How to Create a Vibrant Reading Culture Using Reading Workshop

by Autumn Den Boer, Contributing Teacher/Writer

There are so many things to consider when choosing how to teach reading in middle school. I have been teaching 7th and 8th grade ELA for ten years and everything finally clicked once I started teaching using the reading workshop model. Now my students beg for more reading workshop time.

Reading workshop is a student-centered approach to teaching reading that helps you meet the needs of your readers by creating the space, time, and support needed to grow. During reading workshop, students share about books they love and spend significant amounts of time reading independently, and you get to spend the time conferences with students to learn about how to help them grow and to celebrate their growth.

readers workshop

Here are four essential practices to try out as you begin your journey towards reading workshop.

#1: Create a Warm, Supportive Reading Environment

Because reading workshop a student-centered approach, it is important to pay attention to how your physical space impacts the “feel” of the room. Create rhythms that make reading workshop a special part of the day that is peaceful and inviting.

  • Turn off bright lights.
  • Add in twinkle lights or lamps, if you can.
  • Have some background noise so it isn’t completely silent.
  • Let your readers spread around the room to create their own little nooks and crannies of cozy.

Changing the learning environment helps reading workshop time "feels" different. This enables students to settle into their reading more quickly.

#2: Provide Choice and Voice

Reading workshop is built on students’ having choice in what they read and having a voice in how they share their thoughts with you. Build a vibrant classroom library or take regular trips to the school or public library. Introduce students to a variety of genres of books through book talks and inviting book displays. Teach students about different genres and encourage them to try them out. Increase student voice by having students recommend books to each other through book talks, book recommendation projects, or book recommendation partners. Help students find readers who like similar books and create rhythms for sharing books.

Provide structures that encourage students to notice their own reading habits and preferences. Start the year by introducing a reading log in which students record which book titles they read as well as the book genre and how much they liked the book. At the end of each quarter, provide time to fill in a genre chart in which students reflect on which genres they read the most. Helping students notice their own reading offers an "in" for encouraging expanding into new genres.

#3: Conference with Readers One-on-One

Reading workshop is an ideal way to meet student needs because while students are reading, you get to spend the time conferencing with students. Each conference is between 2-5 min. long. During this time, keep a record of what the student is reading and what page they are on, then ask the student to share about what they are reading. A typical way to start is by asking, “What is going on in your book right now?” As the student shares, record notes about what is being shared so that you can look back at the notes during future conferences to see trends and areas of growth.

After the student shares about what they are reading, continue the conference with a teaching strategy. This might be in the form of additional questions to encourage deep thinking. It could also be the introduction of an intervention or a problem-solving session to determine the next area for growth for the reader.

#4: Provide Support and Monitoring Progress

In addition to conferencing, you can use standardized assessments, class assessments, and self-assessments to determine areas needing growth. You can help readers grow with whole-class or small-group mini-lessons at the beginning of workshop.

Here is a list of possible mini-lessons to work through as you begin reading workshop.

  • What is reading stamina? How do I build it?
  • What is my reading rate? Why is it helpful? What causes it to change?
  • What does real reading look like? Feel like? Sound like?
  • What do I do if I suddenly realize that I have been daydreaming and I don’t know what I have been reading?
  • What strategies can I use to focus as I read?
  • What do readers think about as they read?
  • Why is reading important? How does it help me?
  • What are different genres and types of books I can read? How can I find books I love?
  • How do I know when to abandon a book?
  • How do I share about what I am reading?

Reading weaknesses can also be met with individual, short-term or long-term interventions. Discuss what you are noticing with the student. Explain why it matters and brainstorm together possible solutions.

Here is a list of possible individual interventions:

If a student does not remember what they read over time, place sticky notes every ten pages or so and ask the student to write or draw about what is going on in the story on each sticky note when it comes.

If a student is not able to stay focused while reading, encourage them to choose a different location. If a student doesn't have the stamina to read for the entire time, add in something physical to do while they read, such as using emoji stamps to track the character's feelings as they read.

Do you use Reader's Workshops in your classroom?  What's worked for you?  We'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

Autumn Den Boer is middle school ELA teacher who is passionate about cultivating learning communities in which students feel that they have a voice, that they belong, and that they are capable of flourishing.

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