Reading Workout! Strength Training for the Teenage Brain

title slide for a reading workout lesson

The Gender Gap

How can we get boys to read more often? It’s a question that comes up frequently in my life as a librarian. I’ve ordered books with male protagonists, created displays that capture masculine interests, and recommended titles that my own sons enjoyed. Ignoring gender entirely, I’ve tried focusing on universal themes. Using Google Forms, I’ve sent out surveys where students can share books they’d like me to order. The fact remains: the majority of students who check out books for leisure are female. 

warmup for the reading workout lesson

The literary gender gap is real. As stated by Deloitte Insights, “men and teenage boys are more likely than women and teenage girls to choose other entertainment activities, such as gaming, over reading” (Auxier). The girls in my school, regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic status, consistently show more interest in books than the boys do. 

It’s Not the Content, It’s the Reading

During a recent lesson when I was asked to share some titles with a 9th-grade class in preparation for their next independent reading project, I had a realization. It’s not the content that’s the problem, it’s the reading. This group of energetic 14 and 15 year olds was mostly male. To prepare for their visit, I scattered books on each of four tables, hoping to get their attention. When they sat down, I saw that their energy would be hard to contain. I thought back to my past success as an English teacher with 10th graders and SSR (Sustained Silent Reading). 

books scattered on a table in the library

After listening to several students joke about how bad they are at reading, I compared it to exercise and sports. On the spot, I came up with the idea of a reading workout. I gave them a brief talk about how reading strengthens their brains, increases test scores, and becomes easier with practice. Then I told them to pick up any of the books on the table in front of them, open up to page one, and begin reading.

The Reading Zone

I expected pushback. So I was surprised about how little time it took for them to settle into a book. I saw the tension drain from their faces; I witnessed their relief at not having to listen to a lecture or figure out the answer to a problem. Their phones remained in their backpacks as they entered into whatever world the pages took them. I was tempted to have them continue reading that particular book for the rest of the period. The original idea, though, was for them to sample many books. After about five minutes I told them to pick up another book from their table and start it. Then, after another short period of time they chose a third and did the same. When they had sampled three books, I had them switch tables in a clockwise order. They went through the same process with the books on other tables. Even the most restless teens relaxed into their reading.

conditioning slide telling students what to do while reading each of the first 6 books they sample

Building Reading Muscles

I was thrilled with the way the activity played out, which led me to make slides and use the lesson with all the 9th-grade classes. I had similarly positive results. And although I initially thought this lesson format was a bit juvenile for the older grades, I’m thinking about trying it out and seeing where it goes. When I reflect on the activity, I keep coming back to the images of the most unruly students silently reading, lost in their books. Maybe next time, I’ll have them stick with their first book so they can stay in the zone and get further hooked on the joy of reading.

books are the path to strength slide

Work Cited

Auxier, Brooke, and Jaime Austin. “The gender gap in reading.” Deloitte, 1 December 2021,

Author: Karin Greenberg

Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.

Categories: Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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1 reply

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience and slides! I will certainly try the reading workout!

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