Exercise your Reading Muscle: Strong Reading Practices at Home

by Allie Donahue

Reading is like a muscle—the more you do it, the stronger you get. Here’s how you can keep your reading muscles super swole at home.

1. Choose your book.

If your teacher has assigned you a book, then boom! Your choice is made.

If you don’t have an assigned book, choose your own. You can pick up a physical book that’s already on your shelf at home or find an eBook through a library database. Shady Side Academy has an eBook drive for the Middle School and the Senior School and The Carnegie Library has an eBook drive for teens.

Even when you’re limited by eBook access, choosing a book can be hard.

If you’re having trouble choosing, try reading another book by an author you’ve enjoyed in the past. Chances are you’ll like this one too.

If you want to read about a specific topic, Goodreads has a feature that lets you search for books according to almost any criteria.

Despite the old adage, it is actually okay to judge a book by it’s cover. Scholastic recommends it as a pre-reading activity for kids and Barnes and Nobles has an adult guide for how to do it.

Finally, for more advanced readers, you cannot go wrong by diving into any of the books on Penguin’s list of 100 must-read classics.

2. Break up your reading.

You don’t have to read your book all at once! But you should read every single day, to keep those reading muscles sharp.

How much should you read? Renaissance, a company that makes tests and curriculum for schools, studied the reading practices of more than 9.9 million students over the 2015–2016 school year. They found that 15 minutes of reading per day seems to be the “magic number” at which students start to make substantial gains in reading achievement. Students who read for at least half an hour a day made the most progress of all.

If reading is daunting for you, start with 15 minutes a day. If you’re up for the challenge, aim for 30. And if you’re a total bookworm, read away. (But don’t forget about everything else; the world goes on outside your book!)

3. Be alive, awake, and alert while you read.

Reading is active. You can think of your book as a friend. Just like with a friend, you share memories with your book, go on adventures, and wonder about certain weird things it says. Thinking about your reading, even if you have many questions that remain unanswered, will help you understand your book better.

As you read, especially if the text is a tough one, you can try the Notice and Note strategy to boost your comprehension. Notice and Note is a strategy developed by reading researchers Kylene Beers and Bob Probst that centers around six reading signposts. They’re called signposts because they are big moments in the story that stand out, like signs on the side of the road. When you pay attention to the signposts, they will help you follow and enjoy the story in your book. 
Beers and Probst offer a similar Notice and Note protocol for nonfiction books.

4. Start a book club.

Talking with others about your reading helps you process and make sense of the story.

If you have an assignment, you and your classmates are already on the same page—literally. Take advantage of your shared reading and get together with them online to discuss.

If you’re reading independently, consider asking a few friends to read the same book and form a book club. You’ll want to coordinate a reading schedule with them so when you meet up you’re at the same spot in the book.

A good book club size is 3-5 people. How often you meet is up to you, but try for at least once a week.

If you’re feeling shy, you can ask your parents to talk to your classmates’ parents to get the book club started.

When you meet with your book club, take on different roles to keep the discussion moving along. A Discussion Director poses questions about the reading, a Summarizer tracks the arc of the story, and a Wordsmith looks up and explains unfamiliar words. If you have more than three people, you could also have a Wonderer who tracks group members’ unanswered questions about the text, and a Notetaker to document the discussion. Switch roles each time you meet to keep things fresh.

5. Share your learning.

If your teacher assigned you a book to read, they probably also gave you a project to share your learning. When you finish your book, showcase your learning in your culminating project.

If you’re reading on your own, consider a mini project to help you process what you read. Some ideas:

  1. Write a public review of the book for Goodreads or Google Books.
  2. On social media, make the case for why your friends should (or shouldn’t) read the book.
  3. Talk about the book. Take a stroll with a family member or call up a friend and tell them about your reading.

You may also consider joining the recent trend of famous people reading books to kids online. Start a YouTube channel and share your book—or any book you love—with others.

No matter what, read. The benefits are infinite.

About Author


Allie Donahue

Allie Donahue started tutoring professionally at the Whitman College Center for Writing and Speaking. She worked in this position for three years while completing her Bachelor’s degree in rhetoric studies with a Spanish minor. In 2017, the year following her graduation, she was promoted to Assistant Director of the Center. Next, Allie taught high school English in Providence, Rhode Island for two years as a teacher with Teach For America. In this role, she assisted over 70 seniors through the college essay process and over 140 students through the rigors of research-based argumentative essays. During her time in Providence, Allie completed a Master’s in Education at Rhode Island College. Allie believes that teaching is a process of gradually removing support as students grow. Students become better when they are working just at the edge of their comfort zones. Allie is driven to provide her students the creative and practical communication tools they need to express their hearts and achieve their goals.

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