August 6, 2013

Teaching Writing Through Guided Reading

Well, we're back at it again in my district!  With summer school that is!  We did two weeks of summer school immediately following the school year and are now doing an additional two weeks to get back in the swing of things for the upcoming school year.  Me, along with a few of my language arts colleagues, are doing guided reading groups with students reading below grade level.  I cannot express how awesome it is to be at work and able to concentrate on ONE thing-guided reading.  I'm trying out some cool techniques for fluency  that I learned during my LLI conference two weeks ago, and have also really been concentrating on teaching writing conventions through noticing how authors use these conventions in their writing.

Yesterday, I was talking with my group who is reading Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (yes, I'm a little obsessed with this book), and we were examining reasons that authors use apostrophes in their writing.  All of a sudden one of my students in the group said, "Should I be using apostrophes like this too when I write?"  I couldn't help but smile and reply (perhaps with a little too much enthusiasm), "ABSOLUTELY!"  It seems silly, but so often at the middle school level we teach students writing and reading separately.  It's so important that students see the two connected.  Readers should be noticing what they should do as writers while they're reading.

Ever since I started teaching using a Reading and Writing Workshop that connected together, I, personally, as a reader, have never looked at reading the same.  This summer as I read Gillian Flynn's three books, Gone Girl, Sharp Places, and Dark Objects, I was constantly thinking about the way she developed her complex characters and the descriptive language she used to create a vision in the reader's mind of the scene.  I know that as I engage in narrative writing with my students this year, my writing will forever be changed by Gillian Flynn.

As teachers, we need to explicitly talk to students about HOW they may use something they learned from their reading about what authors do to apply to their own writing.  This is also an awesome way to teach grammar concepts.  All of a sudden I have removed myself from being the teacher who stands up in front of the classroom saying, "This is an apostrophe and these are the reasons you use it...." to, "Let's look at what we read today for how Sharon Draper uses apostrophes in her writing."  Once we've found several examples, we can establish the "rules" of apostrophes together based on the examples.

Using this inquiry-based approach to learning important writing conventions through our reading has really taught me, as a teacher, that students learn best when they discover and create the meaning on their own.  After this initial step, I find it very helpful to create anchor charts to document our learning and refer to them to hold students accountable for this learning during Writing Workshop.  Below are two examples of anchor charts that we've done so far in my guided reading group that is reading, Out of My Mind.  The first is about the two different purposes of apostrophes.  The second is about why authors use italics, bold, and quotes in their writing.

Enjoy the anchor charts, and continue to look for avenues in guided reading, interactive read aloud, and reading conferences to not only teach students about reading, but also to connect it to their writing.


  1. Hi there!
    First, love your new header and button : )
    I totally know what you mean about getting overly excited about kids noticing things that we didn't have to point out! I would have responded the same way!

    Are Flynn's other two books just as good as Gone Girl? I read that a long time ago and loved it, and I'm looking for something great to read!

    Enjoy summer school!

    1. Hey Michelle,

      Thanks for the feedback on the new look :). I agree, sometimes with middle school kids I have to tell myself to "act cool" when I get overly excited because you know how important it is to be "cool" at this age ;).

      I would say that Gone Girl was by far my favorite, but I couldn't put down Dark Places or Sharp Objects. Both books explore a psychologically disturbed main character in such a complex way that it just intrigued me to the point that I could hardly sleep until I finished them. I was surprised that I liked her books so much! I would definitely recommend!


  2. Wow! This seems so simple! Why have we not thought about it before now? I love that it puts a skill into such a meaningful context. I will definitely be looking into this more during this upcoming school year!

    Also, thanks so much for the Gillian Flynn recommendation! I've been toying with the idea of reading these books. Part of me is afraid they might be a bit dark for me, but I keep hearing such wonderful things, that I might just have to get over that apprehension and read them! :)

    1. Hi Courtney,

      When I went through the training to become a Literacy Collaborative coach I found myself soaking in the ideas and thinking that same thought about how sometimes the best ideas are simplistic. In education, however, it seems that often times we like to complicate and separate things that actually go hand-in-hand and can be "simple." Sometimes making things "simple" is not simple....if that makes any sense at all :).

      As far as Gillian Flynn goes, I am a total Nicholas Sparks, Emily Giffin love story reader. I didn't think that she would be a fit for me either. I was so glad that I took the plunge into the dark depths of these characters-it was simply intriguing, and yes, a bit dark. However, SO SO entertaining!


  3. Hi Kasey:
    I've just spent the last hour reading through different posts from your blog. I love how you work so hard to tie reading and writing together in your teaching.
    As a sixth grade teacher, it is so easy to get discouraged by the range (and sometimes lack) of skills with which our friends arrive. I am now filled with motivation after seeing your anchor charts and reading your thinking.
    YAY, You!
    Good luck with the end of summer school...

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

    PS I love Emily Giffin books too!

    1. Hi Kim,

      It is so humbling to me to know that you spent that much time reading my blog! I LOVE your blog, and you have such a strong following. Thank you so much for the positive feedback. That is why this blogging world is so great, you can be feeling one way and read someone else's blog post and change your perspective.

      Emily Giffin is definitely one of my favorites! (So relatable and love the tone she takes in her books!)


  4. Hey Kasey! I love your blog! I teach 8th grade Language Arts and would love to implement guided reading and reader's workshop into my class. I am just confused as to what the other students are doing while I am working with a guided reading group. Do they work with their groups on an assignment? Or do they read an individually chosen book, or do they read a book chosen by you for their guided reading group? Thanks!

    1. Hi Roxie,

      That's definitely a common question and concern when talking with middle school teachers about guided reading. Each day during Reading Workshop, I do a whole class minilesson. Each minilesson comes with some sort of an application that asks students to apply the minilesson to their independent reading. Once the minilesson is over I pull a guided reading group and the rest of the class begins independently reading and working on their minilesson application to their reading. Independent reading books are selected by students. It definitely takes a lot of classroom structure and consistent expectations to make this work, but it's worth it!

      Hope this helps,

  5. Still pouring over your blog posts! I'm happy to see I'm not the only ELA teacher who reads or watches TV/Movies with a literary eye. My husband laughs at me for this all the time.
    I've been slowly working towards a full on workshop in my classroom over the years and I'm so thankful for all your insight. A friend recently shared an author Katie Wood Ray, who does a lot with mentor texts and using what we read for writing models. In case you haven't heard of her. Her books are the top of my summer reading list.


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