Building Reading Stamina

In my previous post I discussed the importance of independent daily reading; however, it is important that if students are independently reading for a chunk of their reading block, they are actually reading! We all know what “pretend” reading looks like. You are teaching your small groups, and you hear the noise volume gradually increase to a level that becomes disruptive. You remind your students that they shouldn’t be talking. Students quickly dive into their books, flipping through pages at a rapid pace and constantly glancing up at you to see if you are still watching.
The bottom line is, this is bound to happen at times in all classrooms at certain times, but this should not be the norm. We want to teach students to use time wisely and treasure their IDR time. But, we can’t expect students to just dive into reading for 20+ minute blocks of time without training them how. Just like runners need to work up to running long distances, readers need to work up to reading for extended amounts of time.

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How I Help my Students Build Stamina

At the beginning of the year, usually on the first day of school, I teach my students the rituals and routines for independent reading in my classroom. I stress how this is the most valuable and important time of our day because it is time for us to enjoy the books we choose, which will help us grow as readers.

Selecting Seats

Right from the start, I allow students to choose comfy places for their independent reading. They can sit anywhere, as long as they are focused. If they are not focused, or if they distract others around them, they temporarily lose the privilege to choose their spot. They sit in their seat, or by my guided reading table, where I can help them.

Building Stamina

On day one, I tell students we are going to see how long they can read for. I set a goal of 5-10 minutes. I have not yet taught my students how to navigate and care for our classroom library or how to build their independent reading book bags. Therefore, I fill bins of books that vary in levels and genres and place them around the room. Students bring their bag of books to their chosen spot. I explain that I will be seated at my guided reading table because usually, I will be with a group during IDR. I tell them that I will be rotating around the room watching them read.
We review IDR expectations today, and every single day before IDR time. My expectations are the same as The Daily 5.
I set a timer and sit at my guided reading table, giving
students a few minutes to settle and get started. After everyone has time to
get started, I make my first rotation around the room. With younger grades, I
would notice what books they are reading and if they are engaged in their book.
With older kids who read longer chapter books, I created a chart with their
names and wrote down the page number they were on during each rotation I made.
This chart would help me notate students who were possibly not truly engaged in
reading because they were flipping pages too quickly, or on the same page the
entire block of time. 

Grab my editable class chart for free here

As I rotated through the room, I would notate on my class chart students that were no longer engaged in reading. I would notate the time on the timer that they lost focus.
⏲️ Every five minutes, I would rotate through the room again. 
? After day one, you can either decide to make a class graph showing how long the majority of the class read for, or have students begin independent reading stamina graphs. I prefer students keep track of their individual reading stamina in a graph in their data notebooks. This way, students can see how they grow as the year goes on and make personal goals. Some students will be able to read independently for a longer chunk of time than you can provide, and you will likely have students who are not able to sustain independent reading for longer than ten minutes.
Each day, I continue to extend the independent reading block by 2-3 minutes, depending on how long the majority of my students can sustain their reading for. I do not keep the same extensive records I did on day one. I chart each student’s reading time for my data notebook and for student’s data notebooks each month.
As students are reading independently for at least 10 minutes, I use this time to assess my students reading levels each day.
I continue to complete stamina building each day, until most of my class can read for their center rotation time, which was 20-25 minutes in my class, and until all of my individual reading assessments are complete. I don’t even think about starting guided reading groups or other “centers” until they have stamina, and assessments are complete.


In my inclusion classes, there were always a group of students who were unable to build their stamina as quickly as the rest of the class. I always stressed the importance of using our time wisely, and I certainly didn’t want these children sitting there pretending to read. I would have a frank conversation with them and let them know this is something we will keep practicing. If they or I notice they are unable to focus on IDR anymore, I would move them to something else. Often, these were my students who were drastically below grade level so I would allow them to listen to a book on tape. Of course, you will have students that prefer this, so I would encourage them to meet or beat their previous days’ time, then move them to a listening center.

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