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[Breaking Down Literacy Frameworks] Understanding the Reading Workshop

[Breaking Down Literacy Frameworks] Understanding the Reading Workshop

A teacher’s quest to find the best literacy structure for his or her classroom never ends. As spring fever hits, and your students begin to get a little antsy with the routines you set up back in September, it might be time to take a closer look at the Reading Workshop framework. Whether it’s something you currently practice every day or entirely new, taking a closer look at how your time can be best spent might ignite just the spark of an idea you need to kick your reading instruction back into high gear before the year ends.

What is reading workshop?

Reading workshops stand apart from other balanced literacy structures in that the main emphasis is to teach students to find meaning in a text (or read with a purpose), which will develop a readers’ engagement with and relationship to a text. While there is time built in for shared lessons and discussions, the focus of reading workshops is on the individual student’s development of becoming a successful reader inside and outside of the classroom. Within this structure there is also room for teachers to differentiate and meet the unique needs of all students.

What components make up reading workshop?

Reading workshops generally consist of three main components. While there are multiple ways to arrange or designate those components, they are usually broken down like so:


The mini-lesson is the most important factor of the reading workshop, as it sets the expectations for what skill or strategy students should be focused on that day. Mini-lessons can be used to introduce new literacy skills, reading comprehension techniques, new genres or forms of literature, and where you set the general tone for independent reading. The mini-lesson is also a time to practice shared reading, discuss new vocabulary words, or remedy a common problem you’ve noticed multiple students encountering while they are reading. Focus on truly keeping your mini-lessons “mini” so that students are fully engaged from beginning to end, and the bulk of your reading workshop time is dedicated to student reading.

Reading aloud should be practiced in conjunction with the mini-lesson as a time for interactive and focused instruction on skills and strategies for reading. During a read-aloud, the teacher models for the students proper behaviors and reading strategies such as fluency, rhythm, and intonation and still uses the time to introduce new genres and literacy styles. This is also an opportunity for teachers to think aloud and discuss texts with the whole class. For example, during a read-aloud, you might pause several times to reflect, or ask questions about what is happening in the story. Books that are read aloud can also be at a higher level than what the class might be reading, since the teacher is actively using strategies to help all learners access and connect to the materials as she or he is reading.

Essentially, during the 10–15-minute mini-lesson, you are giving your students some kind of mission to embark upon while they go off on their own and do their independent reading. What they read is up to them, but the purpose with which they are reading will be determined by the mini-lesson.

Independent Reading

The goal of independent reading time is to let students read a book of their choice with the purpose of the day’s mini-lesson in mind. For example, if the mini-lesson is about figurative language, students should be looking for examples of figurative language in their books. Independent reading time also helps students build stamina while reading and practice other reading strategies, such as what to do when they encounter a word they don’t know.

When you first begin the reading workshop, you should take some time to discuss with your class what independent reading time should look and feel like. Start off with shorter periods of independent reading time and gradually build on them as the school year goes on, up to about 45–60 minutes, depending on the age of your students. You may even start by letting students read in small groups or pairs before gradually splitting them off to work individually. Over time, as your students begin to build their stamina and learn to practice new reading skills and strategies, students will begin to feel a greater sense of ownership over their reading choices and truly connect to the reading.

Aside from independent reading, there are specified teacher actions that should take place during this time. Specifically, with each student engaged, the teacher can work with small groups or one on one with learners.

Guided Reading

Guided reading is a form of small-group instruction where the teacher works directly with students who are all on the same reading level. Begin by distributing and introducing students to a common text at the group reading level, then pointing out specific features of the book as they connect to the days lesson. Then, all students should begin reading aloud. As the teacher, keep your voice soft, so you can listen to where students might be struggling. As time allows, ask students to read the text again, but this time allow students to take turns reading a page aloud to the group. In a small setting, with one reading already under their belt, students can feel empowered to try new reading strategies and sound out difficult words. Follow up their reading with an activity, comprehension discussion, or additional feedback based on what you observe. 

Individual Student Check-Ins

If you have some time to walk around the classroom, individual reading time is an excellent opportunity to visit with your students one on one, check their progress, or just ask how their reading is going. It’s a good idea to keep a notebook handy when you do these checks so that you can log any progress or challenges students might be having, which you’ll want to revisit later.

Students reading independently should take time to log, reflect, and respond to their books toward the end of individual reading time. Response and reflection time allows for students to clarify their thinking, ask questions about their reading, and develop their comprehension skills. How students respond to their texts will be totally up to you as the teacher. You might have them keep a reading log, write in a journal, or work on a story chart or map. The idea is to help them refocus on what they learned during the mini-lesson and how it applied to their reading.

Regroup and Share

In the final few minutes of the reading workshop, students should gather to talk about what they did during their independent reading time or group work. While it might be tempting to skip this part of the workshop, especially when you’re running tight on time, you should treat it with the same level of importance as any another component of the reading workshop. The sharing portion of the workshop teaches students not only to articulate what they have learned, discovered, or questioned while they were reading but also to listen to what their classmates are saying and relate it to their own experiences. Knowing that they will be asked to talk about what they learned during their independent reading time is also a great way to motivate students to stay on task as they work alone.


Like any other literacy program, reading workshops will help sharpen your students’ literacy and comprehension skills, and help them develop into stronger readers. Moreover, what stands out about reading workshops—even beyond their mission to teach students to find meaning in reading—is that they can foster a lifetime love of reading in students. The careful balance between reading for skill and reading for pleasure makes this one approach to teaching reading that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Interested in learning more about developing an effective literacy program in your classroom? Check out our blog on another popular reading structure, The Daily Five.