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How to Get Started with Reader’s Workshop

Read about how to get started with reader's workshop by shifting our traditional mindset where everyone is reading the same thing at the same time.

Reader’s Workshop is a shift in our traditional teacher mindset where everyone is reading the same thing at the same time. I do a hybrid model of reader’s workshop that mixes whole class novels with a lot of independent choice novels.

My school year is structured for my students with short stories, one whole class novel, 1-2 student-led book clubs (literature circles) and lots of independent self-selected choice novels.

Here are some mindset shifts to think about when embracing reader’s workshop.

  1. Not everyone is reading the same thing at the same time. Whole-class novels still have their place in the curriculum, but your entire program should not be 100% whole-class novel based.
  2. Build a thriving classroom library (read tips here) or visit your school library often so students can self-select books of interest to them.
  3. Embrace reading journals. They are so much more than just book summaries. My students use their reading journals daily. They write down their thoughts, formal journal entries, and recommendations from peers and keep track of the books they read. Take a peek inside my reading journal program here.
  4. Keep students accountable for their independent reading with a reading clipboard. Every day we pass around a clipboard with their name and date pre-populated. They just fill in their book title and current page number. NO MORE HOME READING LOGS. I certainly do not fill in a reading log for every book I read.
  5. Conference daily/weekly/monthly with each student to focus on their reading goals and how you can help them achieve these goals. I outline how to run a reading conference in my reading journal program. Find this resource on Shopify CAD or Teachers Pay Teachers USD
  6. Student choice is not 100% free. There needs to be some teacher guidance so they are picking age-appropriate novels i.e. reading Fifty Shades of Grey in 8th grade is not an acceptable choice.

Looking for good novel recommendations?

Check out these grade level book lists.

Here is how I introduce reader’s workshop each year to my students.

  • Day 1Brainstorm why reading is an important skill using sticky notes, chart paper, markers or Google Docs.
  • Day 2 Explicitly teach students about the different genres and then have them sort books cut out of Scholastic flyers or library books into those genres.
  • Day 3Teach students how to select a good book. Tell them to think of a genre they like then sort through interesting titles. Read the back cover and the first page to see if they like the author’s writing style. Students can also think of previous titles they liked and enter them into websites like What Should I Read Next or Goodreads. This will help them generate new titles to look up. Sorting your classroom into genres instead of by author or level also helps students find novels quickly. Learn how to set up an engaging and effective classroom library.
  • Day 4 –  Help students find that book. I do something called “Reading Dating” – it is like Speed Dating but with books. I arrange my desks into groups and put book stacks out at each table. Students rotate through each station (I like to set mine up by genre) with their reading journals and make lists of interesting books. By the end of this activity, students must have selected their first independent reading novel. I tell students they can always abandon a book but they must have a good reason for abandoning it. We have a class discussion about what good reasons to abandon a book might be (parent concern, student concern, too difficult, too easy, etc).
  • Day 5Co-create a list of independent reading expectations (what does it look like, sound like, etc) on chart paper then practice independent reading for 3 – 5 minutes. Build up their reading stamina until they can read for 10 minutes without interrupting you or each other. While they are reading this is your time to conference with individual or groups of students.
  • Each day/every few days before they start to read, give your students a mission on what they are looking for as they read – similies, metaphors, interesting sentences. I personally only do this a few times a week so that I don’t kill their new love of reading. After students read,  give them 2-5 minutes to share their answers with the class, in small groups or with their seat partners. I like my students to fill out reading strategies graphic organizers as they read. Find this resource on Shopify CAD or Teachers Pay Teachers USD.
  • The following week we set up our reading journals, reading clipboard check-ins and conferences formally begin.

In this blog post learn 10 Tips for Managing Reader’s Workshop in the Middle School Classroom.


Looking for more reader’s workshop advice?

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