Reading Workshop: What It Looks Like in My Classroom
- Grades: 3–5
Richard Allington believes that effective elementary literacy instruction incorporates six common features. He labels them as the Six Ts.
They are time, texts, teaching, talk, tasks, and testing.
His many studies make it clear that students need lots of time to read. It's also important that the time spent reading is done in texts that are "just right" for the students. Explicit teaching of reading strategies and skills followed by meaningful tasks are at the heart of what he believes readers need. He also emphasizes the importance of providing time for readers to engage in authentic talk about their books. Finally, he believes testing should not be used to define students but rather to guide a teacher's instruction so that she can help her readers grow.
I believe wholeheartedly in the philosophy of reading workshop because, if executed effectively, it allows teachers to seamlessly incorporate these Six Ts into their reading instruction on a daily basis. While it has taken me years to feel entirely comfortable with this reading workshop, I can't imagine another way of teaching reading that would as effectively meet the needs of my readers.
Read on to view a VIDEO of a typical day of reading workshop in our classroom, find tips for workshop management, get new ideas for assigning and managing independent reading tasks, and check out links to reading workshop printables.
Reading Workshop Video
Take a peek into our classroom on a typical day during reading workshop. See the three components (Mini-lesson, Independent Reading, and Closing) in action.
Components of Reading Workshop
Each Reading Workshop session begins with a mini-lesson that lasts approximately 10–15 minutes. During each mini-lesson, the teacher introduces a specific concept, also known as the teaching point. Most often, the teaching point focuses on a reading strategy or skill. The teacher will explicitly model or demonstrate the skill for the students.
Students then get a chance to practice the skill or strategy on their own or with a partner. This part of the mini-lesson is called the active engagement.
Chart paper is great to use when recording or keeping track of student ideas and when modeling tasks for students during the mini-lesson. However, I often find it limiting during times when I want to organize information into tables and Venn diagrams or when I want to refer to a specific task sheet that I expect students to complete on their own during independent reading time. For this reason, I often use Microsoft Word to make poster-size versions of graphic organizers or informational posters. Many times during the active engagement part of the mini-lesson, I want to model for students how to do a task that they will be expected to do on their own that day. As a class, we complete the task together using a blown-up (poster size) version of the recording sheet so that all students can easily see the work I am doing.
If you are interested in doing this yourself, just click on the "properties" tab before choosing to print a document, and find the option for 2x2 poster printing. Of course you will have to glue the four pieces of paper together to create the poster. I also put them on poster board to make them more durable. The best part is that the posters are now reusable if you laminate them!! I write on them with a Vis-à-Vis overhead projector marker and then just clean them off and store them for the following year when I teach the same lesson.
I assign my students talking partners at the beginning of the year. These students always sit next to each other on the carpet during reading mini-lessons and class read-alouds. Whenever I ask students to "turn and talk" during the active engagement part of a mini-lesson, they can quickly position themselves knee-to-knee with this person and have a quick conversation about whatever I ask them to discuss. Unlike reading partners who need to be at a similar reading level in order to actually read common texts, talking partners can be at different levels of reading ability. I do not like to change talking partners more than four times a year because I want the partners to build a level of comfort and trust with each other so that their discussions can be open and honest. Assigning talking partners is a great management strategy because it saves a great deal of time during a mini-lesson or read-aloud. There is no confusion about who to turn and talk with, as students are able to quickly turn to their talking partner without hesitation.
There is nothing better than using mentor texts when modeling reading strategies or when teaching students to notice literary devices and story elements. I plan my read-alouds strategically so that I have previously read aloud any book that I want to refer to during a mini-lesson. It is important to point out that the read-aloud is separate from your mini-lesson. While mentor texts are powerful teaching tools, remember that a mini-lesson is only 10–15 minutes long. Referring to or rereading small parts of a text that has been previously read aloud is better than making the entire read-aloud part of your mini-lesson. The longer your mini-lesson lasts, the less time students will have to practice the strategy while reading their self-selected books.
Ideas for Mini-Lessons
In our district, teachers are working together at each grade level to write units of study for Reading Workshop. These units of study include sequentially organized sets of mini-lessons that focus on skills and strategies students are expected to use when reading independently. I would encourage you to collaborate with colleagues at your grade level to plan your own units of study that incorporate the skills you expect of your readers. Many of our units are in-depth studies of a specific genre of text.
There are also some great books out there that include mini-lessons that can be used for a variety of grade levels.
Revisiting the Reading Workshop: This Scholastic book has mini-lessons for the first 30 days.
Workshops That Work!: This Scholastic book is geared toward grades 4+, but it also provides sequential mini-lessons for the first 30 days.
Frank Serafini also wrote a book called Around the Reading Workshop in 180 Days. In the book, he provides month-by-month strategies for running a reading workshop across an entire year. Another great book that he has written is called Lessons in Comprehension. In it he includes 64 of the most effective comprehension lessons from his own teaching career. For primary grades, Kathy Collins's book Growing Readers is a great option for finding more ideas for suggested units of study throughout the school year.
Individualized Daily Reading (IDR)
During this time students are engaged in self-selected texts at their independent level. They use this time to practice the skills that are taught during the mini-lessons. Students read in book nooks around the room while the teacher holds individual reading conferences or meets with small groups of students for guided reading, strategy lessons, or book clubs.
Book Nook Rotation Chart
In my classroom, students are allowed to read in different places around the classroom rather than being confined to their desks. The place they choose to read is called their "book nook." There are many comfy places to read in our classroom including a couch, dish chairs, dice stools, and beanbags. While it is great to have so many comfortable options for independent reading, it can also lead to arguments over who gets to read in the extra special pieces of furniture. For this reason, we have a book nook rotation schedule in our classroom. A labeled picture for each special book nook is printed on a vertical banner. On the left side of the banner next to the book nooks are clips with each student's name and number. The clips are rotated every day after reading workshop so that all students get to enjoy each book nook an equal number of times throughout the school year. Knowing where they will read each day allows students to transition very quickly from the mini-lesson to IDR time.
Shopping for Books at the Classroom Library
In my classroom, students are not allowed to "shop" for books during independent reading time. Instead they must choose books (when necessary) during our morning work period or even during recess if I am not on duty. I tell my students that their book box should have enough books inside to last them at least two weeks. This means they are certainly not visiting the classroom library on a daily basis. If a student finishes his or her books during independent reading time, he must reread his books on that day. My 3rd graders are expected to be prepared for workshop every day. That means they are encouraged to shop for new books when they know that they have fewer than two days' worth of reading material left. Making this "no shopping during independent reading time" rule a few years ago really improved the reading environment in my classroom. Readers are not distracted by the inevitable talking that takes place among classmates browsing books at the library, and my small group lessons during that time are now much more productive without the disruption of book shopping.
Talking Back to Books on Sticky Notes
While there are times when I provide students with a specific handout on which to record their thinking, there are many other times when I just want them to write about their reading on sticky notes as they make their way through their books. I tell my students to "talk back" to their books as they read. Whenever they talk back to their book, they leave a sticky note on that page. Some students have a hard time understanding how to talk back to their books, so they might use the "Talking Back to Books" prompt sheet to get started. I often ask students to refer to these sticky notes when I confer with them individually about their reading.
Although I confer with students often, I can't be there with them during every book they read. For this reason, I ask them to take the sticky notes out of their books when they are done and attach them to a "Sticky Note Tracker Sheet" that is then added to their Reader's Notebook. This way I can see the thinking that is taking place on a regular basis and use it as a tool to guide my individual conversations and necessary instruction with specific students.
The Reader's Notebook
Check back soon for my next post, which will be dedicated specifically to my Reader's Notebook. I will reveal the different sections I include in my students' notebooks, explain how I use them as an assessment tool, and provide links to download many of my Reader's Notebook files.
Guided Reading & Strategy Lessons
While students are reading self-selected texts from their book boxes during IDR time, I am busy, too. If I am not conferring with students individually, I am usually meeting with them in guided reading groups or strategy groups. Click on the Guided Reading vs. Strategy Lessons handout to see what makes strategy groups different from guided reading groups.
Guided reading groups contain students who are all reading at the same level. The teacher provides them with a common text at their instructional level, introduces the book, and points out important text features, tricky vocabulary, or essential story elements. She then listens in as students read the book to themselves. The lesson is followed up with a teaching point and some additional modeling of a strategy the teacher feels is necessary based on her observations. On the other hand, a strategy lesson can be made up of readers from many different levels who are all struggling with the same skill or strategy. I usually have the students use books from their book box to practice the skill or strategy I am modeling for them. Strategy lessons take the form of a short mini-lesson but only with a few readers.
You may be asking, how do you come up with ideas for strategy lessons? I use this Strategy Lesson Planning Sheet. Whenever I confer with a reader, administer a formal assessment (DRA, Fountas and Pinnell, etc.), or meet with students in a guided reading group, I keep track of skills with which certain students are struggling. When more than two students are struggling with the same skill, that becomes a future strategy group lesson with those students. (Some strategy lessons I have already taught this year include "reading through periods/not paying attention to punctuation," "rereading when meaning breaks down," "using appropriate decoding strategies," "recording books properly in reader's notebook," "talking back to books effectively," etc.)
Independent Reading Self-Checklist
When a teacher chooses to implement Reading Workshop in her classroom, it means giving up some control and giving more responsibility to the student readers. Many teachers feel as though students in a reading workshop are not held accountable on a daily basis. Of course there are usually daily tasks, and teacher is also still meeting with students in individual conferences and in guided reading and strategy groups. However, it is impossible to check in with every student every day. For this reason, I use a self-checklist that students are asked to complete during the last two minutes of workshop everyday before returning to the carpet for the closing. As a class, the students helped me create a list of the four to five most important things they believe they should be doing during IDR time. At the end of each week, students hand in their self-checklists so that I can look them over. In some instances I use the information to address concerns with specific students during upcoming reading conferences. I then send the completed checklists home for parents to see as well.
This is a 5–10 minute time period in which students gather back on my reading carpet to reflect on their work as readers. I make sure to reinforce my teaching point for the day and emphasize the importance of continuing to use the strategy that I taught whenever they read from now on. I also give students a chance to share their reading work. Since I certainly do not have time every day for every reader to share, I vary the way I allow my students to share. Below are some options for the closing share. (Remember, I do not do all of these every day!)
Reading Partner Share
A quick way to provide time for all students to share the work or the thinking they did during IDR time is to have them quickly turn and talk with their reading partner to reflect on their reading work or discuss the reading task.
Sometimes I will highlight a specific reader who has done the reading task very well or who I notice is successfully using a reading strategy I have taught in previous lessons. That student will share her work or model the strategy she used for the class. I even have a cheap little "Reader of the Day" trophy that is awarded to these students who do exceptional reading work. They get to keep the trophy at their desk for the day. It is considered a top honor in our classroom.
Revisit Chart From Mini-Lesson
There are times when the reading task is an extension of a chart or a discussion we started during the mini-lesson. As students read, they are expected to think more about the concept and then be able to add to the chart when we return for the closing. Their ideas may simply be added on sticky notes they created while they read so that I do not have to spend too much time writing all of their additional ideas.
Link to Home Reading
My students are expected to read at least 15 minutes at home every night. I often remind them to use the new strategy or concept that I taught during the current day's mini-lesson while they are reading at home. On some days, I even ask them to continue the IDR task at home. On these days, they will bring home their Reader's Notebook so that they can record their thinking as they read their required 15 minutes outside of school.
Keeping Yourself Organized
It can be challenging to plan ahead and keep all of the components of reading workshop organized on a daily basis. When I first started implementing reading workshop, this Reading Workshop Planning Sheet was helpful to use so that I knew exactly what I was doing each day. Of course, I do not meet with two groups and confer with four readers every day, so I only fill in what I am planning to accomplish.
Assessment in the Reading Workshop
This is a complicated topic, as there are so many ways to assess your readers on a regular and "as needed" basis. I will discuss the many ways that I assess my readers in a separate post in the near future. Check back soon!
More Reading Workshop Links
You can also check out Angela Bunyi's awesome Reading Workshop Video in the video player section of Teaching Matters!
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