Setting up an Effective Reader’s Workshop

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Teachers understand that teaching the curriculum and making sure your students perform well is not the only task that you have been assigned to deal with. It takes much more than just than issuing textbooks to develop your students and ensure their success for the future. Good teaching entails many things, but in my opinion, reading is one of the most basic skills every student must learn. Since there is no hard and fast rule to perfect one’s reading, it makes the process more challenging and fun.

Reading is one of those life skills that becomes essential for several important things in life besides schoolwork, when a student has a strong grasp on reading, he/she can speak better, write better, gain more knowledge and is generally able to understand the context of things way better. But why is it not considered as vital as it is? Now I know that in this day and age, schools are always busy rushing through the subject material; and there are children that never actually read a book besides their textbook, and if & when they do make it to college it presents a real challenge for the student.

This is where the readers workshop, comes into play. Let’s talk about the definition of the reader’s workshop.

So, a reader’s workshop is a practice by which all age groups are afforded time to read — now it does not have to be the same book especially when the concept is applied in a school setting, the students are allowed to choose the books they want to read, what pace they want to read it and they are open to discuss their problems and concept issues while reading after the workshop is done.

Teaching students to read can be a daunting task, like other cognitive abilities, reading takes time to develop, many factors like their mother language, the context, grade level, exposure to books in the past and overall environment where the children are allowed to read, they all play an equal role in the development of reading abilities.

Yes, environment, we as adults who have been reading for a while become so used to the exercise that we often neglect that it sometimes needs to be taught. When you want to develop your child’s or student’s ability to read better, faster, and clearly while understanding what they are reading there are a few things that you need to put in place.

If you imagine your classroom for a minute as an educator you more or less know your students, how well they perform in studies their ability to comprehend complex sentences, how to they read, their reading fluency — can they read small text with ease, do they prefer paper or electronic devices.

You might know the interests of your students as well. Reading is multi-dimensional – let me explain –one day you might be reading poetry the next you might want to learn about how the universe works, these things go hand in hand when you have a variety of sources to read and based on your students’ interests. You can also change these styles for example, if you want to build good habits and want your students to read books that promote a desired behavior, well, no one reads a book just because you simply told them to, we humans from a very young age live with a pattern based on inspiration, we act upon things, like hobbies, life choices, career choices, everything is based on inspiration, and if you cannot draw inspiration from a certain event or a task, it is most likely that you wouldn’t act upon it.

To inspire students to read it is necessary for teachers to show them the fun side of reading, just telling them the benefits alone wouldn’t go very far, and I believe you all would agree to that.

Having small book talks however can go a long way, if a student is reading book A and the other one is reading Book B, their cross communication about what they are reading will inspire each other to explore the other’s interests.

Earlier we spoke about several factors that either go in to building a reader’s workshop or how it benefits individual students. A reader’s workshop can be developed anytime of the year, it does not take long and you as an educator do not have to do much work but monitor your class.

Before discussing the components of a reader’s workshop just know that it is not some sort of competition nor are we worried about grading assignments. The whole purpose is to improve student reading skills.

And that’s it!

The first component of a reader’s workshop is the Mini Lesson.

So, what is a mini lesson? The mini lesson is the section whereby a teacher teaches a particular reading skill for that day’s readers workshop session. Now the mini lesson lasts only for about 10-15 minutes.

[I always wanted to make sure I stayed withing that time because I wanted my students to take advantage of independent reading to the maximum extent possible.]

Then, I would normally follow the mini-lesson up with a quick 5-minute read-a loud / shared reading experience. I would either provide students with a copy of the text I will be reading from or had it projected on the screen.

Next up would represent the bulk of the readers workshop and that is to say students would have a book of their choosing in which they would read during that time. My ultimate goal was to have my students reading independently for a minimum of 30 minutes daily Monday through Friday. Now to me, this was very, very critical that I stayed with this schedule. Keep in mind that you will want to increase the reading time gradually as to build up your students’ stamina.

It was during the independent reading session that I would then “pull” my guided reading groups to work on specific reading strategies and conduct informal reading conferences.

After the independent reading session was over, I gave my students a few minutes to respond to their reading.

And finally, was sharing time, during this time children shared out and discussed with their peer’s what book they were reading and/or discussing reading strategies with each other. I know that some teachers might feel that this step is not all that important. But I tell you I think it is very important to give your students time to share their reading with peers. So, this is one part you don’t want to overlook.

When launching your reader’s workshop, it is important be patient, take your time to work on it, slowly introduce it to your students and take things slow one day at a time.

Depending on your class it can take anywhere from a week or two to gradually form a routine. But first you will need to prepare them with explicit instruction as to the conduct of the workshop. You will need to model for your students what a reader’s workshop looks like.

I ask that you be flexible, gradually introduce them to books of various genres, for example.

Once you have explicitly instructed your students how the readers workshop will be conducted and what it should look like – [especially, when you are teaching your guided reading groups], start with a 10-minute independent reading session and build up gradually until you have your students reading 30 solid minutes.

Make sure that you are modeling reading as well when not teaching your guiding reading groups or conducting informal reading conferences.

Steve Hiles

I am a retired military and elementary school teacher living in Tennessee. I am an avid reader and love to write. I am very passionate about helping teachers. I hope you find my educational tips and strategies useful,and enjoy hearing about my personal journey.



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Steve Hiles

I am a retired military and elementary school teacher living in Tennessee. I am an avid reader and love to write. I am very passionate about helping teachers. I hope you find my educational tips and strategies useful and enjoy hearing about my personal journey. Thanks for visiting!

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