Building Stamina - Training for a Marathon...of Reading

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SWBAT build their stamina so they can read for a long period of time without interruption.

Big Idea

Just as runners need to train for a marathon, students need to train and build their stamina so they can sustain their reading and focus for a longer period of time.


40 minutes seems like a long time for third graders to sit quietly and read. At least that's what I thought when I first started teaching. The more I learned about Reader's Workshop though, the more I realized students would need lots of time to dig deep into their "just right" books and I would need lots of time to work with students without interruption. In my attempt to stop underestimating the capabilities of 8 year olds, I decided to give it a try. But I knew that just as runners would need to train for long distance running, readers would need to train for long distance reading. This is where I felt the need to introduce STAMINA. This concept is an imperative part of building the foundation for management during Reader's Workshop. I introduce it early in the year (first week) and by the third week of school, third graders are reaching the goal of 40 minutes uninterrupted Independent Reading time.


10 minutes

I begin by posing the following question to my students: If you decide that you want to run a marathon, what would you need to do? After some discussion, I introduce the term STAMINA, which is the ability to do something for a long period of time. I mention that today, we will work on building our reading stamina.

Connection – I always start by connecting today’s lesson to something kids have previously learned so that it triggers their schema and background knowledge. Since this is the first they are learning about stamina, I make a connection to the procedures and routines that we have been working on since school started. I tell the kids that so far this year, we have learned to use Reader’s Workshop Prep Time to prepare for uninterrupted reading time, we have found cozy spots to enjoy our books, and we’ve become little librarians to take care of our classroom library. Now that you understand how Reader’s Workshop works, it’s time to take Independent Reading to the next level.

Teaching Point - This is when I tell kids explicitly what we will be working on. I tell them that we’ve already read without interruption for 10 minutes. Today, we are going to bump that up to 15 minutes. Ask how many of them think they can read for 15 minutes without getting out of their spots or talking to others and staying focused on their books? Most of the students will enthusiastically raise their hands. Say, great! Remind them that each day they will get 5 minutes of prep time to choose or exchange books, find their perfect spot, and use the bathroom before Countdown. Tell them that being prepared will help them build their reading stamina.

Active Engagement - This is where students get to try out the strategy that I just taught them. I tell students I would like them to take 2 minutes of quiet thinking time to think about what they can do to make sure they last during Independent Reading. I pause for 2 minutes. Now I ask them to turn and talk with their neighbor to tell them their ideas. I allow students time to turn and talk, then call on a few to share.

Link to Ongoing Work - During this portion of the mini-lesson, I give the students a task that they will focus on during Independent Reading time. I say, let's give this a try today. I remind them that when Prep Time begins, they are free to exchange some of the books they chose previously. I tell them to make sure they take care of our classroom library while they exchange and that they should have 5 books in their browsing box at all times so they will never run out of reading material during Independent Reading time. I will be looking for students that are following our rules and routines and those students might earn a reward. 

Guided Practice

20 minutes

Transition Time: Every day after the mini-lesson, students get 5 minutes of Prep Time to choose new books (if needed), find a comfy spot, use the bathroom, and anything else they might need to do to prepare for 40 minutes of uninterrupted Independent Reading. I set it up that way so that students have no reason to get out of their spots. They are expected to have 5 books in their browsing box at all times so if they finish a book they have others to choose from without moving around the room. They are also expected to have a pencil and sticky notes in their browsing boxes in case they need them for the day’s task. I strongly encourage them to use the bathroom so they do not need to go during reading time. At the end of the 5 minute Prep Time, I do a countdown, 5 4 3 2 1, Level 0 (referring to volume level). By the end of countdown, students must be in their spots and silent with all of the materials they need to sustain their reading. They must follow the distance rule of arm’s length apart from any other student.  They are not to get out of their spots for any reason so that they can focus on their book and their task. Because I use Independent Reading time to work with students one-on-one or in small groups, I really stress to the students that the teacher is not available to everyone during this time. I encourage them to problem solve on their own and hold all questions or comments until the end of Independent Reading time. All of this takes practice but once it is all in place, Independent Reading becomes a magical time when students are engrossed in their books and the teacher is free to meet individual needs of students through conferencing, strategy groups, or guided reading. 

Guided Practice – During Independent Reading, I walk around to see how students are doing with reading stamina.  Reward students that are doing well and make adjustments for students that are getting distracted.  This is also when I could pull students for assessments, one-on-one reading, strategy groups, or guided reading groups.


5 minutes

Closing - Once independent reading time is over, I instruct students to put their book nooks and browsing boxes away and gather at the carpet.  I tell them that training has officially begun for our reading marathon!  Our ultimate goal is to read for 40 straight minutes without interruptions.  It will take us time to build our stamina but I am confident that we will all reach this goal. I make an anchor chart with 5 minute increments and each day that an increment is reached, we cross it out and are 1 step closer to reaching the goal. (Consider having a Reading Marathon Celebration once the class reaches the goal.) Eventually, students will read independently for 40 minutes every day, which allows ample time for the teacher to work with students one on one and in small groups.