Making Reader's Workshop Work for You

Have you been wanting to use a workshop model in your classroom? Need to learn more. Check out this post to see how the routine works and learn what you can do now to make next year easier.
Have you been interested in exploring a workshop model for your language arts block, but feel like you need to understand a little more about it? The workshop model keeps the reader and writer in mind, emphasizes choices, and employs more partner and small group learning. Today, I thought I'd share tips you might use as you begin thinking about ways to improve literacy instruction next year.

Routines Matter

Structuring the Literacy Block

As you think about reader's workshop, the first step is to set your schedule up for success. There needs to be a predictable routine for the students in order for them to carry out their reading plans. For reader's workshop, you'll need about an hour and a half of time for a class size of approximately 20 students or three reading groups. Here's a sample schedule:

Whole Group Reading Mini-Lesson 
(Suggested 20-25 minutes) 
Guided Reading Groups/Literacy Workstations/Independent Reading or Literature Circles
(Suggested 50 -60 minutes) 
Whole Group Writing Mini-Lesson 
(Suggested 20 minutes) 
Writer’s Workshop 
(Suggested 20-30 minutes) 
(Suggested 10 minutes)

As you can see in the schedule, the reading block begins with whole group instruction. The mini-lessons at the start of the year are typically focused on routine building. Teachers model how literacy workstations, literature circles, and word study work is to be done as well as establish rotation plans, rules for bathroom/water breaks, and even how questions are to be asked. We know kids will have them, right? Taking time to establish your expectations for independent work and work at the table pays off all year long.

The Mini Lesson

The mini lesson for the day is the focus of your instruction. The teacher selects the skill that he/she will model through the mini-lesson and how he/she will demonstrate it. Teachers often use anchor charts, a powerpoint presentation, or mentor texts lessons (or shared reading with think aloud) as the instructional strategy followed by an opportunity for students to discuss and practice with a partner. The mini-lesson is not determined by a reading basal, but rather, the teachers chooses the focus using the pacing guides from his/her school division and/or student needs.

Turn and Talk

You've been hearing about turning and talking. Check out this post to see how teachers are using it as a way to work out student thinking during whole group and small group instruction.
After the teacher has modeled the focus skill (through a mentor text, using an anchor chart, or by demonstrating with a graphic organizer on the smartboard), then it's time for student engagement. The students in your room should be trained in how to pair up and discuss and/or apply what they've learned to their personal reading. This part is critical for struggling students in particular, and it is important to keep in mind that students do not need to read at the same level to interact well about the reading. 

Setting the Purpose

Before you send your students packing, it's important to set the purpose for small group instruction. How will the students practice or apply the information learned through the mini-lesson? The skill work continues once the students leave the carpet. Whether you run literature circles after the whole group lesson or meet with your students for guided reading groups, there will be students working independently, and they need to clearly understand what it is that they're expected to do. 

Small Group Instruction

Have you been wanting to use a workshop model in your classroom? Need to learn more. Check out this post to see how the routine works and learn what you can do now to make next year easier.


You've set the purpose. Now what? The answer to this is to begin your small group rotations. You do have options though and there are lots of them.

Guided Reading Groups:

For some teachers, a guided reading approach works best where the teacher works with students according to their reading levels in small groups while the remaining students work in literacy workstations, on seatwork, in journals, or on word building activities. This is probably the most popular routine at the elementary level. In my school division, the expectation was to use literacy workstations, word study activities, and partner reading while guided reading groups met. 

Daily Five:

Another option is to structure your small group instruction around the Daily Five model. In this model, the choices are simplified a little (IMO) when students are not at the table. Groups remain fluid and can be based on skills needed or reading levels. For an idea of how this look, check out Kristen's post over on Classroom Tested Resources.

Literature Circles:

One more option some teachers have used is literature circles. I think literature circles work especially well in upper elementary, middle school, and even high school. Older readers need small group reading time too. With literature circles, the students still work toward the lesson purpose in small groups through deep discussion and group work, however, each student is assigned a specific role in the discussion. Word Wizard, Summarizer, and Questioner are just a few. Lit Circles can lead to high engagement since the students can choose what they're interested in reading  (from the teacher's collection) and increased accountability due to working as a team. With this model, the teacher works more as a facilitator and floats between groups overseeing the discussion.

Conferring with Kids:

During the block of time after your whole group lesson, you will want to take some of the time to confer with your students about their reading and hold book talks. In my opinion, this is a very rewarding part of the day to both teacher and students. This time gives the teacher the opportunity to get to know his/her students as readers and to hold them accountable for independent reading which has been proven to be the best predictors of reading success.


Each day, we as teachers need to take anecdotal notes and evidence of our students' learning. The assessment piece is very important because it gives us the next step. As we're working with our students in small groups, one-on-one, and observing them in our workstations, we are collecting data which helps us know our students' strengths and weaknesses. Keeping evidence also helps us show parents and administrators how our students are doing and where extra support or enrichment is needed. Finally, having students respond to their reading emphasizes the reading-writing connection.


The last part of the reading block should be a closing or debrief. It takes just a minute or two, but it pulls everything together. It gives the teacher a chance to set the stage for the next day too. 

What Can We Do Now for Later?

Print and Go activities you can use for small group instruction and literacy workstations. All you need to add is a book of your choice. Activities help the teacher with assessing student understanding of comprehension skills.
One of the best things you can do now is organizing a reading binder with materials you can pull for skills that you know you will be teaching. I'd recommend printing a hard copy of your favorite organizers, foldables, and anchor charts. Then, go to your school and copy 5 of each, place them in sheet protectors, and divide them by skill. You will want a variety so that you can present the skill in different ways. While you are at it, you may want to begin looking for titles that help you with modeling too. Having things ready to go will save you a ton of time later. 

This Skill Based Comprehension Checks for Primary set helps teachers keep the focus of small group instruction on the meaning of the text. Intended for grades 1-3.
Recently, I revised the Guided Reading Bundle (72 pages) in my store and added to the Skill Based Comprehension Checks Bundle for Primary. The Guided Reading Bundle is probably best suited for grades 2 and up whereas the Skill Based Comprehension Checks are aimed at primary readers. The colleagues I shared these with have been very pleased. Here are a few of the comments from a few buyers:

Wow! This is an amazing product. I think I can use this one product all year long...regardless of my reading levels. Each of the comprehension skills and strategies are done with the ability to differentiate for my students. Thank you so much! I can't wait to recommend this product to my colleagues!

These are great to give my students for independent reading, small groups, and partner reading! I love the endless possibilities!

Great addition to my reading resources. The simplicity is perfectly suited for my second graders.

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