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May 13, 2010 Planning Units of Study for Readers and Writers Workshop By Angela Bunyi
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.




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Susan Cheyney