Reading Workshop: Q&A from the Hello Literacy Inbox

September 17, 2016

Hi Jen!

I have followed you for a long time and have always been inspired by your work.

I have been teaching for the last eight years and am entering my first year in third grade. I'm wondering if you can help me...

I have total professional freedom in my instruction at my new district (yippee!!) so for the first time am going to forge into a truly authentic reading workshop. I'm striving for more of a Donalyn Miller style, and less of a Daily 5 rotation model.

Here's my question: I just can't visualize how the flow works. If I stand up

and do a whole-class mini lesson and then send my kids off to apply that skill/standard/strategy to their self-selected just-right book, and then I'm simultaneously conferring with kids on their personal goals I feel like that is so confusing! They would be confused as to if they are working on the mini lesson objective or on their personal reading goals.

Does that make sense? I'm desperate for some clarity!

Thanks for your time,
Sally Smith (pseudonym to protect identity)


I have two pieces of advice for you, and congratulations on your grade level change and that you have an admin team that is trusting your professional judgement instructionally. So basically, for you and your students, the sky is the limit for growth! 

1) That is exactly how a pure Reading Workshop structure goes. A 10-15 whole group mini-lesson and then all students go off to practice the strategy you taught them in the ML with their own self-selected books (that are somewhere at or above their independent reading level). Students can practice both the reading strategy of the minilesson AND practice their reading goal at the same time. 

Think of the reading strategy as short-term and their reading goal as long term.  A reading strategy is just that, more strategic, the "in the head" moves that a reader does or thinks while reading. For example, here are some sample reading strategies that you would teach during a mini-lesson (one strategy per mini-lesson): 

-how a reader previews the text and anticipates vocabulary in the book prior to reading the book, then stays tuned in when reading the book
-how a reader asks questions before, during and after reading a text
-how a reader uses repeated details from a story to arrive at the theme of the story
-how a reader pays attention to how a character reacts to problems to grow a theory about them as a person
-how a reader looks for smaller words disguised in multi-syllable words to tackle longer, more sophisticated words

Here are a few examples of self-selected reading goals that students would also be working on at the same time (and I would say that students new to setting reading goals or playing an active role in their learning by setting and checking academic goals for themselves, should work on one, no more than two, reading goals at a time):

-reading in my just right spot for at least 20 minutes
-reading more books
-keeping my brain turned on for the whole book
-keeping sticky notes of my thinking while I read
-stopping and rereading at confusing parts

These are all reading goals that students could have while at the same time, working on the Teaching Point of the Day, the reading strategy from the minilesson.  

And yes, while students are reading independently, you are walking around conferring with individual students or pulling small strategy groups. Conferring is going to be key for you as you get to your students as readers. The most important thing to remember about conferring is that you are teaching the reader, not the reading. Strategy groups are basically small group minilessons, which are 8-12 minutes in length, where you are quickly reteaching a minilesson teaching point to a group of students who are still struggling with that strategy and students are practicing the strategy use with their own books in front of you, so you can coach, support and help them recognize when and how to use the strategy. 

2) There are some wonderful online sources for help as you head down the Reading Workshop road.  The first source of help is a Facebook group called Units of Study In Reading TCRWP and another Facebook group is called The Reading Strategies Book Community, each have over 9,000 members, and this is a great place to ask your questions and see how others handle implementing Reading Workshop, that's really in the collaborative spirit of helping each other. These are two PLNs (Professional Learing Networks) I highly recommend to teachers new to implementing Reading Workshop.  Also check out the website: and the Teacher's College channel on Vimeo with a wealth of video resources for minilessons, strategy groups and conferring.

Take care,

Sadly, what I am about to share with you is a true but unfortunate story in many schools across the country. I have presented in over 50 schools in the last five years, and in many of them (not all) limitations are placed on students about what books they can read from the library, when they are "allowed" to visit the school library, who students have to go with (usually the rest of the class), and how many books they can check out there. Seriously, why are we turning children away from the school library because "it's not your day"? And, why "just 1 book"? Please revisit the library policies at your school and preferrably, side by side with your school's literacy goals and Bloom's affective domain of learning. My hunch is that the school library is the most underutilized room in the school, when it doesn't HAVE to be this way!! Signed, Every Student
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