How do I find time to use full class texts with reading workshop? This is a question that I get at least once a week, so I thought it was time for a new blog post that explains that reading workshop and full class texts are NOT mutually exclusive.
I say “new post” because I’ve written about this before, back when workshop was new to me. When I wrote it, I was still learning how to run a workshop and I’ve gone through many iterations of it since then. Each one worked, but I kept tweaking until I found a rhythm I was happy with. However, I’m linking the post that explains my old method because it may be one that works for you.
But let’s get back to the question: How do I find time for full class texts?
The Typical Workshop Schedule is Just a Guide
Gurus of reading workshop like Nancy Atwell and Penny Kittle have given us a roadmap for running reading workshop. It looks something like this:
✔️ Book talk
✔️ Time to read
✔️ Independent or collaborative work
It’s a system that works beautifully, but each segment takes time and it can be hard to fit it all in, right? Well, one thing I’d like to make clear before we get into full class texts is that this is just a guide, a suggestion. If you are doing reading and writing workshop, it doesn’t mean that you have to follow this schedule every day and in exactly the same order.
Many days, I start with the mini-lesson because I want students to note something I’ve taught them while they read – like how writers develop character with dialogue, for example. Some days, we read at the end of class because we need to finish something we started the day before.
I like to look at the above schedule as an overall template for how my class will run during the whole week, not something I must squeeze into every class. Some days, what I want to do might fit into this format perfectly, and I can complete each component. However, sometimes my mini-lesson isn’t quite so “mini,” and it might take a good part of the class. When that happens, the independent/collaborative work might happen the next day.
Sometimes, I have a collaborative activity that takes most of the class too. On those days, we start with reading, or a mini-lesson, or a book talk, and then we jump into the activity. Many days, we start with reading and then spend the rest of the class wiritng and revising with no mini-lesson, because we’ve had those, and it’s time to work.
Basically, I plan my lessons and units in increments of time, and then I spread it out over the week.
I think (and I may be wrong, so let me know) that the problem with fitting things in stems from feeling like reading workshop requires each component every day. So, if you think of each one as something you need to pay attention to over a number of days, you may feel less overwhelmed.
Short Full Class Texts as Mentors
Ok, let’s finally start talking about those full class texts within reading workshop. One very important aspect of the reading and writing workshop model is the mentor text, the model that we use to teach skills to our students. Short texts like poems, short stories, and non-fiction articles make perfect mentor texts – and they allow students to read the same work at the same time. And there is a lot of value in that. (get more info on how to use mentor texts here).
Last week, I started teaching my class about the ways that writers develop character and I began with one of my all-time favorite short stories, The Singing Silence by Eva-Lis Wurio. Here’s how it looked:
Mini-Lesson (10 min) An overview of the ways that writers develop character
Writing Prompt: If you were forty years old and completely happy, what five things would you need in your life? We discussed their answers, many of which included money or the things money can buy. Then I read the opening lines of the story which say that the main character was the happiest person the narrator ever knew – and also the poorest. We discuss how that could be…(5 min)
Modelling: I read the first page of the story to the students, modelling my own close read as I looked for ways that the main character is being developed (10 min).
Independent work: students read and annotate the story. When they were finished, they read their novels.
Discussion of the text: During the last ten minutes of the class (it’s seventy-five minutes) we discussed their annotations and what they learned about the main character.
Writing Prompt (5 min) Students were given a writing prompt based on the story from the day before
Review (5 min) I did a quick review of the ways authors develop character. I instructed the students that, as they read this week, they will be noting with stickies, ways that their writers are developing character. This is something I will conference on with them the following week.
Reading (15 min)
Sharing (5 min) After their silent reading, students turned to a partner and shared what they noted about character as they were reading. Sometimes, I’ll have them do this in a journal response instead.
Active Learning (30 min) To reinforce and practice what they have learned, I organized a Quote Walk, where students visited various passages that I’d posted on the wall. that focus on character development. Read about this activity here.
THE REST OF THE WEEK:
On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I started each class with a book talk and used short passages from each novel that demonstrated different ways that the writers developed character. Students were given the passages to close read and annotate. When they finished they shared their annotations with a partner. Then, they were given time to read – and a reminder to mark passages in their novels that demonstrated character development. After that, they did some notebook writing where they mimicked the style of the writer in one of the passages.
This is a process that I repeat often, whether I use poetry or short fiction and non-fiction. I choose a skill or theme I want to focus on, then choose a short text to use as a mentor. So, students are using full class texts to learn the skill or to discuss the theme.
Longer Full Class Texts and Reading Workshop
I absolutely love reading workshop; however, I still see the value in students reading a book together, and so I always do at least one full class novel or play at the end of the semester. Sometimes we do book clubs as well.
We start each semester with two – three months of reading and writing workshop, but then the last two months we read a text together. I do it in this order so students can build skills with books they have chosen to read. The hope is that I can turn them on to reading, so when it’s time to read an assigned text, they may be more likely to actually read it.
And even though we make the switch to reading a full class novel or play, we still start (or end) most classes with ten minutes where students read choice novels. However, at this time, they are reading solely for enjoyment and I don’t attach any assignments or expectations to their reading (we do that with the full class study).
While there are two parts to my semester, we tie it all together at the end with a multi-genre project. Read how that works here.
There you go. A long answer to the question: how do I find the time to do full class texts? I hope this post provided you with more guidance! But, if you have questions, please leave them below. You can also check out the blog posts that I have included at the end of this post.
Disclaimer: I teach seventy-five minute classes in a semester system, so I have my current classes from September until the end of January. If you teach year long, shorter classes, you would do what I do in one class over two classes.