Reading workshops can be the BEST part of the day ever, but there is SO much that goes into them, it can be overwhelming. There are a few things that you can do to help keep this time of the day organized and consistent for your students to ensure that it is the most productive time possible for them.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Students are NOT just going to come in and know exactly what to expect. For every single workshop you are going to implement this year, you need to be sure that you are clearly modeling what you want students to do, and giving them time to practice, practice, practice. Students need to practice until it is absolutely perfect. If you are not a stickler about this, it will never get perfect and will slowly get worse and worse. Some ways to do this are by having your entire class practice one workshop at a time. You can also chart/graph your stamina each day by timing students for how long ALL of them are on task, and stopping everyone as soon as one student is off task. Reward students doing well, and try to talk about what you DO want to see and what you DO NOT want to see.
Start Slow to Go Fast
Students will not be able to do everything right away. Start with everyone doing one workshop (I find read to self is the easiest to start with). Then, slowly add one more workshop. You should not be pulling groups at this time, but should be teaching half the class about the new workshop while the other half is still practicing read to self. This way, you can answer any questions that may come up, and then correct any mistakes right away. When you introduce the third, you are floating between all three. Eventually, you can work yourself up to having 5-6 workshops at a time.
DO NOT CHANGE UP WHAT YOUR STUDENTS NEED TO DO EVERYDAY. This will confuse them and be a total headache for you. It is easiest for you to plan and for students to know what to expect if your expectations are the same each day/week. Students need repetition to grasp a concept, so changing things up too much will confuse and overwhelm them. At my word work center, students know that Tuesdays are words 3x each, Wednesdays they write 1/2 of their spelling words in sentences, Thursday they finish their sentences and Friday is either fun Friday or Silly Story Contest Friday. At writing, students read and respond to a different story each day. The format is always the same, but the stories constantly change. The whole class writes about the same story so that we can go over it together. The format changes monthly based on what we are doing in class or is simply students learning to “pull and plop” to turn questions about reading into answers. Read to someone is NOT just reading whatever they want, they have specific stories to read (usually what they write about) and questions to reflect about AS A TEAM. Read to self often varies between completing a task or reading just to enjoy reading (because students do NOT get enough of that!).
Hold Students Accountable
It is vital that you are checking for completion of work. Students will stop doing their work if they know you are not going to be holding them accountable for completion. That being said, you do not have to check EVERYTHING, but you should be spot checking lots of things. You can do this by spot checking your entire class, or spot checking certain students that do not seem to complete all of their work. One way I will do it, is I always plan their workshops so that the most important work is right before they come to my table to work with me. When they come to work with me, they need to show me their assignment that was just completed. We review the answers as a warm-up for the group, and I will make a running list of students that have not completed their work. Another way to check something important, is by having a 5-10 minute time slot at the end of your workshop to go over the answers to anything like a workbook page or a reading response that the entire class completed. To minimize on copies, I teach my students how to do EVERYTHING in their notebooks. I do not make a single copy for workshops, as this can get crazy to keep track of.
Have a Task for Each Workshop
I have found the most success at my workshops when students have a specific task to complete each day. This is going beyond just having a lot of choices for them to choose from. This is a “you do this, then you can do the fun choices”. You have to keep in mind any time constraints that you might have and keep tasks realistic. For example, word work is usually a workbook page and then they can do the fun stuff, or is writing spelling words a certain way, then they can pick the fun spelling activities. Writing is usually writing a response to what they have read about, and then they can free write in their individual journals or in the class journals. Read to someone is usually reading an assigned story/discussing the story, and then they can read choice books together. Read to self is sometimes reading an assigned story or sometimes is purely choice books, but they know they must be reading the whole time. I try to keep each “choice” at the centers still focused on the purpose of that center. For example, word work choices are always more word work options, not read to self. This varies what students are doing each day and makes sure they are practicing all of the important skills that go along with reading.
Always Have a Clear Answer to “I’m Done, Now What?”
Similar to what I said above, it is important that students know what they can do when they are done and that they have practiced what they should be doing before. If you put something new at a center without explanation, you can expect that students will have questions. To help teach this, the first week of school/workshops is when we practice all the fun stuff. I teach them how to do each spelling activity (rainbow writing, drawing pictures of their words, writing on whiteboards, using stamps, using stencils, etc.). I also let them read choice books, write in their journals, and do all the fun things first. This way, they know what they can do if they finish their work and typically they are excited to complete their work to move onto the fun things. When students know what to expect, then they are not interrupting your group to ask questions. Students should also know what to do with their work when it is completed, so they are not bringing it up to you and asking you where to put it. My students know that all of their finished work should be left open on their desk so I can go around and spot check it at any moment.
Post Your Expectations
Students should know exactly what you want them to do at each center each day without having to ask you. Students should know what proficient complete work looks like. This is easily done by modeling, and by posting their tasks and posting examples each day. Around my room, I have various areas that say “Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday” and underneath it, I post students “must dos” for each workshop each day. Last year, we had “must do, may do” charts for each workshop. I laminate these so that I can erase and write their different tasks/pages each day but the may dos usually remain the same. One important thing to do when you are rolling out your workshops is to TEACH THEM to look at this. If you simply hang it up without talking to them about ut, they will have no idea how to use it. If you answer all of their questions when they ask you, they will not learn to use it. When they ask you what to do, tell them to go look at their must do/may do or their daily task board. Then students will learn that you are going to refer them to the board, and they will start going to the board first instead of asking you. This minimizes on interruptions to your reading groups greatly.
Review Expectations, Talk About Glows and Grows
At my morning meeting each day, we talk about positive work and areas for growth from the previous day, and we use this to set goals for the current day. We talk about things we did well, and talk about specific things that were not so great that could use improvement. We do all of this without saying names, and we are sure to have a growth mindset when talking about it. We always presume positive intentions and talk about ways we can solve any problems that are occurring as a class. We do this throughout the entire year so that it is fresh on students’ minds.
Change It Up
After a while, workshops might get dull. This is when it is time to review what you are doing, and think about changing up your routines. I usually do this 2-3 times a year. Remember, anything that you are changing needs to be modeled and practiced over and over. If your students eventually tire from the workshop model, you might want to try something new. Hop on over to my blog post to learn about dinner and dessert. However, I would HIGHLY recommend staring with the workshop model first, as it is easier to track completion of work and easier to reinforce your expectations from the get-go.
These are just a few tips that work really well for me! If you have additional tips or questions related to the workshop model for reading, please drop them in the comments below! Thanks so much for reading my blog, have a wonderful day.