Launch Reading Workshop in 5 Easy Steps

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Reading Workshop…we love it and sometimes hate it…As teachers, we know that students need to be reading in order to improve their literacy. We also know the catchy phrase, “the more you read, the more you know…” and so on. However, for many teachers, the thought of tackling Reading Workshop is daunting. Although it sounds like a wonderful way to instill a love of reading, allow for student choice, and encourage differentiated instruction, it simply sounds unmanageable.

Reading Workshop requires hours and hours of planning.

Reading Workshop does not improve literacy without whole group lessons.

Reading Workshop is difficult to manage.

Reading Workshop is an overwhelmingly difficult task to tackle.

If any of the above concerns resonate with you, you are in the right place! In my last blog post, I discussed the many benefits of Reading Workshop. Now, I will cover how to go about launching this unique style of teaching. Trust me, this process is doable!

Reading Workshop teaches kids to love reading!

Step #1: Organize Your Classroom Library

This is perhaps the most time-consuming step, but it is so critical! A classroom library should be inviting, comfortable, and organized! It needs to be a place that students can organize themselves. Even primary students can keep a library organized. I’ve seen it with my own eyes! An organized library does more than looks good; it keeps your library books in good condition and prevents you from losing library books.

There are several ways to organize a classroom library: by reading level, genre, author, title, the list goes on and on…For me, I prefer organizing my library by genre. Each genre is color-coded. Mystery is red; myth/legend is orange; fantasy is yellow; historical fiction is green; realistic fiction is blue; nonfiction is purple. Within each genre, I include topics. For example, I group fantasy books about animals in the same yellow bin. This way, students have a starting point when browsing for their next perfect read.

This is an important tip: make sure to have a way for students to check out books. There are several items you can purchase to electronically check out books. You could also consider using QR codes. However, for me, I make my own library cards by simply printing the title and gluing it on an index card. When a student checks out a book, they grab the book’s library card and place it in their library pocket. This way, I can see who has each book. It’s that easy!

You may be asking yourself, “How do I prevent the loss of books?” You may have images of shredded books coming back to your library or books getting lost altogether. Have no fear! I have some tips on how to prevent this. I highly recommend assigning 1-2 librarians as class jobs. Every Friday, these librarians are in charge of “renewing” the books. Each student has to show the librarians the books they are currently reading and would like to “renew”. If a book is missing or in poor condition, the librarians let me know. I get in touch with the students’ parents. Here is the beauty of this system…it rarely happens that a book goes missing or comes back destroyed. Before students are allowed to check out books, we have mini-lessons on how to care for our books. I also make sure to tell the students that they are expected to show their books are in good condition every Friday. This alone prevents loss/damage. I even let the students take home their books for reading homework! In the last few years alone, I have only lost 5 books. This process works.

If you are more comfortable, you can always send home a letter to families reviewing expectations. You can ask for permission for students to take these books home, giving parents the opportunity to opt out. In this case, parents are assuming responsibility for lost/damaged books.

Step #2: Level Books

I also level my books. As an upper-grade teacher, I never want to limit my students to their reading levels, but I do teach students how to select a “just right book”. I simply teach them that if they are having a difficult time understanding what they are reading, they may want to consider choosing a book closer to the letter A. (If you are looking to learn how to level your books, click here. I have a resource that can help!)

In addition to the reading level, I also label each book with a point value. As students finish reading books, they earn points for completion. They have a “Book Chat” with me (explained below), and I award stickers based on the book’s reading level and the number of pages. The more pages, the more points. The higher the reading level, the more points. This system highly motivates students to read. It also inevitably motivates reluctant readers to challenge themselves with more complex texts. (My newest Reading Workshop resource will teach you how to assign point values to your books.)

Step #3: Get to Know Your Students as Readers

At the heart of Reading Workshop, students should be reading books that interest them. In order to help students find books that may interest them, I suggest having students complete a Book Interest Form and Reading Preferences Form. These forms ask students to select their favorite topics, share favorite books or movies, and decide how they would like to read (location, with a partner, etc.). These forms are also included in my latest Reading Workshop resource.

Another idea is to prep what I like to call “Grab Bag Books”. I love making reading recommendations to students, but I also give them the option of getting a wrapped book. Students enjoy reading the three clues about each book and unwrapping one they think they will enjoy.

“Grab Bag Books” add excitement and a bit of mystery to your Reading Workshop!

Step #4: Set Up an Area for “Book Chats” and “Book Ends”

“Book Chats” are brief discussions that I have with my students after they finish reading a book. This gives me as the teacher the opportunity to check my students’ understanding of the book, assess key reading skills, and simply share a love of reading with my students. This not only holds the students accountable, it also allows me to assess our current learning objective. I use magnetic numbers. Students place their student numbers under “Book Chats” once they finish a book.

I also award “bonus points” for completing small book assignments called “Book Ends”. These give students a short “brain break” between books, gives them the chance to practice writing about reading, and encourages creativity. Teacher tip: Make these assignments creative. Avoid simply assigning students the task of summarizing what they read. My Reading Workshop resource includes student instructions, point values, and worksheets for several Book Ends.

Step #5: Build Reading Stamina

Even upper grade students need to build their reading stamina. It is difficulty for students to be able to read for prolonged periods of time. Therefore, before diving into Reading Workshop for your entire ELA block, I suggest slowly increasing the reading time each day. Perhaps the first day you start with a mini-lesson on what it means to be actively reading followed by 10 minutes fo independent reading. Every day after, increase the amount of independent reading by 10 minutes until you reach the full ELA block. Trust me, this makes all the difference in the world. If you are looking for ideas for how to get your students ready for Reading Workshop, check out the table below.

Mini-Lesson IdeaIndependent Reading Time
How can we preview a book? OR
How can we find a “good fit” book?
What does it mean to be an “active reader”?20
How can we check for understanding while we read?30
What tools and strategies will strengthen our ability to critically think about a text?45
Mini-Lesson Ideas for Preparing Your Students for Reading Workshop

Reading Workshop can truly transform your classroom culture. I’ve experienced it myself! My students year to year come in as sometimes reluctant readers but leave with a strengthened love of literature. You can often hear students at recess discussing their current book selections and even making recommendations to their friends. If you have not implemented this type of teaching yet, I recommend taking the plunge.

I would love to hear from you! Whether you have used Reading Workshop for years or are new to it this year, share your experiences in the comments below. Let’s celebrate each other’s success stories!

Other Blog Posts to Help You Implement Reading Workshop

5 Goals of Reading Workshop: Is It Effective?Learn about the many benefits of Reading Workshop.
Reading Workshop: Incorporating Classroom Book ClubsLearn tips and tricks on how to successfully add book clubs to your reading workshop.
Reading Workshop: Book Clubs DiscussionsFacilitate student-run book club meetings in 3 easy steps!

Published by Learning N Progress

I am an elementary teacher who specializes in differentiated instruction and intervention. I have taught grades K-6, including intervention and gifted students. I am here to help other educators make differentiated instruction easy to manage and effective in reaching EVERY student in their classes.

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