I get a lot of questions about the best way to balance reading and writing workshop; it’s something that I’ve struggled with myself on my journey with this approach. However, the more I think about it, the more I wonder: why do we want to separate them at all?
Reading and writing are closely entwined. That’s obvious. And yet, we tend to teach them as separate entities, even during workshop time. However, whether students are reading beautifully written language, or experimenting with it themselves, they are learning to become skilled readers and writers. It’s all so inextricably linked.
But, the question remains, how do you combine reading and writing workshop? Let’s start with a look at some of the common core standards for reading literature in grade nine and ten:
Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).
And now, check out these standards for writing in the same grades:
Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.
Even though the wording is a little different, each standard is basically asking the kids to focus on the same concepts, so why not ask them to do it all at once, rather than during separate lessons? That’s exactly what I plan to do this year. As always, it’ll be a work in progress for me, but I will share my successes and failures as I go, as well as some of the tools I will use to blend these two workshops. Be sure you sign up for 5 Days of Workshop Freebies to get some inspiration and freebies to help you with your own workshop!
Here are four ways that I plan to blend reading and writing workshop:
1. Book Talks:
Book talks are an essential ingredient for a reader’s workshop. We use them to spread the work about great reads, inspiring the kids to pick up a title they might not otherwise choose. However, if you are more deliberate with planning your book talk, you can use it for a writing mentor text at the same time. For example, at the beginning of the year, I always talk about the methods authors pull their readers into their stories. I want my readers to be able to identify and evaluate these techniques. I also want my writers to be able to craft engaging openings to their texts too, whether they are writing a narrative, a description, a poem or a non-fiction piece. I will gather a variety of novels with great openings, as well as some magazine and newspaper articles. We will evaluate them as readers, and then, during independent work time, students will use some of them as mentor texts to experiment with in their own writing.
2. Student Novels as Mentor Texts
When we do writing prompts and/or skill building exercises, I will ask students to use the novels they are reading as mentor texts. In the example above, after I show them the openings from the texts I have found, they will evaluate the effectiveness of opening lines of their novel, either in writing or in a conference with me. But, they will also be expected to use it as a model, and to try some of the writer’s techniques themselves. If I’m teaching them about variety in sentence length, they will be tasked with the job of looking for examples in their novel and again, use them as a models. It’s so easy to make that link — and it’s easier for the teacher, because you don’t have to spend hours looking for mentor texts. It puts more responsibility on the students to do the thinking and the work, and it is an activity that blends reading and writing skills, as they have to be able to identify the technique in the novel (reading) and use it in their own writing.
3. Reading/Writing Notebook
I don’t see any need to have two separate notebooks for reading and writing workshop, especially if I’m combining lessons as I explained above. The kids don’t need another thing to keep track of (nor do you) and, if you’re linking reading skills and writing skills, it only makes sense to link the notebooks as well. Whether they are writing about the book they are reading, using a writing prompt, or using their own ideas, the end result is the same.
4. Inquiry Questions
Inquiry questions are a staple in my classroom. I use them to approach everything we do, so I can link what happens in my room with what’s happening in the students’ lives. It makes them see the relevance in what we do and increases engagement significantly (you can read about how it works in Room 213 here). This year, instead of giving them the question, I’m going to open it up and let them choose their own. In the initial weeks of workshop, I want the kids to think about big questions that they’d like to find answers for. Then, they will attempt to find those answers in the books they read and use these ideas as jumping off point for their own writing. At the end of the year, they will complete a multi-genre project that will illustrate their exploration of the question. This will require that they explore the ideas in non-fiction, poetry and other texts as well as their novels. It will also require that they experiment with various types of writing as they explore the idea.
Conferencing is another essential component of the workshop approach, as they allow you time to instruct and assess your students. These provide another easy way to blend your reading and writing workshop. If I have a conference to assess a student’s ability to understand how authors use language for effect, I’ll ask them to show me examples from their novels and their pieces of writing. Not only is this “one-stop shopping” for the teacher, but it’s a process that makes sense. Separating reading from writing is kind of like separating multiplication from division in math. Yes, they are separate skills, but students use them simultaneously in math class.
Keep following for more details on how I blend my workshops, including the assessments that I plan to use. More posts coming soon. And don’t forget to sign up for 5 Day or Workshop Freebies so you can receive free products to use in your classroom.