Implementing Reader's Workshop in the Primary Classroom

Basic guidelines and lesson ideas for introducing this reading strategy.

By Christen Amico

students sitting in a row reading books
For many teachers on the East Coast, Reader's Workshop has been a staple in reading instruction. Now, as we move closer toward full implementation of the Common Core State Standards, teachers on the West Coast will have a chance to try this innovative teaching strategy. Instead of state-adopted basal reading programs, such as Open Court and Houghton Mifflin, schools in some of the western states are heading toward a Reader's Workshop model in which teachers take on more of a facilitator role. They focus on guiding students, rather than providing extensive direct instruction. Although a typical Reader's Workshop session can appear quite different from class to class, here are some basic guiding principles that separate it from a basal reading program:
  • Lessons are based on specific student needs
  • Teacher instruction is short and specific (mini-lesson format)
  • Emphasis on building independent reading skills
  • Teacher observes and provides immediate feedback to readers
  • Readers self-select high interest-books at an appropriate reading level
  • Ample opportunity to share and discuss what has been read (either partners, small group, or whole group)

Setting Up

In order to successfully implement Reader's Workshop, there must first be an extensive, leveled library. The teacher should ensure that each child can easily access 5-10 books at his or her reading level. The classroom library needs to be well organized. Additionally, the children must also have a safe place to keep their books, such as a book box or book bag (gallon zip-loc bags work fine). In addition, readers will need some type of log, such as a reading notebook, or folder to keep track of books read, write notes, and log responses. If possible, the teacher may also want to invest in bean bag chairs, pillows, or even small carpets to create individual book nooks. Children who are comfortable will be more apt to stay focused during independent reading time. For the first few weeks or even months, some teachers put out baskets and the children are allowed to only select books from the baskets until the unveiling of the classroom library.

Planning the Lesson

Again, the underlying theme of Reader's Workshop is to meet the individual needs of the students. For this reason, every lesson plan will be different. However, it's a good idea to stick to a basic routine:
  • Whole group: 10 minute mini-lesson beginning with some type of connection or question to grab kids' attention
  • Use of a visual aid such as an anchor chart or graphic organizer
  • Very clear directions such as, “Today as you read, I want you to use the pictures to help you read a tricky word”.
  • 10-30 minutes of independent reading (although small, guided-reading groups may be called during this time if appropriate)
  • 10 -20 minutes of partner work and/or written response
  • 10 minute whole group review (don’t skip this part!)

Mini Lesson Ideas for September

The first big unit should be all about establishing routines, procedures, and high expectations. Reader's Workshop gurus such as Lucy Calkins, have found that the extra time and effort spent in the first few weeks will greatly reduce distractions throughout the remainder of the year.
Here are some basic mini-lesson ideas to try in the beginning:
  • Good readers take a picture walk before selecting a book to read.
  • Good readers use their fingers to point to words as they read
  • Good readers choose a different book each day.
  • Good readers take care of their books and supplies
  • Good readers keep their eyes on the pages.
  • Good readers stay in their personal space.
  • Good readers raise their hand quietly when they need help.
Teachers should be flexible in their mini-lesson ideas and gear their lessons toward the needs of the class. If they are too talkative, more lessons are needed on specifically how to read silently or in a whisper voice.  Some children will be reluctant to share books, or will struggle to stay focused long enough to actually read it. By carefully observing the children as they read, the teacher can take notes and create lesson plans based on those observations.
There really is no one perfect way to teach reading. The key is to find a method that works well for both the teacher and pupil. It is best to talk with other teachers and find out what strategies, anchor charts, and lesson ideas work for them.

Additional Resources on Reader's Workshop:

Use these teacher tips to help organize and manage partnerships during Reader's Workshop sessions.
First and second graders will benefit from this interesting guided-reading lesson.
Learn how to get young readers' minds ready to read by taking a picture walk!