Where do I start with reading workshop with middle and high school students? I get this question a lot, and it’s not surprising. If you have never run a reading workshop in your secondary classroom, starting one can be very overwhelming.
Recently I shared a bunch of blog posts on Instagram with those who were unsure of the process, and as I did so, I realized that even they were a little overwhelming. So, this post is an attempt to take away some of that confusion. (I’ve also decided to start a free masterclass to help people get started. If you’re interested, you can get started by clicking here).
So where, oh where, does one start?
Unlike a novel study when everyone is literally on the same page, students in reading workshop will be reading different books at their own pace. That means that as a teacher, you are focusing on skill development, not answers to questions about one text. So, you need to sit down and decide on the skills that you want your students to attain by the end of your time together. Likely, your curriculum already does that, so you need to just make an easy-to-read checklist of them, so you can see what your goal is. If you want more info on this, click here.
2. Plan the order that you will teach these skills during workshop
You will want to scaffold your students’ skill attainment, so you need to make an organized plan to do that. With the above example for character, students need to understand the basics of characterization before they can get into analyzing complex motivations.
So, early in the semester, I will begin with mini-lessons on understanding the various ways that authors develop their characters. We will spend a week or more on that, focusing on a different method each day. Then, we will build toward analyzing how the writers use characters to develop a theme. By focusing on individual skills, rather than on specific texts, you can easily make a reading workshop work with middle and high school students.
3. Plan your workshop mini-lessons & activities
Once you have your road map, it’s time to get specific about how you will teach these skills. I will present the concept/skill during a mini-lesson using a mentor text, and then ask students to apply the skill using their novels. What does that look like?
Let’s say we’re looking at the ways that authors develop character through what they say. I will find samples of passages with dialogue that illustrate character development and project them on my screen. I will model my thought process as I read the samples and make notes about what the passage says about the character. Then, I’ll give my kids time to read and tell them to mark, with sticky notes, passages that illustrate how their writers develop character through dialogue.
After their reading time, they will discuss what they find with a partner. Often, I will provide other skill building activities like the one I explain on this blog post. Sometimes, I’ll follow it with a response in their notebooks.
4. Rinse and repeat
While my focus is on character, I will keep giving lessons like the one above until we have covered all of the strategies that authors use to develop character. Then we’ll move on to how they use their characters. I give a lesson with mentor texts, students look for the same thing in their novels, and then they will either share verbally with a partner (or me in a conference), and then they may write about it.
5. Assess student understanding
This is one of the harder things to adapt to with a middle or high school reading workshop: how do you assess students when they are all reading something different? I’ve already got a focused blog post on that so I’m going to send you over there. However, here’s the short version:
a) Create forms and checklists that correspond with the skills you want students to achieve.
b) Conference with students regularly. Once a student has achieved the skill, check it off or give them a grade. The secret here is getting organized ahead of time. You can read more about that here.
c) Take in student notebooks every few weeks. Have a checklist ready to assess whether they have done all of the required entries and then ONLY READ SOME OF THEM. You can’t read them all – randomly choose some to read and let the kids choose one of their favorites.
d) Decide on major assessments and make a plan for when you will assign them. These might be longer assignments like the traditional essay on character or theme, or more creative ones like the multi-genre project. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the students’ texts. After all of the scaffolding you have done to show them how to analyze their texts, and if you have done the work to show them how to write their analysis, you will be able assess their ability to write about and analyze a book you have not read. Trust me on that!
So those are the broad strokes. If you want some help, I do have a reading workshop bundle. If you aren’t ready for the bundle, or you want more direction, here’s what I’d start with (in order of importance):
Independent Reading: Goal Setting & Assignments: if you want to start with the basics, this will help you do that.
Literary Elements Mini-Lessons: These lessons can be used to introduce or review these basic elements of fiction writing: opening lines, setting, point of view, tone, characterization, theme and author style.
Activities for Independent Reading: This product offers you a variety of activities that you can use to help your students become active readers who can effectively analyze their texts. These activities will teach them the habits of active reading and will guide them to have meaningful discussions about literature.
Stations for Learning to Respond to Text: This is a great jumping off point to teach your kids how you want them to respond to text. They also provide you with some awesome classroom posters!
Independent Reading Learning Stations: The tasks at each station require that students look for, and write about, different elements of fiction. Included are titles and task cards for: opening lines, setting, point of view, tone, character, conflict, author’s message, author’s style, great quotes and questions.
Prompts for Independent Reading: These writing prompts are perfect to use as bell ringers for independent reading or reader’s workshop. Each one asks students to reflect on — or connect to — some aspect of their reading, such as character, theme, point of view, conflict, or setting. Some prompts ask them to make a creative connection.
My Teacher Planner: lays out a lot of the ways that I unfold my workshop. If you’re looking for step-by-step, this will work!
Reading Conference Guides: these will help you plan, organize, and assess your conferences.
All of this and more is available in the reading workshop bundle.
I hope that clears up some of the confusion about using reader’s workshop in middle or high school! Please leave questions if you need some more clarification. And if you’d like more help with reading workshop, I’ve got something exciting coming in July, 2020. Sign up here to be notified!