Author: Evan Robb

Ten Ways to Increase Reading Stamina

Ten Surefire Tips for Maximizing Reading Stamina

by Laura Robb


I have just invited eighth grade students to select books and find comfortable places to read them. During the first ten minutes, Adam does everything in his power to avoid my request. He goes to the bathroom, gets water from the fountain in the hall twice, sharpens a pencil, considers three books, chooses none, and instead, hastily leafs through a magazine. Clearly, Adam has a lot of energy. He also has the ability to concentrate while playing sports and talking to friends. But invite Adam to read, and he becomes exhausted after ten minutes, often complaining that his eyes and head hurt. These are all common symptoms of students who lack the stamina to read for extended periods of time.

Reading stamina is having the energy and the concentration to focus on reading for at least thirty continuous minutes a day. For students who lack stamina, reading is a frustrating and unpleasant experience, so they tend to read as little as possible. However, today, reading is a life skill needed for college and career success, as well as for the joy that a personal reading life brings. The good news is that you can help students boost their reading stamina at school and at home by using the ten tips that follow.

Have students start small. Have them gradually build stamina by reading self-selected books in five-minute intervals–then ten minutes, and so on, until thy reach one hour. Remind students that developing reading stamina is like training to run a mile in less than eight minutes. Both require regular practice to increase energy and concentration.

The Ten Surefire Tips for Maximizing Reading Stamina

  1. Value Independent Reading. At school, this means setting aside twenty minutes at least three times a week for students to read self-selected books. Teach students how to choose books that they can read with ease by showing them the two- finger method. Students read a page in a text. If they encounter more than two words they can’t pronounce or whose meaning they can’t figure out from context, they save the book for another time and choose a different one. Teaching students to choose books that are accessible and enjoyable will also motivate them to read at home.
  2. Use Classroom and School Libraries. Students of all ages need access to books. Seventh-grader, Lucas, put it this way, “ Having a classroom library means I can find a book when I need one right away.” Continually work on enlarging your classroom library: Shoot for 1,000 to 2,000 books at a variety of levels, on a range of topics, and in multiple genres.

Schedule a weekly school library visit for your students—and be sure to accompany them so you and your librarian can suggest great reads. If your classroom library is still a work-in-progress, encourage students to check out several books whenever they visit the school library and store them in their class cubbies or lockers, so they have enough to read until their next library visit.

  1. Read Self-Selected Books. Educators such as Donalyn Miller, Richard Allington, and Steve Krashen agree that choosing their own books is the key for students to become motivated to read at home and in school.
  2. Diminish Distractions. Reading is social. There will be times that a student wants to share something he or she just read which is terrific because it shows engagement with the text. But it can also be distracting to classmates. So encourage students to use a soft voice while sharing with a classmate. Keep the door to your room closed to diminish noise from the hallway. The fewer distractions, the easier it will be for students to concentrate.
  3. Create Comfortable Reading Spaces. Think about the places at home where you read. Most likely it’s in a comfortable chair, on an oversized pillow, or in bed. Visit a carpet store and ask the owner to donate small remnants that students can sit on while reading. Carpet remnants are easy to store; they can be stacked in a corner or closet. Avoid requiring students to read for pleasure sitting at their desks. Instead, invite them to find a comfortable space in the classroom. Some will sit under desks or lean against the wall. If you have a limited number of beanbag chairs and large pillows, create a rotation system so students take turns reading on them.
  4. Advertise Great Reads. Students respect and value suggestions from peers. So set up systems that foster sharing book suggestions. Here are three:
  • Teach students to book talk and have them present a talk each month. The benefit of consistent book talking is huge! Over ten months, a class of twenty five students will hear about 250 books from peers.
  • Set up a graffiti wall by posting a large piece of construction paper on a bulletin board. After completing a book that they enjoyed, have students write the title and author on the graffiti wall and one sentence explaining why they enjoyed the book so much. Then, a few times a week give students several minutes to browse the graffiti wall to discover peer-recommended books.
  • Teach students to give a 60 second elevator talk about a book they enjoyed reading. Their goal is to convince peers to read it. When a student’s desire to present an elevator talk strikes, schedule it during that class or as soon as possible.
  1. 7. Set Monthly Goals. Share with students the research findings by Donalyn Miller and Steve Krashen–that reading 40 books a year independently can ramp up their reading achievement by enlarging their vocabularies and expanding their knowledge base. Negotiate monthly reading goals with students to help them meet the 40-book challenge. Books of 500 or more pages should count as two to three books. Students who can read books of that length presumably have stamina, and you want to encourage them to continue reading long and complex texts.
  2. Take Brain Breaks. A seventh grade class lobbied their teacher for “brain breaks”– time to chat and stretch after they had been reading deeply for thirty minutes. Brain breaks offer students a few minutes of down time to relax, re-energize, and yes, gain stamina. Tell students that when they plan to read at home for an hour or more, they should take a break, walk around, have a snack, and then return to reading.
  3. Hold Small-Group Discussions. Organize into small groups students who have completed different books that are in the same genre. Students discuss such things as literary elements in fiction or text features and structures in informational materials. As such, they not only expose their peers to a range of reading materials within a genre, but they also tend to become better at clarifying their thoughts and become more reflective when they share their thinking.
  4. Have Students Self-Evaluate. Four times throughout the year ask students to review their reading logs and reflect on the number of books they completed, favorites books, books they reread, and the amount of reading they completed at home. Then, ask students to use their self-evaluations to set reasonable independent reading goals which might include: extend reading time at home by fifteen minutes, read longer books, try a different genre, add a book to the graffiti wall, or read other books by a favorite author.

You can also give students a checklist to measure their reading stamina as part of their self-evaluation.

My Reading Stamina Cheklist


Checklist for Evaluating Reading Stamina: check items that apply to your reading.

____I quickly found a comfortable space to read.

____I concentrated on my reading and met my goal of _____minutes.

____I read for_____minutes beyond my goal.

____I can read and concentrated for all of silent reading time.

____I read without jumping up, getting a drink, or moving around the room.

____If I was distracted, I worked hard to avoid distracting others.

____I recognized I was distracted and was able to return to my reading on my own.

____I have a reading stamina goal and use it to increase the amount of time I read deeply at school and at home. [end checklist]

Final Thoughts

Showing students how to self-select “just right’ books is a giant step toward improving students’ reading stamina. Choice creates engagement and engagement nurtures students’ desire to read. As they improve their stamina, commend students. Celebrate small but consistent improvement as well as big improvement. Keep in mind that all students will not improve their reading stamina at the same rate. In fact, some students might need more than one school year to be able to read for long periods of time. That’s okay. Coordinate your efforts with other teachers, celebrate progress, and give students the gift of time.


Three Types of Reading




In grades four, and five many teachers have a large block of time for reading and can organize instruction into three or at the most four guided reading groups. Once students enter middle school, many teachers have 45 to 60 minutes to teach reading, therefore, meeting frequently with guided reading groups becomes a challenge or it is impossible.

Whether your curriculum is based on guided reading, reading workshop, or a more traditional model, three teaching and learning practices should be an integral part of instruction: Instructional Interactive Read Aloud, Instructional Reading, and Independent Reading.  As a principal I always refer to the “three” types of reading to my English staff. I encourage you do use these ideas and do the same.


Reading can be taught, and having the teacher model in a think aloud how he/she applies a reading strategy and/or enlarges students’ mental model of how a strategy works. For this aspect of instruction, I suggest that the teacher models with a short text that matches the genre and/or theme that ties a reading unit together. Short texts can include a picture book, an excerpt from a longer text, a folk or fairy tale, myth or legend, a short, short story, or an article from a magazine or newsletter.

Once you’ve modeled how to apply a strategy such as making inferences, add the interactive component. The goal is to involve students as soon as possible for two reasons:

  1. You can observe students’ thinking process. You can also identify students who don’t respond and confer with them to explore their reasons for not participating. Once you know why active involvement is minimal, you can help them gain the confidence to participate by helping them prepare to answer a question.
  2. You’ll involve students in the lesson and make it interactive instead of passive. Involving students in the lesson can lead to engagement and an investment in the learning.

Here are some skills and strategies that you can model in interactive read aloud lessons:

  • Making inferences
  • Identifying big ideas and themes
  • Identifying central ideas and themes
  • Locating important details
  • Skimming to find details
  • Author’s purposes
  • Purposes of informational texts (nonfiction) and literature (fiction)
  • Literary Elements and how each supports comprehension: setting, protagonist, antagonists, plot, conflicts, other characters, climax, denouement
  • Informational text structures and how these support comprehension: description, compare/contrast, cause/effect, problem/solutions, sequence, question/answer
  • Word choice as a guide to pinpointing mood or tone
  • Vocabulary building with an emphasis on: general academic vocabulary, figurative language and comprehension, using roots, prefixes, suffices, discussing concepts, diverse word meanings, and different forms of a word.

During class, the teacher can continually circulate among students to observe and offer quick, desk side conferences.


Instructional reading should happen during class. Students need to read materials at their instructional reading level—about 95% reading accuracy and about 85 % comprehension. Organizing instructional reading around a genre and theme—for example biography with a theme of obstacles—permits students to read different texts and discuss their reading around the genre and theme.

The reading workshop model is ideal for this type of reading instruction. The class opens with an interactive read aloud lesson that lasts about ten minutes and occurs daily. These lessons include vocabulary and word building. You can find books for students in your school library, your community public library, and in your class library and school’s bookroom (if you have one). Instructional reading books stay in the classroom, as students from different sections will be using the same materials each day.

Teachers have students chunk instructional texts by putting a sticky note at the end of every two to three chapters. When students reach a sticky note, they stop to discuss their books with a partner and then a group of four. During this stop-to-think time, students can write about their books, connect the theme to the book, and apply strategies and skills the teacher has modeled during interactive read aloud lessons.

Partners should be no more than one year apart in reading levels so they have something to contribute to each other. Students reading far below grade level learn with the teacher.


Reading forty to sixty self-selected books can become the achievement game changer, especially for students who read below grade level. Students can read graphic novels, comics, magazines, e-books, and print books. By encouraging them to read accessible books on topics they love and want to know more about, you develop their motivation to read, read, read!

Have students keep a Book Log of the titles they’ve read and reread. Do not ask students to do a project for each completed book, for that will turn them away from reading. A book talk a month and a written book review twice a year on independent reading is enough. Trust and a personal reading life are what your building. In the archived newsletter, “Independent Reading” you’ll find directions for four book talks and for writing book reviews. You’ll find this newsletter under the tab, “Resources” on my website.

Students should complete thirty minutes of independent reading a night, and that should be their main homework assignment. Try to set aside two days a week for students to complete independent reading at school.


Their Future, Not Our Past.

The question I ask teachers to reflect on is, Are my teaching practices more 19th century than21st century?

And if methods are 19th century is their any justification? In the 19th and 20th century, teaching focused on preparing students to work in factories, on assembly lines, and on farms. However, the learning demands for the 21st century ask students to collaborate and use technology to learn and communicate globally and become creative problem solvers in a fast changing world.

When I was in high school I thought I was a great history student; I was an “A”student.  The class was like an assembly line. I am sure many readers will relate to my example. Every Monday through Wednesday I would enter class and copy down facts from the blackboard. I would start memorizing those facts each night for the quiz game every Thursday followed by my test on Friday. Typically, the tests were multiple choice, fill in the blank, and some matching.  I was good at memorizing facts and did very well.  I thought I was a great student of history.  Today, it is clear to me that all those facts I labored over can all be found on my iphone if a few minutes of time.  I never learned how to think about history, to problem solve, to question, to write.

The teaching I experienced does not prepare students for much at all, maybe to be good at trivial pursuit-but that is it.  Why does such teaching still exist?  It is time for a significant change not just in history classrooms but all classrooms as we work to teach students how to think creatively, to problem solve, collaborate, and to communicate. Rows and lectures are pure representatives of the compliant classroom, what I experienced ,and what I do not want children today to have to experience. The grades I received in those take notes and memorize for the test classrooms had incredible impact on what higher learning opportunities I had and of course others too.  It is crucial and time that some often lauded practices of the past end.

It’s critical to keep teachers abreast of the research best practice and on integrating technology into learning in meaningful ways.  This along with strong leadership can increase the rate of change. When used correctly technology can have a transformative impact on teaching and learning.  When technology is poorly integrated it simply takes the place of items used in past. As an example a SMART Board can become a very expensive blackboard.

We need to teach students for their future not our past.




Increase Writing about Reading

Help teachers understand that meaningful student-talk can lead to analytical writing about texts by having them read professional articles and study professional books. A great starting place is to have groups of teachers read and discuss Writing to Read by Graham and Hebert.  My recommendation is that teachers focus on writing about reading for one unit of study so that students’ develop fluency with talking, thinking, and writing about their reading. In addition, students can debrief the benefits and pitfalls of writing about reading.

Invite one to two teachers from science, social studies, or language arts to share what’s working in their classes. Ask them to bring sample lessons and students work so teachers learn from each other. Encourage teachers who are reluctant o turn more of the talk and learning over to students to observe teachers whose classes are rich in interpretive talk and active-learning.

Focus your walkthroughs on observing the kinds of talk students engage in as well as the writing that follows.  Offer teachers choice when studying a professional book which means that you might have three to four book study groups running at the same time. Teachers should read a book that meets their individual needs. If possible, I urge you to join a study group and model ongoing learning.

Here is a list of professional books that can support your teachers:

  1. Teaching Reading in Middle School: A Strategic Approach to Teaching Reading That Improves Comprehension and Thinking, 2nd edition, by Laura Robb, Scholastic, 2010.
  2. Teaching Middle School Writers: What Every English Teacher Should Know by Laura Robb, Heinemann, 2010.
  3. SMART WRITING: Practical Units for Teaching Middle School Writers by Laura Robb, Heinemann, 2012.
  4. Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning by Peter H. Johnston, Stenhouse, 2004.

Evan Robb, Principal Johnson Williams Middle School and author of: The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook, Scholastic, 2007.