Questions about Readers/Writers Workshop

I just got the fourth request in two days for how I set up my readers/writers workshop classroom. I love getting these requests because it makes me reflect on my own practice, and it means that others are moving into allowing more choice for students. Happy day!

I thought it might be a good idea to share some of my responses and some of the questions I get from educators who want to create a culture of workshop in their own classrooms. If you are thinking about workshop at the secondary level, or if you just have questions, please leave a comment and ask.

Holly says that she’s been given permission to “go rogue” and do something different than the other teachers in her department. She’s been granted her desire to create a readers/writers workshop classroom, but she needs support. I love that she asks me for it.

Here’s my response:

Dear Holly,
How exciting for you! Sure, we can find a time to talk. I am in Minneapolis at an NCTE Affiliate conference this weekend, and next week if filling up fast. If it’s okay, let’s do a little thinking here first.
First, what is the shape of your classroom library? That is huge for a successful rwworkshop. Of course, you can utilize your library, but research says that to surround students with books, you should have a minimum of five books per student. So say in a class of 30, you need at least 150 books in your classroom library. How does yours look? That’s our first start.
If it’s sparse, consider creating a project for books at I’ve had two significant books projects funded. You can see a past project here.
Next, if you have not read Book Love by Penny Kittle, put it at the top of your reading list. Take notes. Everything I’ve learned about doing a workshop classroom I learned from PK — almost.
Think about how you want to structure your class time. Here’s what mine will look like with 85 minute classes every other day. Remember, I teach AP Lang, but much of this worked with my 9 and 10 graders last year, too.
10 min choice reading
     I conference with kids quietly during this time. We must mandate silence, and this takes lots of practice for many kiddos!
Three types of reading conferences: 1. Get kids into a book (This one gets repeated over and over and over again at the beginning of the year.), 2. Teach a reading mini lesson (The lesson is dependent on the needs of the student.), 3. Move kids into more complex reads (Again, this is dependent on the need of each student). All ideas from Book Love by Penny Kittle.
3-5 min poetry (new for me this year since I learned a TON at the poetry conf at the Frost Place I just attended)
     I will dictate a poem, or read aloud a poem, or ask a student to read a favorite poem. Mostly we will just savor the language of poetry. “To write well, students must be immersed in the beauty of language.” –Penny Kittle
2-4 min book talk. I book talk everyday, one of each fiction and non-fiction. Students record in their writer’s notebooks titles that they might want to “Read Next.”
10 min mini lesson on whatever writing we are working on, or max of 20 min direct instruction, if I am introducing something new.
Workshop time. Students work either independently, or in small groups, on their writing as I work the room talking with students as writers more than talking to them about their writing.
Last 5 minutes. Exit thoughts. Might be a whip around with a sentence from students work. Might be thoughts on a sticky note as they exit. Just something for closure.
More on Reading:  Besides choice reading all year, I include four Book Clubs where students choose a book from my short list. All books have similar thematic elements. Book choices include nf, fiction, classics, poetry. They read their books with a small group and discuss craft. We also conduct a whole class discussion around all of these books. When we shoot above comprehension, we get students to think at higher levels — reading like writers. (With my 9 and 10 graders I only did one book club, not four.)
Writing. We move through genres, one primary genre per quarter:
1. Narrative, includes description
2. Informational, might include compare and contrast, process analysis
3. Argument, includes persuasive, definition, examples
4. Multi-genre, includes poetry, all of the above, and more
That’s enough for now. Why don’t you make a list of questions, and we’ll go from there?
Oh, and it is so important to remember that a reading workshop classroom is all about process. And it’s a process, your own, as you figure it out. It’s taken me years to get where I understand the theory behind why all this works, not only to engage students, but to move them as readers and writers. Take it step by step, morph it to work for you and your kids — and you don’t even know who they are yet.



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One thought on “Questions about Readers/Writers Workshop

  1. Norah July 11, 2014 at 9:13 pm Reply

    Wonderful ideas. Putting them into practice one step at a time would be a great way to start for anyone new to the process.


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