July 31, 2018

Planning for Reading Workshop Across the School Year

You have decided to make the jump into using a Reading Workshop format at the middle school level to teach reading.  But now, you're wondering what you need to do in order to plan for success across the school year.  I've got you covered.  Check out the tips I have for you to ensure you are entering the school year prepared and ready to see your students grow as readers.

1.  Center Yourself In "The How"

How do you teach reading?  You can't decide to use Reading Workshop without understanding how to use a few very important instructional contexts.  If you are part of a team of teachers, it is important that you're all on the same page as to what these instructional contexts mean.  Interactive Read Aloud, Reading Minilessons, Guided Reading, Literature Circles, and Reading Conferences are all important pieces to have a common understanding of before moving forward.  A book I love that lays these instructional contexts out clearly is Teaching for Comprehension and Fluency by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell.

2.  But Don't Forget About "The What"

As I reflect on how my middle school implemented Reading Workshop, I realize that we focused a lot on "the how" and not as much on "the what."  As the literacy coach, all of the professional development I provided was on how to do an interactive read aloud, how to plan a guided reading lesson, how to use the gradual release of responsibility as you take students through a reading minilesson, etc.  What the professional development lacked was what skills we should intentionally stop and teach for during the interactive read aloud and what minilessons should be taught across grade levels.  It's easy to say, "Align your teaching to the standards."  What does that even mean though?  You can't take a standard and make it into a minilesson statement.  A standard is a huge goal for students.  It's important to take a standard and break it down into small manageable bites for students to experience.  A middle school should function as an effective system.  This means that across grade levels, there should be a scope and sequence of reading minilessons that teachers use at the universal level to ensure that universal instruction is solid.  This is the piece we were missing, so I'm hoping that by writing this blog post I can encourage teachers to make sure this is a critical part of the conversation.  If as a school, you're ready to have this conversation.  I would highly recommend checking out this resource: Reading Workshop Minilessons Guide: Create Fiction & Nonfiction Scope and Sequence.  It will give you the starting point needed to create a reading scope and sequence for your grade level and/or middle school.

3.  Make Text Sets

I often get questions about how to plan out reading instruction for the year.  A game-changer for me has been to think of reading instruction as a series of reading units across the year.  My reading units are driven by the books that I put into Reading Workshop for my students.  Creating text sets is a great way to do this.  The perfect text set is where the interactive read aloud you choose to read to students and use for your modeling during the reading minilesson matches the 5 books you select for small group reading instruction (guided reading or literature circles) in genre and/or themes.  That way when you read aloud and model your think about reading to students through reading minilessons, it is applicable to the work they will do independently as readers through their small group book.  My favorite text set currently is using free verse books.  A great read aloud for this is Booked by Kwame AlexanderThe small group book used were The Red Pencil by Andrea Pinkney Davis, House Arrest by K.H. Holt, Under the Mesquite  by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse,  and Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott.  In the resource mentioned above, Reading Workshop Minilessons Guide: Create Fiction & Nonfiction Scope and Sequence, I include 9 text set ideas for fiction and 9 text set ideas for nonfiction.  Generally, a fiction reading unit lasts 4-5 weeks and a nonfiction reading unit lasts 2-3 weeks.  Because I teach reading and writing, I plan how many reading units I know I can get in across the school year and make sure I am using text sets with a variety of genres and themes across the school year.

4.  Alternate Small Group Instruction

Along with planning out the text sets I want to use with each reading unit across the year, I also plan out what type of small group instruction I am going to use with each reading unit.  What has worked best for me is making sure I am using a variety of small group instructional contexts across the school year as I go from reading unit to reading unit.  This allows a perfect balance of teacher-led reading discussion where students are grouped homogeneously by their highest instructional reading level in guided reading to student-led discussions where students are grouped heterogeneously and reading grade-level texts in literature circles.  Using this structure, students reading groups are continuously mixed up, and I am able to observe students as readers in a variety of contexts as they apply reading minilessons across different texts.  For me, I am able to fit in 6 reading units and 4 writing units across the year because I teach reading, writing, and word study to students with 75 minutes daily.  This allows me to only get in one workshop per day.  I decided to go to one workshop per day because when I tried to fit in two I felt like I was continuously rushing and cutting out what was most important (giving my students time to independently read and write).  I now alternate my instruction by unit, but I still make sure my students are reading and writing every day.  During a Reading Workshop unit, my students are doing a ton of writing about reading (reading response) and always have the option to free write in their Writer's Notebooks once they're done with the Reading Workshop minilesson application.  During Writing Workshop units, students always have the option to independently read a book of their choice after they're done with the writing minilesson application.  This is the perfect time to incorporate completely free choice reading because during the RW units, students have an assigned book for small group instruction.  My year looks like the sequence below.
1.  Reading Unit: Understanding Each Other-Fiction, Guided Reading
2.  Writing Unit: Persuasive
3.  Reading Unit: Learning About Me-Nonfiction, Guided Reading
4.  Writing Unit: Informative/Explanatory
5.  Reading Unit: Books in Verse-Fiction, Literature Circles
6.  Writing Unit: Narrative
7.  Reading Unit: Science-Nonfiction, Literature Circles
8.  Writing Unit: Research
9.  Reading Unit: Books Turned Into Movies-Fiction, Guided Reading
10.  Reading Unit: Coming of Age-Fiction, Literature Circles

*If you want further ideas about how to structure your daily time, check out this free download.

5.  Keep a Consistent Daily Routine

Even though each reading unit is a different text set and you are using a different small group instructional context to teach, the daily routine for reading workshop should stay the same.  I love to start out Reading Workshop with Interactive Read Aloud, follow it up with a reading minilesson, go to my small group reading instruction (students not meeting with me are applying the reading minilesson to their independent reading), and finish off with a whole group share to discuss how students applied the reading minilessons to their independent reading for the day.  I go deep into how to plan a daily reading minilesson in the resource Reading Workshop Minilessons Guide: Create Ficiton & Nonfiction Scope and Sequence.

I hope these tips were helpful as you map out what you're teaching students this school year for reading.  Be clear on your how (instructional contexts) pick the what (reading minilessons), select your text sets, plan your small group reading instruction, and get a clear daily routine.  Let me know below how you plan your reading instruction across the year, and if you have any other tips to share.


  1. Hi Kasey, can you explain further what you mean by only being able to get in one workshop per day? Do you mean, for example, Reading workshop on Monday and Tuesday and writing workshop on Wednesday and Thursday?

  2. Hi Kim, Yes, I am only able to do either Reading Workshop or Writing Workshop on a daily basis because of the amount of time I have to teach. I decided to teach by unit and alternate between reading and writing units. However, during reading units, we’re doing a ton of writing about reading and students have the option to free write once their reading minilesson application is done. During writing units, students have the opportunity to free read s book of their choice. I like this because it’s a great way to incorporate free choice reading when I’m using guided reading or literature circles during the reading units.

  3. Hi! I have learned so much from you blog. Thank you! I want to make sure I am correct on one point; during Reading Workshop your students are listening to an Interactive Read Aloud, have a book for their guided reading or literature circle, and also have their own book for independent reading? If so, do you ever run into an issue with students getting confused with the three different stories and jumbling them together?


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