An important aspect of managing workshop is offering students consistent routines that balance teacher-led, students-led, and choice-reading experiences. During the opening weeks of school, I focus on these two strategies:

  • Discover the kinds of reading support students need, then organize small strategic-reading groups.
  • Teach the class how to work in groups, pairs, and alone without the support of a teacher.

Teach Students to Work Independently

It can take from four to six weeks for students to learn how to work on specific tasks without your guidance. Teach them how to:

  • organize their response journals and have them practice three or four responses with your guidance before asking them to work alone.
  • create their own discussion questions;
  • set up behavior guidelines for book discussions;
  • engage in paired reading and retelling; and
  • negotiate the ground rules for independent reading.

Investing the time to teach your students how to work alone allows you to support everyone in small-group and one-on-one meetings. From time to time, during the closing of a workshop, you'll need to address behavior glitches that arise.

Behavior Guidelines
Early in the year, take the time to establish guidelines for productive, independent group work. I always include students in this process, for they are more apt to follow guidelines and goals they helped create.

Ask students to suggest behavior guidelines that will help groups discuss books, complete projects, or confer. I require that students state guidelines in positive sentences so they understand what they can and should do.

Record students' suggestions on the chalkboard. Add one or two of your own. Then ask students to select five key guidelines and post these on a chart.

Preventing Disruptions
While you're working with a group of students, others will have questions that need answering. Post the following four guidelines and periodically review them with students.

  • Pause and think for a minute. Try to discover ways to solve the problem on your own. Reread the class chart that lists strategies that have been modeled and practiced.
  • Ask members of your group for help.
  • If group members can't help, ask another student, one who is not working with the teacher.
  • If none of the above work, turn to another task until the teacher is free to help.

Offer Meaningful Reading Experiences During Choice Time
Students can work successfully in small groups, paris, or alone when they're truly engaged. Your students will be engaged by these activities, providing you first teach them how to approach each one:

  • Independent Reading: students read a free-choice contract book for 15 to 30 minutes at school. I ask students to read an additional 30 minutes each night for homework.
  • Paired Reading: partners read and retell sections of a text to one another.
  • Paired Questioning: partners read passages and questions to one another.
  • Listening to a Book: students listen to a book on an audiocasette in a listening center.
  • Complete a Journal Entry
  • Write a Book Review
  • Readers Theater Scripts: groups create and practice reading aloud scripts based on books they've read.
  • Practice a Strategy: students, solo or in small groups, use books at their independent reading level to cement their understanding of a strategy.
  • Work on Research: students read about their topic using various sources.
  • Peer Conferences: pairs or small groups discuss how they apply a reading strategy or share journal entries.
  • Group Dramatizations: small groups select a section or chapter of a book to dramatize, using voice and gestures to reveal character.
  • Student-Led Book Discussions: Organize heterogeneous groupings, mixing ability levels and gender. Sometimes you'll organize students around interests, choices, achievement, knowledge of a subject, or by chance.
  • Complete a Portfolio Entry: Portfolios in my class are a collection of eight to ten pieces on students' friends, interests, and selections from writing folders and journals that students choose and self-evaluate. Self-evaluations include: my favorite piece, most enjoyable topic, the piece that illustrates progress in content, in mechanics, in prargraphing, etc.