Literacy Instruction for
Students with Significant Disabilities

“Self-selected reading is important for children with disabilities because it builds fluency and a love for reading. During this time, teachers do not require children to read and respond, but rather set up environments where children want to read and respond.”
Karen Erickson and David Koppenhaver


What is independent or self-selected reading?

Self Selected Reading is a time for students to explore and read books independently at their own level. The goal of self-selected reading is to create an authentic opportunity for students to see themselves as competent and engaged readers.

Self-selected reading includes:
  • teacher read-alouds
    • The teacher reads aloud to the students from a wide variety of literature, text forms, and technologies.
    • Don’t always have to read the whole book!
  • mini-lessons
    • The teacher assists students in learning how to find books of interest and demonstrates strategies and technologies so that students can read and share more independently.
  • students reading ‘on their own levels’ from a variety of books
    • Books in the classroom library may include books related to curriculum being studied, wordless picture books, predictable books, comics, student- or teacher-authored books, and books available online.
  • teacher conferencing with students
    • While the students read, the teacher conferences with individual students to observe and provide support so that students can grow in their independent reading.
  • opportunities for students to share what they are reading with their peers
    • Some students may have communication and learning differences that make the talking about text challenging and require extra support to do so.


Which students would benefit from self-selected reading?

  • All students can benefit from self-selected reading!

How can students benefit from self-selected reading?

Self-selected reading can:
  • provide students with a daily opportunity to practice new skills and understandings across tasks, texts, and environments
  • build reading fluency
  • increase receptive language by listening to books read out loud
  • develop reading comprehension through one-to-one conferences
  • expand expressive language by sharing what was read
  • help students develop the skills to select reading materials that they find interesting
  • provide opportunities for students to share and respond to what they are reading
  • provide exposure to a wide range of texts and text types
  • build confidence in students as readers
  • create an enjoyment for reading.

How can we support self-selected reading?

Guidelines to consider:
  • Are you doing teacher read alouds as well as having DEAR (drop everything and read) time?
  • Do you have a “reader’s chair” time for students to share about a book they have read each week?
  • Do you have a spot in the writing block for students to do book reviews?
  • Have you picked age respectful early books for older readers?
  • Are you using different technologies e.g. printed books, eBooks?
  • Have you ensured that all students have access to books?
For conventional readers:
  • Aim for silent reading once students are reading at a grade 1 level (or earlier if a student has complex communication needs).
  • Talk about “inner voice” and model it!
  • Provide a range of texts for working on silent reading

And remember – the goal is always silent reading WITH COMPREHENSION


Inner voice is required to hold words in working memory long enough to process text at the sentence level and beyond.

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) users have reported that they are aware of and able to use an inner voice. There is, however, some evidence that in the absence of intervention, inner voice does not develop until later childhood. Making AAC users aware of their inner voice and teaching them to use it in reading, particularly in beginning reading, is important to successful
silent reading with comprehension.”

Karen Erickson, 2003












Self-­‐Directed Reading
Koppenhaver & Erickson



Providing access to books

See Access to Books

Resources for self-selected reading:

Book Flix
Book Flix is available at no cost through the Online Reference Center at Learn Alberta for Alberta schools. Use this resource to access interactive fiction and non-fiction books organized according to the following themes: Animals and Nature, Earth and Sky, People and Places; ABC’s and 1,2, 3’s, Family and Community, Music and Rhyme, Adventure, Celebrations, and Imagination.


calendar animalscovercalender_0Calendars to Books
Calendars make great books for creating books for or with students with disabilities. They capture student interest and provide high quality graphics without using up expensive colored ink! The mini-photos on the backs of many calendars also make great and quick communication displays.
Calendars to Books Tip – Musselwhite



Tar Heel Reader
Tar Heel Reader is a collection of free, easy-to-read, and accessible books on a wide range of topics. Each book can be speech enabled and accessed using multiple interfaces, including touch screens, the IntelliKeys with custom overlays, and 1 to 3 switches. By registering with Tar Heel Reader, students (and teachers) can also write their own books to add to the collection.



TrueFlix is available at no cost through the Online Reference Center at Learn Alberta for Alberta schools. Use this resource to access videos and interactive non-fiction books organized according to the following categories: Earth Science, Ecosystems, Experiments, Extreme Nature, Human Body, Space, Ancient Civilizations, Continents and Disasters. Related Grolier Online articles, project ideas, quizzes and web links are provided.

Where can I learn more about self-selected reading?

Putting the Pieces Together: Engaging All Students in Self-Selected Reading
This presentation explores the self-selected reading block within the four blocks of literacy using input gathered from the initial webinar and ideas supported in the book, Children with Disabilities: Reading and Writing the Four-Blocks’ Way, by Karen Erickson and David Koppenhaver.


Student and Teacher Created Books
This presentation highlights ten authentic writing tasks that could be used as a stepping off point for a student or teacher-created book using Clicker 6 or Tar Heel Reader. Information about Tar Heel Reader and the steps for using it to create a book are included.



Self-selected Reading
Alberta teachers demonstrate how they organize their classroom libraries and provide meaningful and accessible self-selected reading experiences for all students in their classrooms. (Length: 11 minutes 29 seconds)

Learning Guide: Self-selected Reading PDF