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Reading Workshop: What It Looks Like in My Classroom

By Beth Newingham on October 17, 2009
  • 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

The Mini-Lesson

Each Reading Workshop session begins with a mini-lesson that lasts approximately 1015 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.


Teaching Tools

P1080652 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.


Talking Partners

Talk partnersI 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.


Mentor Texts

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 1015 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.

Revisiting Book

Workshops That Work!: This Scholastic book is geared toward grades 4+, but it also provides sequential mini-lessons for the first 30 days.

Workshops book

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


Book nooksIn 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

P1080418 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

Sticky note pages 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

GuidedWhile 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.  Strategy Lesson Planning SheetOn 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

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.

Download IDR Self-Checklist



This is a 510 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.


Reader of day Reader of the Day

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.

RW Planning Sheet


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

More About Reading Workshop in My Classroom

Books About Reading Workshop

Posters of the Three Components of Reading Workshop (go to bottom of page) (as seen below)

Mini%20Lesson poster

 IDR poster



You can also check out Angela Bunyi's awesome Reading Workshop Video in the video player section of Teaching Matters!


If you don't want to miss upcoming posts about the Reader's Notebook and Assessment in the Reading Workshop, subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog!


Comments (112)


When writing our district reading curriculum, we do use the F&P continuum to guide our writing. It was helpful for us to know what skills readers should have in their repertoire at each grade level and what features of text they will encounter at the various reading levels. We actually created "I can" statements that reflected what a "typical" third grade reader should be able to do and used those documents to plan the necessary units of study and mini-lessons that would be taught within the units of study.

We are still not finished completely, but we have been writing mini-lessons for each day in each unit of study. As we implement Reading Workshop in our district, however, we are constantly reminding teachers that our students should also guide our instruction. This means that the mini-lessons are a guide, but teachers should also alter the units of study when necessary to best meet the needs of the readers in their classrooms.

We also take into account our state's grade-level content expectations (GLCE) for reading. These benchmarks also indicate the genres that should be studied in each grade level, so many of our units of study are specific to a certain genre.

Good luck with the writing of your school's reading curriculum. It is certainly a big job!


Hi Beth, It is so great to have you Blogging again! I found your website several years ago and have been able to use so many ideas to make my classroom and instruction better. Thank you for that! You have inspired not only me, but many others at my school as well.

I do have one question about your curriculum. We are currently in the process of writing our school's reading curriculum. Over the last few years we have stepped away from our Basal and started to use more of a reading workshop model. Many of the teachers are using The Daily Five and CAFE to help them while we write the reading curriculum. What format did your school use to document your curriculum? Did you write specific mini-lessons for each unit? Do the units follow a specific order?

Also, I see that you use the F&Ps assessment. We do also. We were trying to use the Continuum to help us write curriculum. Did your district do that?

Sorry for the long post! Thanks again for all the time you put into sharing with others!

Hi Vicki!

We have reading workshop in our classroom 5 days a week for an hour each day.

Reading workshop is not actually a curriculum in itself. It is more of a framework for teaching reading. The format of reading workshop is a mini-lesson, followed by independent practice, ending with some reinforcement of the concept or skill being taught.

Our specific curriculum is taught within the reading workshop. All of the skills that I teach my students are presented in the form of a mini-lesson. This allows students to first practice the skill with me on the carpet and then try it out in their own self-selected books. Of course I keep tabs on them through the use of guided reading groups, strategy lessons, and conferring.

The curriculum we teach comes from units of study written by teachers in our district at each grade level. We do not use textbooks or materials except for the sets of books we use when conducting guided reading lessons.

I hope this response answers your question adequately. Thanks for posting on the blog!



Your question about how often I meet with my guided reading groups and strategy groups is a hard one to answer because it does not look the same each week. I plan my small group work according to the needs of my students.

I spend the first month of school doing formal assessments during IDR time. (We use the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System.) That is how I determine each student's instructional level so that I can organize my readers into appropriate groups for guided reading. While I am meeting with readers individually to complete the assessments, the other students are reading books from the classroom library and practicing the strategies taught in the mini-lessons I am teaching.

While I am doing the formal assessments, I use the "Strategy Lesson Planning Sheet" that I referenced in my post to keep track of the things I notice about my readers as I meet with each one of them. For that reason, I have many small group strategy lessons that I feel the need to teach immediately after I finish the formal assessments. I also spend lots of time conferring immediately after the assessments because I feel the need to connect with my readers about the books they are reading in my classroom.

Once I have taught the strategy lessons that were necessary based on my formal assessments and have conferred with each student individually at least once following the formal assessments, I then begin doing guided reading groups. However, I will always continue to do strategy groups when I find that multiple students are struggling with certain skills. Strategy groups are based on need and are taught intermittently throughout the year when necessary. In fact, I often notice things when meeting with students in guided reading groups, and I then plan follow-up strategy lessons accordingly.

In answer to your specific question, there is no exact recipe for how often I meet with guided reading groups. My responsibilities during IDR time are a mixed bag of guided reading, strategy lessons, and conferring.

However, here is what a typical week might look like. (Remember, IDR time lasts for about 40 minutes each day. It is during that time that I meet with guided reading groups, strategy groups, or confer with students individually.)

Monday: -2 guided reading groups (12-15 minutes each) -Confer with 3 students

Tuesday: -2 guided reading groups (12-15 minutes each) -1 strategy lesson (10 minutes)

Wednesday: 2 guided reading groups (12 minutes each) -Confer with 3 students

Thursday -2 guided reading groups (12-15 minutes each) -1 strategy lesson (10 minutes)

Friday -1 guided reading group (12-15 minutes) -Confer with 5-6 students

I hope this response helps answer your question!


I really like your ideas. How many days a week do you do this? Do you have a reading curriculum that you do in addition to this?

How often do you meet with your guided reading groups and/or strategy groups


Thanks for the compliments on my classroom!

Youe question about my K-2 colleagues is a great one! Fortunately our district is now adopting the reading workshop, and all teachers are being trained on how to implement it in their classrooms. With the exception of a teacher or two, most of the K-2 teachers in our building have just begun implenting it this year. However, some of the second grade teachers did begin implementing it in their classrooms last year. Before this year, I always launched my workshop with students who were completely unfamiliar with the approach. This year my students were somewhat familiar with reading workshop, and my launching was much easier. We are even using similar reading logs and routines, so that makes the transition from 2nd grade to 3rd grade better for both the teachers and the students.

I look forward to upcoming years when all of my students come to me with a background in reading workshop, but it can certainly still be successfully even with students who are completely unfamiliar with the structure.

Good luck!

I am very inspired by your work...I LOVE the dice seats and pencil table (and everything else in your room)! Do your colleagues in grades K-2 use a Reading Workshop approach as well? If not, do you find that it is difficult to transition students from traditional structures to a more independent one?


Thanks for your questions about my books. Your questions will be most thoroughly answered if you check out my last post that featured my classroom library. There you will find more information about my books. You can also watch an in-depth video about how I organize and level my classroom library and also how I use it to maximize my students' reading potential.

Here is a link to my Classroom Library Post: http://blogs.scholastic.com/teaching_matters/2009/10/classlibrary.html

I hope this helps!


P.S. In answer to your first question, I have over 3,000 books. However, I did inherit a some of the books from the teacher who taught in the classroom before me!

Thanks Jaime! It's fun to see your comments on my blog!


I love your video and how you teach reading. I am curious how many books you have in your classroom for IDR and how you have them leveled.

You are the best! Our district is so lucky to have you!

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