Strategies for Teaching Students to Self-Select Reading Materials

Instructor: Frank Clint

Frank has been an educator for over 10 years. He has a doctorate degree in education with a concentration in curriculum and instruction.

Classrooms are busy places, and there are times when students need to pick their reading materials independently. This lesson will help you find a strategy that works well to help students self-select reading materials.

Teaching Students to Self-Select Reading Materials

What do kids do when you're not sitting next to them? What if they don't have the tools they need to choose the best reading materials when they visit the school library? If you use small-group instruction, literacy centers, or workstations, you aren't always sitting next to each one of your students.

Self-selecting reading strategies help students to choose the right books, especially when the teacher is not next to them.

This is why teaching students to self-select reading materials — that is, to pick out the most appropriate books for their reading levels — is a very important skill to teach. Students who read easy books may practice fluency. They will not, however, improve their reading skills or build vocabulary. Think about the following three strategies and which strategy, or if a variation of all three, would work well for your classroom.

''Goldilocks'' Strategy

The ''Goldilocks'' strategy is a good strategy for early and emergent readers who are just learning to read. You want students to choose the most appropriate book in a straightforward way. The strategy uses three categories modeled after the story Goldilocks and the Three Bears in which Goldilocks was looking for just the right fit among various items. For reading, the categories are: Too Hard, Just Right, and Too Easy. Students answer yes or no to several questions in each category. Answering ''yes'' to the questions in a category means the book likely fits there. This strategy should be modeled to help students understand it well before sending them off to apply it on their own.

Too Easy

  • Is this a book you have read before and more than once?
  • Is this a book you understand very well?
  • Do you know most or all of the words?
  • Can you read it easily?

Just Right

  • Is this a new book to you?
  • Is this a book you mostly understand?
  • Do you see a few words you don't understand?
  • Can you read the book easily in some parts but not so easily in others?

Too Hard

  • Do you have trouble reading because there are five or more words you don't know?
  • Do you feel confused about what is happening in the book?
  • When you read, does it sound like you are having a hard time reading the words?
  • Is the teacher or librarian unable to help you now?

Five Finger

The five-finger strategy is another good strategy for early and emergent readers. The gist of this strategy is for a student to read the first 100 words of a book and hold up one finger for each word not understood. If five or more fingers are held up, the book is too hard for the student to read. Consider the following steps:

  • A student should pick a book she thinks she will like.
  • She should start reading the second page.
  • Each time the student comes across a word that she does not know, the student should hold up a finger.
  • If the student does not know five or more words, the book is too difficult.

Some students may still believe the book is not too difficult. When this happens, you can encourage them to use the five-finger rule on two more pages of the book to see if the rule holds up.


While the ''Goldilocks'' and five-finger strategies work well for early and emergent readers, they are not so appropriate for older students who read informational texts, chapter books, and novels. I PICK is an excellent strategy for older students. When students use this strategy, they learn to think about the reason they are reading the book, what they know about the topic, their reading level and how that compares to the book, and how difficult or easy the vocabulary will be for them based on their knowledge.

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