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Planning Units of Study for Readers and Writers Workshop

By Angela Bunyi on May 12, 2010
  • Grades: 3–5

With ten full days with students left, I find myself preparing for my new challenge of moving to fifth grade next year. Of course, part of my current plans include preparing units of study for both readers and writers workshop. When I taught fifth grade several years ago there was little support to be found about planning units for reading or writing. Now, however, I am dealing with the other spectrum of too much information. I would like to share how I plan on tackling all of the varying resources available to create units of study that will work in my new grade level. You are encouraged to add resources and suggestions for this post! It just might help me and other readers with plans for next year.



Five Steps to Successfully Planning and Implementing Readers and/or Writers Workshop Units

Assuming you have a basic foundation in place and are overwhelmed by the many resources available, here are the five steps I will be following to create my own units of study.


Step 1: Pull Out Your Standards

There are many great kits and year-long units available for purchase, but I recommend you first look at your curriculum standards. Take note of the specific skills and strategies that you need more assistance with. If you are going to create your own units of study, it really helps to analyze your standards and areas of focus first. My personal focus this year was on reading lessons that incorporated media standards. You won't find that in many prepackaged units of study.

Step 2: Select Your Reading and/or Writing Idol


Photo: Author Sharon Taberski spent an entire day with a small group of teachers, myself included. This occurred after many teachers completed a book study on On Solid Ground.

I have several idols, and really added some flames to my fire. Both Sharon Taberski and Lester Laminack have a special place in my heart. Find your idols and everything that is offered by them; they will support you along the way and for many years. There are a few authors that provide great support for both reading and writing. This includes Regie Routman and Lucy Calkins, to name a few. You might want to dedicate a Saturday afternoon in your local bookstore. Each author has a unique voice, and one of those voices will speak to you directly.

Possible idols include: (writing) Lucy Calkins, Ralph Fletcher, Katie Wood Ray; (reading) Debbie Miller, Tanny McGregor, Stephanie Harvey.


Step 3: Use Multiple Resources That Interest You to Create a Base for Possible Units of Study


This step will take the longest time to research and pull together. Resist the urge to plug in a year-long plan found online or at a conference. Instead pull out any and all lessons that you believe are of high interest for you and your potential students.

As an example, I might pull three lessons included in Ruth Culham's 6+1 Traits of Writing kit on organization, Ralph Fletcher's entire unit on poetry (Teaching the Qualities of Writing), six lessons from a resource online, and so on. Again, instead of being overwhelmed, collect everything and anything that interests you. I believe what matters most is that you find the resource/lesson interesting and real (assuming it also meets your standards). I sincerely believe this shows in your lessons and therefore benefits your students.

For the meantime, I am simply typing the resource, pages, and applicable information in an Excel document.

Read on to learn about some of my growing resources.

Step 4: Create a Series of Units


 Photo: This is a quick look at the detailed units available online for Readers and Writers Workshop plans.

This is where you can begin to pull your multiple resources together by asking where they would fit in a possible yearly plan. For example, if I am wanting to incorporate media standards into my lessons, a planned nonfiction unit would lend itself well to this skill. Don't forget to address your standards and utilize resources that will allow you to assess your students both informally and formally. Some skills are more isolated than others, so you will want to take some time to spread them out in an applicable unit.

In order to have some consistency, you may want to base the bulk of your lessons on your mentor author while plugging in other lessons/ideas that interest you in the process. I also highly suggest that you DON'T plan every single lesson for the year. First, the time requirements to do this aren't fair to you and your family. Secondly, it isn't fair to your students. They haven't even walked in your door: we can't possibly understand their needs and the amount of time needed for each skill. This would be no different than having and using a basal scope and sequence plan. Just hold on to that great list of resources you have collected. You will need to change and adapt along the way.


Step 5: Keep It Simple and Be Flexible


You may have visions of completed lesson plans in your head, but instead, use a blank calendar to create possible blocks of time for your planned unit and a general plan of action for specific lessons. You might want to consider blending your reading and writing plans. For instance, schedule a writing unit that focuses on nonfiction for the same time that you are planning to have a nonfiction reading unit.

Again, I highly recommend that you steer away from a filled up calendar. Leave some space for those great resources that you are going to find throughout the year. For example, I found a great writing resource that includes a SMART board CD of writing passages and suggested lesson plans. If you feel like you are on a schedule that you need to stick to, you may lose out on other potentially great lessons and learning experiences.


Share Your Resources!

I am going to update this as comments allow to create a pile of great resources that are on the market, from the many books with the first 30 days of lessons to complete kits. Please share resources that help you with lesson and unit planning. Here are a few of mine. I will be adding to this list shortly:


~ Gallagher's Reading Reasons: Motivational Mini-Lessons for Middle and High School provides 40 high interest, mind-provoking mini-lessons. 


~ Lucy Calkin has her well-known Units of Study for primary and 35 writers, but she also has a reading unit coming out in June. I actually have an entire unit in my possession, so feel free to ask questions about it. It looks like a promising resource. Unfortunately, when it comes out so late, it leaves the problem of planning until late, too.


~ Denver Public Schools has a very thorough online curriculum plan for Readers and Writers workshop, grades K6. This site includes assessment, rubrics, daily lesson plans, and so forth. I have referred to it and utilized it many, many times.


~ Ralph Fletcher's Teaching the Qualities of Writing has a nice unit on poetry as well as some solid lessons that incorporate conventions in an applied manner. My literacy coach is not a fan of this kit, but I like how each lesson has a sample piece of writing to view and discuss.

Scholastic Readers Enjoy or Use the Following Sites/Resources:

~ Weekly Overview of Reader's Workshop in the Upper Grades: Love it, nicely done. This comes from a reading teacher in Australia, grades 5, 6, and 7. It's like a weekly preview on what's going on in the reading workshop classroom. I think it is fantastically done, and could be a great resource for showcasing books on a weekly basis. In addition, students can get online and make comments about books that are dear to their hearts.



Comments (27)

Hello Lori,

Well, it sounds like we will be in the same boat then! I haven't taught 5th in quite some time as well (9 years, I think).

Anyway, I will not be posting anything during the summer, but will be returning next year with Scholastic. If you check out my archived blog when I taught 4th, that may help for now.

What I can share with you are two resources I am currently reading through- The History of US by Joy Hakim (volumes 8 and on). It will make you feel like a history buff and covers the curriculum in depth. And my librarian just gave me How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raju Codell. TONS of great ideas by this fantastic teacher (author of Educating Esme).

Good luck to you and thanks for the kind words!


Wahoo! I just "found" you in the last few weeks as I have been looking for some help: I am moving up from three years in 2nd grade to 5th next year.

Imagine my delight when I read you will be going to 5th as well! I haven't taught 5th in 15 years, and even then it was a 5/6 combo! Will you be writing any posts this summer as you find new and wonderful things for your big move?

I'm your newest and most enthusiastic fan,

Lori J

Hello Vera,

Thanks for the kind words! I'm just hoping I can bring a lot of new material with another grade change next year (5th).

And it never dawned on me that there was no mention of when a primary kit would (or if) be coming out. There is nothing listed on the website, so I am afraid I can't help you out with that question.



Hi Angela,

Yours is not a blog... it's a gold mine!

Anyway, would you happen to know when Caulkins' Primary reading workshop is coming out? Is there anything we primary teachers can use in the 3-5 one?

Thanks. Vera

Hello Anna,

We are TOTALLY blessed to have an outstanding art teacher at our school. She's just awesome (and has even made it into one of my posts before). We also have a drama teacher and a teacher from China next year, so we are loaded with special area teachers....however, maybe I can write a posts on some of the great things they are doing next year.

And great to hear you found the Scholastic resource. I hope it helps with your writing instruction!



Hi Angela, Sorry not to get back to you since you wrote back about Calkins units and Writing Resource for the Interactive Whiteboard...crazy busy at school with end of year preparations.

Thanks so much for the name of the Interactive Whiteboard resource. I have found it in our Canadian Scholastic catalogue, so it is easy to acquire!

I really look forward to reading your blog when school begins again. You asked for ideas for next year's posts: do you teach your own arts (visual, music, drama?). For the first time in about 10 years, my school decided to take our arts teacher and turn her into a phys.ed teacher, which means we are all teaching all of our own arts again at my school. So, if you do teach your own arts, I would love to read more about that...(but then, anything you write is of great interest!)

Have a wonderful summer! I wish you and your family much rest, relaxation, and fun!


Hello Leslie,

I have been in your boat of using this approach alone, so I am going to give you the resources that I found a lot of comfort in- Lucy Calkin's Units of Study kit. It is deep and comprehensive and will require some time to sit down and dig through, but it would be worth it. That could, essentially, cover you for the entire year. I would start here and branch out to see what elements of Ruth Culham's work you'd like to incorporate or some other author, such as Ralph Fletcher. In other words, find your favorite as base and branch out a little for some flavor. :)

And I think you can still work around the perimeters of a 90 minute reading block IF you are integrating your content area, individual conferences, and guided reading during that time. You would still need an hour for writing though. 90 minutes is an awful long time for math, although one hour goes by quickly for me. I'm not sure the math works out for you schedule wise, but I hope you find someway to keep writing, a fundamental skill, in the schedule daily.

Much respect,


Hi Angela-

Thank you so much for all the great information you choose to share with us- this site and your homepage have been big inspirations for me.

I have a question though- Next year I am challenged with being the only writing teacher for 4th grade, and pretty much the entire school. My students have not had much writing time in the previous grade levels due to having 90 mins of reading and 90 mins of math (Title I). I have been researching every night on Writer's workshop, and I am starting to get overwhelmed. What do you think is the best way to start out the new year trying to implement Writer's Workshop? I have the 6+1 Traits Crate, and read the book, but other than those resources, that is all I have.

Thanks so much! Sorry for the long email!


Hello Jennifer,

Yes, I am sure I have that page somewhere in my file because I do remember having a detailed page on how I handled our word study plans. I will dig through my Dreamweaver files to see if I can find it and post it again. I would put it on the word study link (yellow section, first link, main page- www.mrsbunyi.com).

For now, this is how I plan on utilizing this next year.

Monday- Words introduced (printable version with examples). Students pair-share examples first though, and a movement of some sort is created to remember the meaning.

Tuesday-Thursday- I have powerpoints that can be shown during the morning to help remember examples and meanings. You can also review words from throughout the year.

Friday- Test (also provided for most of the year on the site). Students are asked to provide the meaning and two examples for each word.

Homework- Students fold a paper in three parts and include the word, the meaning and drawing, and two example words used in a sentence.

I hope that helps for now. I'll see if I can dig up that file this evening...



This is a bit off of the topic of this article, but I came across one of your posts from a few years ago on vocabulary study. You mentioned that at that time you did "word study" by looking at the roots, prefixes, and sufixes of words. You referred to Mrs. Renz's website for the list, but also said we could find more information about how you set it up and teach it on your website. However, the link is no longer working. I'm very interested in incorporating this into my 4th grade classroom next year. Do you still include this in your instruction? Is there a spot where I can still find more information about it? Thanks so much for your help! I read your posts often, and you have been of so much help to me!

Thanks, Jennifer


The title of the book (through Scholastic):

Writing Lessons for the Interactive Whiteboard.

The CD includes: ~ 30 whiteboard-compatible jpeg files ~ 20 PDF files of student reproducible pages

Hope that helps...


Hello Anna,

The Units of Study sample that I have is currently in the classroom, but I think it would be a nice addition to your room (especially because you will have the same kids). It has the same exact feel, layout, language, and assessment vibe as UofS, 3-5. I do like the anchor charts shown throughout the book as well. Again, I think it is worth having.

And I will have to get back with you tomorrow on the CD I have. It is through Scholastic and only costs something like 12.99. You just can't beat the price. I didn't have any luck Googling it, but it was under Ruth Culham's 6 Traits. I'll post it tomorrow when I get to school.

And Thursday is our last day (and a 1/2 day at that). Yippee!!!!


Hi Angela,

Thank you so much for ALL your postings this year. I am consistently impressed with the ideas you have about teaching, and I can only imagine the extra work you put into pulling these ideas together! Your thoughts and ideas are MUCH appreciated and valued.

I was wondering about the Calkins Units for Reading kit. I will have many of the same students next year, and did a very comprehensive job of teaching reading, particularly of the first 30 days...I need new stuff with similar content. I have done major studies of poetry, mystery and science fiction genres, non-fiction features (related to our science content), biographies specifically, and an author study of the work of Allen Say.

I am keen on new materials, and was wondering what you think of this new resource? Is it worth having (once it comes out)?

Also, you mentioned you found a resource that had Smart Board lessons and passages. What resource is that? My school just bought our first Smart board, and I am eager to figure out how to best use it next year.

Hope the last few days (weeks?) of school go well! I still have more than a month to go...June 30th is our last day of work.



That's great...let me know if you need anything else. I will be helping a co-worker do the same this summer.

And I always say, "If you get the bin, the books will come." Think Field of Dreams...



Thank you so much. Now I can complete my set. Although, the more I label and categorize, the more topics I discover. Fun!




You can find it on my main page, near the bottom (yellow section). Here is the direct link though:




Hello Diana,

I have worked in counties that use a standards-based report card and portfolios and think that works best for a workshop approach (which was adopted county wide). We had our literacy coaches collect various report cards that used this method and strategized before creating a new report card for teachers. It first started K-1, then 2nd the following year, followed by third the following year. I would recommend that and let the upper grade report card develop like this.

I am currently under a traditional report card with numerical numbers, but I was told in our last faculty meeting that a standards-based version was most likely coming soon. Regarding the upper grades, numerical numbers might be included with the addition of a student portfolio of work and assessments.

I hope that helps! It sounds like you are working in a great environment and have exciting work ahead of you...


Hi Angela,

I have been using your Print Shop book basket labels and have not finished printing everything that I need, and now I can't find the web page where I found the labels.

Can you send me the link please? Thank you.


Hi Angela!

I love all your resources and have been trying to implement them in my classroom - thanks for sharing! My school district is in the midst of switching from the "Basal" and moving to reader's workshop. I have a question about report cards. I am currently on a report card committee and we are moving away from finding averages as this is not really a measure of students' progress in Reading Workshop. What kind of report card do you provide parents? Is there any literature out there that you suggest to read up on? As a committee we are unsure of what to do with the upper elementary grade report cards. -Diana

Hello Jen,

Great question. I believe the Sisters of the Daily Five address this combo. delima in their book as well.

For a quick answer, I would say not to worry about it too much. Your time in small groups, individual conferencing, and independent reading is going to be your most beneficial for pushing your students to a new level. I also wouldn't be afraid of rereading a favorite book or mini-lesson just because your third graders have heard it before. I always say, "We are not re-reading this, we are re-thinking it."

I hope that helps! Good luck with the 2/3 combo. I have always imagined that to be a tough job.



What a great post. Thanks so much. I've done reader's workshop for 2 years now in 2nd Grade. My challenge for next year is that I am doing a 2nd/3rd combo. So, I will have the kids I had last year (who will be 3rd graders) plus new 2nd graders. I think Workshop will lend itself great to different grade levels w/in the classroom; but not quite sure how to teach my new ones all the strategies while pushing my third graders and requiring more from them. I don't want my 3rd graders to be bored or feel like they've already learned it. Any tips?

Hello Sarah,

I did go over each of the comprehension strategies at the beginning of the year so they could be attempted and discussed straight off. My reasoning behind this is that as readers we are doing all/many of those things all the time.

It's really like the old approach of teaching a letter sound a week in kindergarten vs. a balanced literacy approach to teaching reading. They need exposure to these strategies throughout the year, and I just try to dig deeper as the year goes on.

And Sarah, if you have any great resources for lesson/unit planning, please share!



Hi Angela,

I teach third grade and always struggle with how much time to spend on the reading comprehension strategies: making connections, questioning, visualizing, inferring, synthesizing, etc. Do you go over all of those at the beginning of the year and then review throughout or spread them out? What happens to me is that I don't get to inferring until March or April and it just seems too late. What do you think?

Hello Lori,

That would be my current ponderings for my future unit plans. The Colorado site I posted above is a great place to start. It has day by day plans for K-6. I am going to look at that closely for reading as our 5th graders come in as very capable, strong readers already.

But, I do believe I am going to organize my units around genre, plugging in reading strategies and specific skills within. For most of our readers in 5th, they just don't need as much focus on discussing visualizing or making connections. It's already a given and doesn't need as much modeling.

But I do have mixed feelings about teaching a particular genre and having my students required to read under that genre. I think I will do one or a combo. of the following: ~Students will be required to read "X" amount of set genre during "X" amount of time (allowing some freedom of genre between) ~Book clubs will be genre based giving some variety and group support. ~I will build up a collection of set books under discussed genre and hopefully "bless" the books making them popular reads on their own.

I hope that helps. For now. I have a long job ahead of me this summer. Watch out!



Hello Angela, Once again your post is right in line with what I am thinking and pondering.

I have looked at and used bits and pieces from Lucy Calkins (Personal Narrative), Ralph Fletcher (Poetry), and Regie Routman (Report Writing), etc. I really feel like I got into a good flow with writing this year.

What I want to work on this summer is my reading units of study. In writing I have created units based around a type/genre of writing, but I am not sure how to organize things as well in reading. Do you focus around a genre too, such as realistic fiction, but then are you only reading realistic fiction as mentor texts for that unit? Do I focus on a strategy for reading and then show how to use this strategy, such as inferences, in different genres?

How do you organize things?

I am a fan already...just what I needed. I really like your blog and will be subscribing to it for future reference.

I have also added it to the post with a quick summary for others to check out.



Not a series of units so much, but I cover different elements of Reader's Workshop and things we do with it in my class (Grade 5/6/7) at my blog - http://areaderscommunity.blogspot.com

In Australia we do our national testing 4 months into our school year (this week) so I'm currently planning a unit of word play for reading and writing to get them enjoying it all again

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