a book talk over something I had not read. You’ve taken away my teacher guilt. You’re so right; English teachers can’t keep up with all the books kids want to read.

  2. For sure, Kelly, this is a guilt-free zone. Even the best-read English teachers couldn’t possibly keep up with every title our kids bring in. Glad this was a useful topic! 🙂

  3. L. Marie Black says:

    I love you! You are funny, bright, inspiring, AND generous with your knowledge. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Until next time, have fun with your kids!!!!

  4. Kendall Childs says:

    Hi Laura,

    I have used SSR for many years. I have worked at several schools that included SSR time in the daily schedule for the whole school. I currently do SSR with my students for 15 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday. They can take Reading Counts quizzes during that time and work on their reading logs. I really like how you do book talks with your students and I think I will give them time during SSR. School has begun and we are off to the races. How is your sister doing after her knee surgery? I hope she is doing well.

  5. Thanks for remembering her, Kendall! It’s been a couple of weeks now and she’s already up and taking charge of life again. She’s a trooper, for sure, and has healed much faster than I would’ve imagined. Such a relief! 🙂

  6. My book talks were successful last year, but it did get complicated when we did a whole class novel. My reluctant readers didn’t handle doing both the in-class book and their independent novel. How do you handle it?

  7. Good question, Leah. No perfect solution for this, but I do encourage those kids who need it to take notes and use them on their Book Talk time. I’m also more likely to suggest audiobook support for those kids. In recent years, I’ve moved away from using a lot novels and full plays because I needed to make more room in the schedule for writing instruction and our spring 20Time project. Instead, I usually have just one major literary unit per semester, a move that would be helpful for kids who struggle with the SSR situation you described. Hope this helps!

  8. Laura- I am using your SSR for the first time this year with my 10th and 11th graders. I read somewhere that you require juniors to do 500 pages (even if non-honors). Is that across the board or do you sometimes allow the struggling readers to do fewer pages? Also, in the “carry-over” for next quarter, does this simply mean that a student only has to read what’s left for that quarter and is able to read a shorter book at that time?

  9. Hi Rachel,
    Glad you checked in with me! For struggling readers, I will alter the page scale depending on an individual student’s IEP. I usually work that out with the student and his/her case manager at the beginning of the year. As for the carry-over, yes, a student with a nearly full book page “bank account” could Book Talk a shorter book in the following quarter and still reach the maximum score. Once the full page count for the entire year has been reached, he doesn’t need to Book Talk with me anymore (even if that’s done long before the deadline), but he does always need to have a book with him to read on our SSR Fridays in order to earn the 10 weekly reading points. Hope this helps clarify things! 🙂

  10. Darby Hart says:

    Laura, I am absolutely LOVING reading Fridays with my students. You have helped keep me sane. I am able to grade papers, prepare lessons for the following week, and overall feel relief at the end of the week instead of being overwhelmed. THANK YOU so much for all the lessons and videos you have shared. It really has revived my energy as a teacher. (I’ve been doing this for – GASP – 26 years.)

    If a student daydreams during reading, I’m curious how much you might deduct of the 10 points for that day’s reading. I have my own idea, but I wonder your thoughts and rationale for deducting points.

    Thanks again.

  11. Oh, Darby, I’m so glad to hear the SSR routine is giving you some breathing room at the end of the week. Very necessary! For a daydreaming kid, I’m usually pretty gracious if it’s only a once-in-a-while thing. I, too, sometimes stop to think about something I’ve just read or a passage will trigger a memory and I’m sure I have that same faraway look on my face in that moment. When I notice a daydreamer, I might walk past her desk and tap on her tabletop to refocus her or I might silently catch the kid’s eye and make a motion toward her book; that’s usually all it takes to get the kid back on track and I don’t take away a point for that momentary loss of focus. If, though, I have a kid who is pretending to read but really just staring out the window, that’s a different issue. That kid may need a more interesting book, may need audiobook support, or may just need to go get a quick drink of water. For me, it’s less about deducting points and more about figuring out what that kid needs in that moment to get back on track. I usually deduct points for things like falling asleep, trying to sneak a phone, pretending to read while working on homework for another class, or making noise/being goofy with friends. As always, use your best judgment and treat kids the way you’d want your own kids (or maybe even grandkids, eh?) to be treated. Hope this helps. TGIF!

  12. I tried SSR last Friday for the first time with some very rowdy 9th graders, and it was surprisingly silent. They all seemed to enjoy the peace and tranquility, especially me! I read with them, and although I have nearly 175 students in the day, I only needed 7 re-directions because a few got sleepy. I was wondering… since you give 10 points for bringing their book and being engaged, what do you do if a student is absent on an SSR day? How do they make up points?

  13. Behold the power of SSR! 🙂 Seriously, though, I’m so glad to hear this is working for you, Kelly. Make-ups for absent students are super-easy. I just require that students read on their own at home for 45 minutes and bring me a signed note from a parent/guardian stating that they did so. When I receive the note (school policy says it has to be within five days of the excused absence), I change the 0/10 to a 10/10 in the grade book. Simple.

  14. Lynne Cowherd says:

    It’s deadline week for Book Talks. Crazy busy and fun. Every quarter, I have kids who try to give book talks on books they have not finished or skipped around on or etc, etc. Do you give partial credit? This is always so awkward for both of us. How do you handle this situation?

  15. I hear you, Lynne. This is an every end-of-quarter issue in my classroom, too. In those cases, I write “unconvinced” on my book page tally for the student and return the book to the kid, explaining that he/she can try again tomorrow (the day after the deadline) but that those pages will belong to the next quarter’s tally. There’s absolutely no reason for a student to wait to report until the deadline day and I tell my classes this over and over (and over!) again throughout the nine-week term. However, kids are kids and some will procrastinate. If those folks wait until the absolute final deadline and fail to convince me that they actually read the book, then they have failed the assignment for that term and they can try again in the next quarter. When I input those grades, I enter their failing mark as a 50/100 instead of a 0/100 because a zero will just annihilate their grade. The 50 percent stings, but it’s not a critical wound. Often, this is what it takes for a student to learn an important lesson about taking responsibility to keep on top of deadlines and they do a much better job with their reporting earlier in the next grading period. It hurts, but it’s how some of them learn. Hope this helps!

  16. Tracy Moore says:

    You mention that if you are unconvinced that a student has read the book, that you give the student a 50/100. However, what if they do not even attempt a book talk? Do you still give a 50/100 or is a 0/100 justified?

  17. Hi Tracy,
    Great question! When I’m unconvinced that a student has actually read the book she’s trying to report with a Book Talk, I always give her a “0” on the page count tally and write “unconvinced” next to that page count on her record. She’s encouraged to try again the next day (or the next week, as deadline time allows) to give it another go. Once the end-of-quarter SSR Book Talk deadline arrives, I go through my book page count tally record and figure students’ grades from there. If a student hasn’t recorded enough pages to earn a D- or higher on my grading scale but has attempted Book Talks and/or has any pages at all recorded, I enter a 50/100 in the grade book because that’s still an “F” and a true zero makes it nearly impossible to salvage the student’s overall grade, even if she’s performed reasonably well in other areas of our work together.

    In the case you’ve mentioned where the student has just completely ghosted the Book Talk assignment (these cases are rare, but they do happen), I’d say a 0/100 is justified. My experience is that student is usually already failing my class by such a significant margin that a 0 or a 50 doesn’t really make a difference. Since I don’t have a lot of these cases (most kids are able to find books they want to read and see SSR as a way to buoy their overall grade), it’s easy for me to find those individuals on my prep period to figure out what’s going on. Depending on the circumstances, I have in the past given some kids a weekend extension. Sometimes, a kid is close to finishing a book, but doesn’t get the book done by the deadline for any number of valid reasons but figures all hope is lost. Shh…don’t tell the rest of my class, but I have given that kid two extra days and told her to report to me before school on Monday morning. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.

    As in all of these issues, it’s really up to you to determine what’s right for your kids and classroom community. Hope my perspective helps.

  18. Hi Laura,

    Sorry in advance for the upcoming mountain of questions – I just want to understand what you do so I can adjust how I run my SSR program as I see fit.

    1a. How do you deal with books that are different sizes? That is, some books have different line spacing, font size, book size (size of the book itself), etc. – do you change the page count at all based on those factors?
    1b. Do you subtract points, too, for chapters that end halfway through the page (like those pages at the ends of every chapter)?
    1c. Have you had problems with people having the same book, but with different page counts (because they’re different editions of the same book)? If so, how have you dealt with this in the past?

    2. For books that have turned into movies, why do you make them worth 150 pages regardless of the book’s length? Have you perhaps had students complain that this is unfair? Do you have problems with students feeling limited by this (if they want to read books like Lord of the Rings)?

    3. Have you had problems in classes where there are more students with the last names A-H than students with last names Q-Z (or something like that)? If so, what did you do? Do you actually split students up into A-H, I-P, and Q-Z or do you just divide each class’ roster into 3 equal(-ish) groups?

    4. Do you have SSR deadlines due on the last 3 Fridays of the quarter (on weeks 7, 8, and 9) or on the last 3 school days of the quarter (Wed, Thurs, Fri). If you’ve approached it both ways, which do you feel was better and why?

    Thank you! 😀

  19. Hi Kelsi,
    More questions, eh? Let’s do this!
    1a. Kids choose their own books and I don’t change page counts based on these factors.
    1b. No.
    1c. No. If it came up, I guess I’d default to the edition with the larger page count, but this hasn’t ever been an issue.
    2. I want kids to expand their literary diet to include works that aren’t films. I haven’t had any complaints about the rule.
    3. I just divide the roster into three equal groups. The chunks vary each year.
    4. Usually, the deadline falls on the last three days leading up the end of the marking period. That works fine.

    You’re welcome,

  20. Hi Laura,

    I’m starting my first SSR this coming quarter. I’m very excited, especially since the grading should be painless.

    I have a few questions.

    1. Do you have a resource you use when helping students choose books that fit their literary/movie tastes? I’ve heard of a book title generator that might be helpful. Do you have some ideas?
    2. I feel dense, but I don’t understand the ditching a book directions. Would you mind helping me understand?

    Thanks for sharing!


  21. Happy to help, Sarah! Obviously, school librarians are a great resource and I also regularly send students to the generator profiled here:
    As for ditching a book, students are allowed to do that only after they’ve given the book a fair chance and read at least 25 pages. Once they get to page 26, they can decide they don’t like the book and “abandon” it with me by book-talking those first 25 pages. Once a kid reads up to page 50, though, that kid is stuck with the book until it’s finished. Basically, the window to abandon a book is between pages 25-50; other than that, kids can’t report/book talk on a book until they’ve finished reading it. Hope this helps. You – of course! – should feel free to adjust this policy in whatever way makes sense for you and your kids. This is just how I run the show. Thanks! 🙂

  22. I’ve been doing your rendition of SSR for year and LOVE IT!!! You mention audiobooks a few times in the comments. Can you give a list of resources for audiobooks? I know about Audible ($$), but our district’s audiobook resources are licensed for SpEd only, and other affordable/library resources are super limited in selection and quality… Have you found any that tick all the necessary boxes?? Thank you!! ❤️

  23. Thanks, Krista, for checking in with me. Yes, Audible and other paid apps have tons of options, but access comes at a cost that puts it out of reach for most classroom teachers. My approach has been a patchwork solution. Here are some things I’ve used:

    • Ask your school librarian to purchase audiobooks for popular titles and, as you mentioned, the special education department usually has quite a collection they aren’t actively using, too. If those folks have older CD packs (common, in my experience), those can easily be transferred into mp3 files and loaded onto students’ devices. Check to make sure their licensing agreements allow this, of course.

    • Ask parents to make donations, either for their own kid’s SSR book choice or gifting a copy to you to check out to students.

    • Use my own Amazon Prime account to access the “free” options that come along with membership. (Choices are so-so.)

    • Use your public library as a resource and encourage students to get their own public library cards or ask your local library to visit the class as a guest speaker to show students what’s available. Library outreach folks love to do this sort of thing! Free apps they provide, including Libby (some places call it Overdrive) and Hoopla, have a surprisingly high # of audiobooks available and, hopefully, your students who want this accommodation can find something to catch their eye/ear.

    • LibriVox is a website that hosts audio versions of TONS of public domain works. The works are old (that’s what comes along with being in the public domain content) and the actors are all volunteers, but I have found some nice readings to use as supplements with my classes, primarily in core texts we’re studying together.

    • A lot of voice actors post readings of books/short stories on YouTube. Not sure of the legality of some of those performances (if the YT channel doesn’t have the publisher’s permission, it could be a copyright concern), so use with caution and the understanding they might disappear if a complaint is filed.

    Hope this is a helpful starting spot. Over time, you should be able to build your collection. Each year, I felt like I added more and more to my menu of options. Also, now that I’ve typed all this, I’m going to post it as it’s own blog post so more folks will see it. Thanks for the inspiration! ❤️

  24. Titi Awosanya says:

    Hi, I am trying to get my 6yo get better with his reading and interested in reading. Is there a way SSR will help him? Thanks

  25. Hi Titi,
    Thanks so much for checking in with me. SSR is more useful as a classroom routine and I’ve used it only with secondary students. For your 6-year-old child, a better approach is for you to read aloud to/with him daily. Also, it’s important for your child to see all of the adults in the house regularly sitting down to enjoy books. You are your child’s role model; if the adults are enjoying books, then the child will also see the value in reading. This practice should continue in your household forever! Reading and discussing books is a wonderful way to connect to your friends and family. 🙂

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