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-directed reading is to create authentic opportunities 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 use strategies and technologies to 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 students to observe and provide support that some students will require to 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 difficult 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 every student has access to books?
For emergent readers:
  • provide students independent access to books
  • offer students the opportunity to read books with an adult for pleasure and enjoyment
  • if you are doing shared reading during this time, remember to use student’s AAC devices if they have one and use the CAR (Comment, Ask, Respond) strategy












From Self-­Directed Reading
by Koppenhaver & Erickson



Providing access to books

Please 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)