Create a List

List Name

Rename this List
Save to
Back to the Top Teaching Blog
August 18, 2009 Reader's Workshop 101 By Victoria Jasztal
Grades 3–5

    Active imaginations pondering the motives of characters. Eyes sparkling with excitement, thinking about the compelling mysteries and fantasies that are unfolding before them in their chapter books. Minds racing with predictions, seeking support from engaging texts. These examples define the essence of a successful reader’s workshop.


    Active imaginations pondering the motives of characters. Eyes sparkling with excitement, thinking about the compelling mysteries and fantasies that are unfolding before them in their chapter books. Minds racing with predictions, seeking support from engaging texts. These examples define the essence of a successful reader’s workshop.


    Before the school year begins, ambition always sets in for me, sometimes to where it is intense. Thinking about the possibilities of my centers, partnerships, and challenges intrigues me. Whenever I attend a workshop that pertains to vocabulary or comprehension strategies, I get excited thinking about how my students’ metacognition can improve. It is even better when I see teachers who have been in the classroom 25 years versus perhaps two years share the same enthusiasm. We all have spectacular potential and enjoy hearing others’ ideas for achieving academic gains.

    I want you to think about the possibilities when reading this post. You may get excited about one idea, several ideas, or even look at an idea and think of a completely new idea. For this post, I would love for you to comment with an idea so we can perhaps build a database together at my resource website. I really want to learn from you, my fellow colleague, so I can reach every student in some way.

    Many of the ideas I posted below will be expanded upon throughout the school year (some of these ideas will account for posts with a whole lot more information), yet I am providing just enough information now so you can get some helpful ideas before you really delve into instruction this year.


    Beyond this image lies all kinds of amazing links and pictures...

    How Did I Begin Reader’s Workshop?

    It was the summer of 2006, and I was about to enter my third year of teaching. A book was recommended to me called Guiding Readers and Writers by Fountas and Pinnell. The title of another book had also been lingering in my mind for quite some time- Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Keene. Ordering Guiding Readers and Writers first, I learned what defined a mini-lesson. I had never taught a mini-lesson before. Additionally, I came across the word schema. I learned that activating prior knowledge sets the tone for an entire reading lesson. From there, I came across a lot of strategies, which are included on the Mosaic of Thought Listserv at Between discovering a teacher named Beth Newingham (the first grades 3-5 advisor featured at Scholastic), watching the videos at, and looking at the literature selection I had in my classroom, I developed a solid plan for the year.

    The following summer, I could not believe how my students had learned to take sides on a topic and support their stances. They learned about predictions, inferences, motives, author’s purpose, context clues, and many more elements that made them stronger readers. I then decided in the summer of 2007 to develop kind of a mini-lesson pacing guide for myself. It provided a solid foundation and helped me to make sure I addressed all areas, though I have changed many of the lessons I teach since then. It, however, has provided guidance for some colleagues, both online and offline.

    Yet before you really plan, a schedule (at least tentative) must be in place.


    We all know it well- having a schedule for you and your students to follow is very important. We have very well learned that for any subject that it is important to establish routines and be consistent.   Daily, I have a 90 minute reading block that follows a 60 minute writing block. The schedule below is how I conduct my morning between the two subjects because they overlap.

    9:15-9:30- Writing Mini Lesson
    9:30-10:00- Writer’s Workshop
    10:00-10:15- Reading Mini Lesson
    10:15-10:35- Centers #1 (Reading)
    10:35-10:55- Centers #2 (Reading and Writing Related- Elements from writer’s workshop are carried into centers so students can make more connections between reading and writing.)
    10:55-11:20- Independent Reading Time
    11:20-11:45- Whole Group Reading Lesson

    In the second center block, I focus on writing in reading because it is important for students to discover that authors of their favorite books use onomatopoeia, alliteration, vivid language, foreshadowing and a number of other skills they learn about in writing mini-lessons.

    Planning Groups

    I place my students in partnerships for centers, and partnerships form groups. A partnership consists of either two or three students. I place boys with boys and girls with girls. Groups then consist of two partnerships- one boy and one girl partnership, comprised of 4-6 students.

    Prior to placing my students in partnerships and groups, I analyze data. Reading strands on the Florida standardized test, the FCAT, fall into four areas- Words, Main Idea and Supporting Details, Comparison and Contrast, and Research. If I realize that many students need assistance in an area, then I work on a skill as often as I can in whole group instruction. However, I try to reinforce all kinds of concepts in small group instruction, and that is where my partnerships come into account.

    Data is not the only factor that determines my partnerships and groups. I also consider who may be a good influence on one another. Additionally, I consider their interests because the students conduct book talks with one another and focus on specific topics within their centers. My groups are not formed homogenously because at times, a student who is extremely proficient with a specific strategy can explain and model it to his or her team members.

    It is important to monitor your groups often and think of how (if) they are reaching the goals you are setting for them as well as the ones they are setting for themselves. The most important questions to consider in the midst of evaluation (every few weeks for me) are-

    -Do you see noticeable growth in specific areas of reading? (Can you look at data and see that the percentage of proficiency in an area has increased?)
    -Are the students improving together, or are just a few students improving?
    -What reasonable goals can be set for future days and weeks?

    I never switch group configurations around, but my evaluations help me in the areas of goal setting and seeing where the students need further direction. Keeping anecdotal records about my groups helps me to plan mini-lessons and give me ideas on what I can focus on when reading literature with the class.

    Now we are getting into the core of reading- mini-lessons, collaboration, centers and whole group ideas.


    A mini-lesson focuses on reading skills and lasts for approximately 10-15 minutes. The book that most assisted me in coming up with mini-lessons was Guiding Readers and Writers by Fountas and Pinnell. They refer to spectacular beginning-of-the-year mini-lessons for intermediate teachers. If you would like to view a specific list of mini-lessons, click here. Additionally, this file provides a few sample mini-lessons for main idea and supporting details so you can understand the format of a mini-lesson. 

    The pictures below are of charts I utilize during mini-lessons that I have made. As the year progresses, I will show you many charts that my students and I will work on together during our mini-lesson time.

    IMG_3169 IMG_3170 IMG_3171 IMG_3172
    IMG_3173 IMG_3174 IMG_3175 IMG_3176
    IMG_3177 IMG_3178 IMG_3179 IMG_3180
    IMG_3181 IMG_3183

    Collaboration, Collaboration, Collaboration! 

    - Literature Circles- An idea I got from is to use a large piece of chart paper for literature circles. Draw a line that splits the paper into five parts (like spokes on a wheel coming out from the center). The students can then move around and complete their roles. My five roles are Summarizer, Vocabularian (has to come up with 10+ strong words from the selection), Questioner (must write five questions along with answers for the reader), Illustrator (must sketch two pictures that include captions), and Elements Master (focuses on characters, setting, mood, theme, etc.). I use literature circles during centers with both fiction and non-fiction texts- leveled readers, sections from the science textbook, the story we are reading in MacMillan Treasures for the week, and more.

    - Podcasting- My students also create podcasts. Here is an example of a podcast two of my students made about comparing and contrasting last year. We use Audacity (a free program) to record the podcasts. Sometimes I write the scripts, sometimes the students write them. Most importantly, I try to focus on skills that are taught in class so students can listen to the podcasts over and over again.


    - A Center File Box- I have two center file boxes in my classroom, one for fiction and the other for non-fiction. The boxes include many resources from FCRR Student Center Activities, Grades 4-5.
    IMG_3188 IMG_3191 IMG_3190

    -Providing Nonfiction Examples- Utilize magazines, newspapers, websites, and any non-fiction selections you have in your classroom. Use leveled readers from your science and social studies series as well; you don't always have to re-invent the wheel. (Note- If you have Scott Foreman Science, each chapter focuses on a specific reading skill like Compare and Contrast or Main Idea. You can possibly create a center that focuses on content you are currently studying in other subjects with a focus on reading skills. You may use an interactive bulletin board or just have students spread out on the floor with their textbooks so they can complete the activities for the reading skill in the chapter.)

    -Posters with rings attaching them together- I have purchad many posters at educational supply stores over time. Perhaps I was enticed because they are cheap! You know how at times you cannot hang up every single one in the classroom? You can take the posters, laminate them if they are not already, and punch two holes at the top. You can then keep common themed posters together with binder rings.

    -Utilizing Technology- Send your students on a Quick Time Virtual Reality (QTVR) or interactive adventure online. These links may help you in finding some excellent "adventures" online.

    -This morning, my colleague (Barbara Gries, a fifth-grade teacher) came up with a tremendous idea. Perhaps you can have a science fair center if it is a focus at your school. Have students learn about the different components of science fair projects up-close every week. (Since Barbara is the fifth grade advanced teacher, I may feature photos of my students from last year using her center for you to see this year.)

    Whole Group Ideas

    - What is your schema? Focus on schema. See what students know. That will help them to choose literature independently and improve their questioning skills.

    - Lincs Vocabulary Model- There is a model you can have students create where students receive a vocabulary word and find another word like it, make connections between those words, draw a picture that connects the two words, and write a mini-story of 1-2 sentences with both the original word and the connecting word in it. The Lincs strategy will be explained in a later post.

    - Independent Reading Time- This summer, I read Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop by Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak. Independent Reading Time differs greatly from what you may have known as Sustained Silent Reading. I highly recommend this book because there is a correlation between reading every day and receiving higher reading test scores!

    Last, here is a slideshow of all the components I have explained here. 

    This week, I would love for you to contribute. Do you have any ideas for your reading block that work well? Perhaps someone can benefit from your incredible idea. Also, do not hesitate to ask questions.

    If school begins for you this next week (it does for me, so I am feeling a plethora of things right now), I hope you have a sensational first week back. Set high expectations for your students, and your students will try their hardest to meet them. I am finishing with a photo of a few of my students from last year enjoying a bowling night for scoring above the grade level expectation on the state writing test this past February. This photo was taken this evening- their parents (and siblings) arrived and remained with them the entire time. It was amazing seeing my former students and knowing they really enjoyed attending the event.



Share your ideas about this article

My Scholastic

Susan Cheyney