Reading Workshop

Reading Workshop in a First Grade Classroom: Skip and Return

In this Reading Workshop lesson, the teacher models for her children how to use the strategy of "Skip and Return to" identify unknown words.

Reading Workshop in a First Grade Classroom: Skip and Return Director’s Cut

View this version of the Skip and Return lesson for additional "look fors" and tips.

Reading Workshop is an instructional practice that will help your children grow as readers, speakers, and independent thinkers.

Through Reading Workshop, you will be able to create a literary community, excited about reading and engaged in the process of becoming fluent readers and thinkers. You will be able to teach them important lessons in all areas of reading – from book choice to building reading stamina to decoding skills to comprehension. Most importantly, you’ll be providing them with time to read and guidance in doing so, key factors in promoting successful readers.

Teaching children to learn how to read, understand what they read, and find joy in the process of reading, is a complex task. Your children need time to develop these skills.

In order to create an environment that supports children’s growth and independent reading skills some essential structures must be established, at the heart of which is work time for them to read. It is this time that will make the difference in children’s growth as readers. Guiding the children’s independent reading are your Mini-Lessons, demonstrations that show readers how to use the skills and strategies they need to read increasingly complex text. Share Time at the end adds closure and a sense of celebration.

Developing Children’s Reading Identity

The act of reading is multi-dimensional and so is a reader’s identity. When you think about how to meet the needs of all the readers in your classroom, you need to consider all the areas that make up a reader’s identity. Some of these features, such as print and fluency and comprehension, are easier to point to (e.g. when a child doesn’t read a word correctly) and may be easier to teach. However, for children to develop as readers who feel confident and capable, who take risks and can problem solve, who develop a love for books and language, then addressing all aspects of reading in your mini-lessons, conferences and other interactions with children is vital. Explicit teaching on forming good reading habits, developing and expanding your reading tastes, how and when to respond to different texts, and how to have “book talks” become necessary components of reading instruction

What is Reading Workshop…

Reading Workshop is comprised of three components that work together to allow you teach children skills, strategies and behaviors that will help them grow as readers. Its structure supports children’s development because it incorporates both demonstration, guided practice and individual practice. Here are the three components:

The Mini Lesson

The Mini-Lesson is when the teacher directly teaches the whole class a skill, strategy or behavior about reading. This lasts approximately 10-15 minutes.

Work Time

Work Time is when children read independently. They apply what they learned in that day’s mini. lesson or in previous mini-lessons. Children are typically reading independently, but they might also be in pairs or small groups. Work time is the heart of your Workshop. It should take up the largest portion of your allotted time for Reading Workshop and should grow over the course of the year as the children’s reading stamina grows.

Share Time

Share Time is an opportunity for a few children to share what they have learned or how they have applied a new skill or strategy with the whole class. It is usually the smallest allotted time but adds closure to your reading instruction.

How Reading Workshop Supports Reading

Learning to read is one of the most important things children learn how to do and an essential part of academic development. Children undertake a monumental task as they move from decoding individual sounds to making meaning from a complex text. The growth that takes place in children’s early years as readers is truly amazing. Because reading is more than simply the ability to identify individual words and say them out loud, the teaching of reading is quite a complex and multi-layered process.

Reading is interacting with text in order to understand what is read. Readers construct meaning from texts based on their background knowledge, experiences, connections to the text, and established skills and strategies. You need to instruct children on how to decode, construct meaning, use background knowledge, make connections, be independent problem solvers, learn how to talk about books, how to be a member of a reading community and so much more. In other words, you need to help create and maintain children’s reading identities. Reading Workshop is an instructional practice that allows you to do just that.

Children may share a grade but that does not mean they are ready for exactly the same type of instruction. Children may also share a common home language but that doesn’t mean they have acquired the same level of literacy or language as their peers. Reading Workshop gives you the opportunity to provide your children with the time, environment, individualized instruction and community to help them become independent lifelong readers.

Time

To become strong, thoughtful readers, children need an enormous amount of time to do this kind of work. Numerous research studies have shown over and over again that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time children spend reading and their growth as readers. For example, a study entitled “Teaching for Literacy Engagement” published in 2004, showed that fourth graders who read above grade level spent at least twice as much time reading as their peers who read below grade level. Giving children as much time as we can to become stronger readers makes sense; after all, athletes and musicians who want to learn their craft practice multiple hours a day. Young readers need that same kind of sustained engagement with reading in their day as well. The majority of time of Reading Workshop should be spent reading.

Supportive Literacy Environment

In addition to time, to support young readers you need to give them access to a rich library of reading material. Again, research teaches us that children who spend time reading texts that they can experience success with in decoding, reading fluently and comprehending gives them the practice they need to grow and develop each of these unique and interdependent skills. When children choose books that interest them, they are more motivated to read and work harder to make sense of the texts. A Reading Workshop classroom is one where the classroom library is the heart of the environment and where children’s choices are valued. In addition to a rich classroom library, children need a well-designed space in which they are comfortable to read and interact in. Choices in where they sit and how they read are also paramount in increasing their motivation to read. Anchor charts and other print material that support their independence as readers are examples of how the physical environment can support children’s reading and problem solving.

Instruction

In addition to the time and materials, readers need instruction. They need direct and explicit instruction in all areas of reading – from print work to comprehension to goal setting – in order to learn how to be successful readers. Reading Workshop is designed to allow for a whole group lesson, focused on one skill, strategy or reading behavior tailored to fit the needs of the class. Small group instruction and conferencing takes place during Work Time when children are working on their own or in partnership. The structure of the Mini-Lesson in addition to the flexibility of Work Time allows you to provide your readers with what they need to become lifelong, active readers.

Community

Finally, to support your readers, it is important that they see themselves as readers, capable and independent, surrounded by a community of other avid readers with whom they can talk about books. To this end, create a reading culture in your classroom. Children need to engage and interact with other readers, have conversations about their reading, go book shopping on a regular basis, and have choice in how they respond to their books. An authentic reading community includes these elements as well as clear procedures and responsibilities for helping the community run smoothly. The structure, routines and goals of Reading Workshop provide the perfect framework for building and supporting a joyful climate where hard work and growth is celebrated and where reading is valued.

Reflect on Your Reading Workshop

Like any instructional practice, Reading Workshop will benefit from your reflection. Its effectiveness will increase when you take time to think about your planning and implementation. Connect your reflection to those elements research says are key components in helping children grow and flourish as readers.

Is there enough time for children to read?

To become strong, thoughtful readers, children need an enormous amount of time to do this kind of work. Numerous research studies have shown over and over again that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time children spend reading and their growth as readers. Children should spend the majority of time of Reading Workshop reading.

  • Do children have time to read independently on a daily basis?
  • Has the time devoted to reading grown over the course of the year?
  • Are children’s reading stamina increasing?
  • Do you have support structures in place to help your children gain reading proficiency and stamina?
  • Do your children know what to do when they finish a book?
  • Do your procedures support independence?

Is your literacy environment supportive?

When children choose books that interest them, they are more motivated to read and work harder to make sense of the texts. In addition to a rich classroom library, children need a well-designed space in which they are comfortable reading and interacting. Choices in where they sit and how they read are also paramount in increasing their motivation to read. Anchor charts and other print material that support their independence as readers are examples of how the physical environment can support children’s reading and problem solving.

  • Do you know your children’s reading interests?
  • Are there enough books in your classroom library to meet your children’s needs and expand their interests?
  • Have you developed procedures around introducing children to new books and genres?
  • Are your children using the anchor charts in the room to problem solve independently? Do they see themselves as independent problem solvers?
  • How do you incorporate choice into your Reading Workshop? Do children self-select books? Self-select seats? Self-select how they respond to books?
  • Is your physical environment appealing? Does it contain elements that draw children to reading?
  • Do children have what they need to read and work independently?

Supportive Literacy Environment

Does your instruction support your growing and diverse readers?

Readers need direct and explicit instruction in all areas of reading – from print work to comprehension to goal setting – in order to learn how to be successful readers. Reading Workshop is designed to allow for a whole group lesson, focused on one skill, strategy or reading, small group instruction and individual conferencing.

  • Do you create lessons that meet the needs of the majority of your class? Do these lessons build on one another?
  • Do you offer supports for language learners?
  • Have you created procedures to ensure that you meet with individual children on a regular and ongoing basis?
  • Have you created a record keeping system to help you identify large and small group needs?
  • Do you provide options during Work Time for children who need them?

Are you building a reading community in your room?

To support your readers, it is important that they see themselves as readers, capable and independent, surrounded by a community of other avid readers with whom they can talk about books.

  • Do children have regular and ongoing time to talk with their peers about their books and their ideas?
  • Have you taught your children how to work in partnerships? How to take turns reading and talking? How to adjust the volume of their voice? How to use the anchor charts in the room to support their conversations?
  • Do children see themselves as readers? Are they able to talk about themselves as readers? Do they know what readers do, talk about and think about?
  • Do you ask children to set authentic goals for themselves as readers?
  • Do children know each other’s reading interests?
  • Are there structures in place to allow children to celebrate each other’s progress and successes?
  • Do you share your own reading life with your children?
  • Do you use authentic means for motivating your children to read?

Frequently Asked Questions

My mini-lessons often go longer than 15 minutes. How can I shorten them?

It is so important to keep your mini-lesson under 15 minutes so the children can spend the bulk of time you allotted for Reading Workshop actually reading. As you plan the mini lesson be very intentional about the literacy content and language objective. It is easy to want to address many outcomes in a single mini-lesson but consider limiting and identify how each day builds on a specific over-arching theme or concept. Careful planning and rehearsal can help you. Always include the four components in your mini-lesson plan: connection, teaching, active engagement (have-a-go), and the link. The connection should take less than one minute. Tell the children what you are going teach them and how it helps them as readers. Make just one teaching point, and demonstrate it using just one example. If you are referencing a book, use a familiar text .a mentor text. that has been read aloud several times so the children know the plot and characters well. Use only an excerpt from the text as well. Pinpoint exactly the section that helps illustrate your teaching point and read only that section. When you invite the children to try out the teaching point, give them just one thing to do. Limit questions and “What ifs…” Remember, the mini-lesson is designed for direct instruction. Finally, when you provide a “link,” it should take less than one minute to restate the teaching point and direct the children’s independent work. After you plan the mini-lesson, rehearse it with a timer to make sure your pacing is good. One other thing that adds minutes to the mini-lesson is failure to follow procedures, which can cause delays in several different ways, particularly during transitions. Make sure that your students know the procedures and routines of Workshop, so that you don’t lose any time reminding them what they should be doing. Remember, the longer the mini-lesson, the less time kids have for reading.

How many books should the students have in their book baggies?

The books in the children’s book baggies provide them with readable texts for independent reading. The optimal number of books in a child’s bag depends heavily upon the number of books in your classroom library and the child’s reading level. If your library won’t get overly depleted, let each child who is not yet reading chapter books self-select eight to ten books in his or her book baggie each week. Designate “book shopping days” for groups of children, so that your library isn’t overwhelmed all at once. You can also choose two or three familiar books for their book baggies from previous guided reading lessons. The balance of the books in the baggies, perhaps one or two more, can be high interest books. The children might not be able to read these books yet, but they might enjoy looking at the photographs of sharks or spiders. Children who are reading chapter books will have fewer books in their baggies.

How often should I meet with children to conference with them?

Individual conferences are powerful, targeted lessons that can make a real difference. Try conferencing with three students a day – more if you can manage it. Remember, conferences are short, generally lasting just a few minutes. If you have a larger class, you’ll get to conference with each child twice a month. Keep good notes and you’ll be able to document each student’s growth as a reader over time.

I’m not sure what to teach during a conference. What should I do?

Your best source to inform reading conferences is your students’ reading. Look at your anecdotal notes, running records, and other assessments to determine what each child needs to work on. Identify the child’s “zone of proximal development” and work on skills and concepts that are partially developed. Consider how your students are performing in all areas of language development (reading, writing, listening with understanding, and speaking). This information will also inform your conferences. Chat a bit about a book the child is currently reading or is in the child’s book baggie. Give the student a quick, focused demonstration and send him off to apply what you’ve taught him. Keep track of each child’s focus. Remember to “teach the reader, not the reading.”

How do I know my children are really reading?

The best way to monitor independent reading is to be proactive. Get on top of it before it becomes an issue. Explicitly teach the children the expectations of independent reading in procedural lessons. Co-create anchor charts. Reread the anchor charts before independent reading time. Have the children practice independent reading while you are walking around the classroom giving positive feedback to children who are on task. Be sure that children have books that they can read and want to read in their book baggies. Choice is critical to engagement. Have the children self-monitor. Post an independent reading rubric and devote a minute or two at Share Time for the children to reflect on their reading. If you find that a number of children are inattentive and not reading during independent reading time, go back and reteach the procedural lessons in whole group or in small groups with specific children who would benefit from them.

Do the children have to practice the skill or strategy I taught them in the mini-lesson?

The skill or strategy taught during the mini-lesson is based on the needs of the class as a whole. You selected the skill or strategy because you determined that it is what most of the children need. In the link component of the mini-lesson, encourage the children to use the skill or strategy and help them see how it will help them as readers. During Share Time, highlight those children who practiced the strategy. There are likely to be some children who are already proficient in the skill or strategy or who are not quite ready for it that day. However, you have added another “tool” to the children’s reading toolbox of skills; these tools will and should be used as the children need them, primarily on that day but on future days as well. Do keep records to measure children’s use and progress with the targeted daily literacy and language objective.

The room seems too noisy to me during reading time. What should I do?

During reading time, children can be engaged in a number of activities depending on their age, grade level, stamina and the time of the year. Activities such as partner reading, and literature circles, are not exactly silent. What we need to teach children is to maintain an acceptable level of noise. Some teachers call it a “busy buzz” or a “productive hum.” In your procedural lessons, have children role play the activities that involve some talking. Have them demonstrate an acceptable level of noise and an unacceptable level of noise. Include some language about acceptable levels of noise in your co-created anchor chart. You might include a phrase like, “Use quiet voices.” Create a nonverbal signal if the noise level reaches unacceptable levels to remind the children to tone things down a bit. Allocate some time during Share Time for the children to reflect upon and self-assess how they did with maintaining an appropriate noise level.

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