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September 13, 2013 Creating a Reader's/Writer's Toolkit By Rhonda Stewart
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    My interest in a reader's/writer's toolkit began about three years ago. I had already, in my own way, created a toolkit but had not given it a name. (I am sure that I am not alone in having done this!) As a teacher, I often find solutions to dilemmas that occur within my teaching. Once I find a solution, I keep note of it and tuck it away until a moment arises when I need to use it.
    About three years ago, I worked with a great team of district literacy coaches. We were assigned the task of providing staff development to strengthen the understanding of the workshop model for our colleagues. We each took a topic to present, but one really piqued my interest — creating a reader's toolkit. And my journey began...

    What is a Toolkit?

    If I had to define the word, I would say that a toolkit is a collection of resources used to aid in completing a task efficiently. In a nutshell, it's a lifesaver!
    Have you ever conferenced with a student and get stuck on how to move that student forward? I have, and it is humbling when you are struggling to find a strategy to help a student while he or she is working independently. Having a toolkit helps to alleviate that stress by having a variety of solutions ready at your fingertips.
    Okay, so what is a toolkit? My reader's/writer's toolkit is a collection of materials I use during a reading and/or writing student conference. This collection includes tip sheets to help guide the conferencing process, mentor texts, and strategies to focus on. 

    Creating A Toolkit 

    In creating my toolkit, I had to assess my needs as well as those of my students. I know from looking into their reading and writing notebooks that I will have some idea on how to guide the conference. However, I also know that often the unanticipated issues surface.
    I decided to combine my tools for reading and writing. This is a personal choice and you can create separate ones for each subject if that will work better for you. 
    Here is my list of non-negotiables: 
    • An accordion file folder (I prefer plastic — it's more durable). I label the sections in my toolkit for easy access. Remember, you need to  quickly get to the information to address the needs of your students.
    • Post-its
    • Highlighters

    • Mentor text (a text that you know well and can use to demonstrate strategies)
    • Reference text (a favorite of mine is Revisiting the Reading Workshop by Barbara Orehovec and Marybeth Alley)

    • Tip sheets — Here are some that I use that my colleagues have shared with me. They include:

    ​Word Attack and Fluency


    Conference Research Questions

    Conferencing Form 

    Pearls of Wisdom — This one may seem obvious, but when selecting a mentor text, you want to be sure that you are able to pull multiple strategies to demonstrate to your students. Also, tab it (using post-its), and label the text by strategy so that you can quickly access it. This will make your life simpler in the long run. 


    Moving Forward

    I continue to build upon the idea of keeping it simple and not reinventing the wheel. The reader's/writer's toolkit is not a new idea. It's been around for awhile and just as I have done, I encourage you to experiment, create and define your version of the toolkit to fit your needs.
    Stay tuned — next week I will demonstrate how to use the toolkit during a conference. 


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Susan Cheyney