Classroom Solutions > Victoria, Grades 3-5 > Reader's Workshop 101

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Reader's Workshop 101

Active imaginations pondering the motives of characters. Eyes sparkling with excitement, thinking about the compelling mysteries and fantasies that are unfolding before them in their chapter books. Minds racing with predictions, seeking support from engaging texts. These examples define the essence of a successful reader’s workshop.

Before the school year begins, ambition always sets in for me, sometimes to where it is intense. Thinking about the possibilities of my centers, partnerships, and challenges intrigues me. Whenever I attend a workshop that pertains to vocabulary or comprehension strategies, I get excited thinking about how my students’ metacognition can improve. It is even better when I see teachers who have been in the classroom 25 years versus perhaps two years share the same enthusiasm. We all have spectacular potential and enjoy hearing others’ ideas for achieving academic gains.

I want you to think about the possibilities when reading this post. You may get excited about one idea, several ideas, or even look at an idea and think of a completely new idea. For this post, I would love for you to comment with an idea so we can perhaps build a database together at my resource website. I really want to learn from you, my fellow colleague, so I can reach every student in some way.

Many of the ideas I posted below will be expanded upon throughout the school year (some of these ideas will account for posts with a whole lot more information), yet I am providing just enough information now so you can get some helpful ideas before you really delve into instruction this year.


Beyond this image lies all kinds of amazing links and pictures...

How Did I Begin Reader’s Workshop?

It was the summer of 2006, and I was about to enter my third year of teaching. A book was recommended to me called Guiding Readers and Writers by Fountas and Pinnell. The title of another book had also been lingering in my mind for quite some time- Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Keene. Ordering Guiding Readers and Writers first, I learned what defined a mini-lesson. I had never taught a mini-lesson before. Additionally, I came across the word schema. I learned that activating prior knowledge sets the tone for an entire reading lesson. From there, I came across a lot of strategies, which are included on the Mosaic of Thought Listserv at Between discovering a teacher named Beth Newingham (the first grades 3-5 advisor featured at Scholastic), watching the videos at, and looking at the literature selection I had in my classroom, I developed a solid plan for the year.

The following summer, I could not believe how my students had learned to take sides on a topic and support their stances. They learned about predictions, inferences, motives, author’s purpose, context clues, and many more elements that made them stronger readers. I then decided in the summer of 2007 to develop kind of a mini-lesson pacing guide for myself. It provided a solid foundation and helped me to make sure I addressed all areas, though I have changed many of the lessons I teach since then. It, however, has provided guidance for some colleagues, both online and offline.

Yet before you really plan, a schedule (at least tentative) must be in place.


We all know it well- having a schedule for you and your students to follow is very important. We have very well learned that for any subject that it is important to establish routines and be consistent.   Daily, I have a 90 minute reading block that follows a 60 minute writing block. The schedule below is how I conduct my morning between the two subjects because they overlap.

9:15-9:30- Writing Mini Lesson
9:30-10:00- Writer’s Workshop
10:00-10:15- Reading Mini Lesson
10:15-10:35- Centers #1 (Reading)
10:35-10:55- Centers #2 (Reading and Writing Related- Elements from writer’s workshop are carried into centers so students can make more connections between reading and writing.)
10:55-11:20- Independent Reading Time
11:20-11:45- Whole Group Reading Lesson

In the second center block, I focus on writing in reading because it is important for students to discover that authors of their favorite books use onomatopoeia, alliteration, vivid language, foreshadowing and a number of other skills they learn about in writing mini-lessons.

Planning Groups

I place my students in partnerships for centers, and partnerships form groups. A partnership consists of either two or three students. I place boys with boys and girls with girls. Groups then consist of two partnerships- one boy and one girl partnership, comprised of 4-6 students.

Prior to placing my students in partnerships and groups, I analyze data. Reading strands on the Florida standardized test, the FCAT, fall into four areas- Words, Main Idea and Supporting Details, Comparison and Contrast, and Research. If I realize that many students need assistance in an area, then I work on a skill as often as I can in whole group instruction. However, I try to reinforce all kinds of concepts in small group instruction, and that is where my partnerships come into account.

Data is not the only factor that determines my partnerships and groups. I also consider who may be a good influence on one another. Additionally, I consider their interests because the students conduct book talks with one another and focus on specific topics within their centers. My groups are not formed homogenously because at times, a student who is extremely proficient with a specific strategy can explain and model it to his or her team members.

It is important to monitor your groups often and think of how (if) they are reaching the goals you are setting for them as well as the ones they are setting for themselves. The most important questions to consider in the midst of evaluation (every few weeks for me) are-

-Do you see noticeable growth in specific areas of reading? (Can you look at data and see that the percentage of proficiency in an area has increased?)
-Are the students improving together, or are just a few students improving?
-What reasonable goals can be set for future days and weeks?

I never switch group configurations around, but my evaluations help me in the areas of goal setting and seeing where the students need further direction. Keeping anecdotal records about my groups helps me to plan mini-lessons and give me ideas on what I can focus on when reading literature with the class.

Now we are getting into the core of reading- mini-lessons, collaboration, centers and whole group ideas.


A mini-lesson focuses on reading skills and lasts for approximately 10-15 minutes. The book that most assisted me in coming up with mini-lessons was Guiding Readers and Writers by Fountas and Pinnell. They refer to spectacular beginning-of-the-year mini-lessons for intermediate teachers. If you would like to view a specific list of mini-lessons, click here. Additionally, this file provides a few sample mini-lessons for main idea and supporting details so you can understand the format of a mini-lesson. 

The pictures below are of charts I utilize during mini-lessons that I have made. As the year progresses, I will show you many charts that my students and I will work on together during our mini-lesson time.

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Collaboration, Collaboration, Collaboration! 

- Literature Circles- An idea I got from is to use a large piece of chart paper for literature circles. Draw a line that splits the paper into five parts (like spokes on a wheel coming out from the center). The students can then move around and complete their roles. My five roles are Summarizer, Vocabularian (has to come up with 10+ strong words from the selection), Questioner (must write five questions along with answers for the reader), Illustrator (must sketch two pictures that include captions), and Elements Master (focuses on characters, setting, mood, theme, etc.). I use literature circles during centers with both fiction and non-fiction texts- leveled readers, sections from the science textbook, the story we are reading in MacMillan Treasures for the week, and more.

- Podcasting- My students also create podcasts. Here is an example of a podcast two of my students made about comparing and contrasting last year. We use Audacity (a free program) to record the podcasts. Sometimes I write the scripts, sometimes the students write them. Most importantly, I try to focus on skills that are taught in class so students can listen to the podcasts over and over again.


- A Center File Box- I have two center file boxes in my classroom, one for fiction and the other for non-fiction. The boxes include many resources from FCRR Student Center Activities, Grades 4-5.
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-Providing Nonfiction Examples- Utilize magazines, newspapers, websites, and any non-fiction selections you have in your classroom. Use leveled readers from your science and social studies series as well; you don't always have to re-invent the wheel. (Note- If you have Scott Foreman Science, each chapter focuses on a specific reading skill like Compare and Contrast or Main Idea. You can possibly create a center that focuses on content you are currently studying in other subjects with a focus on reading skills. You may use an interactive bulletin board or just have students spread out on the floor with their textbooks so they can complete the activities for the reading skill in the chapter.)

-Posters with rings attaching them together- I have purchad many posters at educational supply stores over time. Perhaps I was enticed because they are cheap! You know how at times you cannot hang up every single one in the classroom? You can take the posters, laminate them if they are not already, and punch two holes at the top. You can then keep common themed posters together with binder rings.

-Utilizing Technology- Send your students on a Quick Time Virtual Reality (QTVR) or interactive adventure online. These links may help you in finding some excellent "adventures" online.

-This morning, my colleague (Barbara Gries, a fifth-grade teacher) came up with a tremendous idea. Perhaps you can have a science fair center if it is a focus at your school. Have students learn about the different components of science fair projects up-close every week. (Since Barbara is the fifth grade advanced teacher, I may feature photos of my students from last year using her center for you to see this year.)

Whole Group Ideas

- What is your schema? Focus on schema. See what students know. That will help them to choose literature independently and improve their questioning skills.

- Lincs Vocabulary Model- There is a model you can have students create where students receive a vocabulary word and find another word like it, make connections between those words, draw a picture that connects the two words, and write a mini-story of 1-2 sentences with both the original word and the connecting word in it. The Lincs strategy will be explained in a later post.

- Independent Reading Time- This summer, I read Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop by Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak. Independent Reading Time differs greatly from what you may have known as Sustained Silent Reading. I highly recommend this book because there is a correlation between reading every day and receiving higher reading test scores!

Last, here is a slideshow of all the components I have explained here. 

This week, I would love for you to contribute. Do you have any ideas for your reading block that work well? Perhaps someone can benefit from your incredible idea. Also, do not hesitate to ask questions.

If school begins for you this next week (it does for me, so I am feeling a plethora of things right now), I hope you have a sensational first week back. Set high expectations for your students, and your students will try their hardest to meet them. I am finishing with a photo of a few of my students from last year enjoying a bowling night for scoring above the grade level expectation on the state writing test this past February. This photo was taken this evening- their parents (and siblings) arrived and remained with them the entire time. It was amazing seeing my former students and knowing they really enjoyed attending the event.



  • #1 Victoria Jasztal

    Sunday, June 06, 2010 at 09:52 PM

    Thanks for the question, LaVonna. In response, I think it's good to have a balance. I am going to have my students read the same books next year at times, but also choose their own books that have a common genre/theme.

  • #2 LaVonna woods

    Saturday, June 05, 2010 at 04:41 PM


    Thank you so much for the information. I will certainly use it! I am a first year teacher and will be teaching Reader's Workshop to all of the 5th grade classes, about 80 kids for an hour each day. I do not feel that it will give me time to explore centers. My main question is should we all read the same book as a class or should the students choose their own books for reader's workshop? Thank you and your thoughts on the alloted time and using centers would be helpful.

  • #3 Laura

    Friday, September 25, 2009 at 02:29 PM

    Victoria you have some great ideas! I especially love the mini lesson layout for the year! My school is moving towards Reader's workshop and of course training is scarce. This may be a god send to the teachers there. I am on maternity leave right now, but am reading through your lessons/ideas. I teach fourth grade, and when I return next year, I will be expected to do reader's workshop as well. I makes me a little nervous, but I look forward to keeping up with your posts about reader's workshop throughout this year from home. I sent this blog to my fourth grade team mate, and I know she will be excited about it too! Thanks!

    I am STILL so nervous about it to this day! This next week, I am going to try even more to progress into the model of reader's workshop more than ever. I have been a little frustrated regarding Just Right books and the fact that third grade was not able to focus on writing as much as reading and math. Writing connects to journaling, extended responses and much more. My weekend project will be focusing on how the class has performed in reading so far this year and in the past to develop a great plan for centers. I have a lot of resources, but I want to find the ones that will be exactly right. - Victoria

  • #4 Linda Jodon

    Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 08:59 AM

    Hi Victoria! Your info. is really exciting! I have the Guiding Readers and Writers book and love the concept of it all. I'm just not sure how to implement it when we have our traditional Houghton-Mifflin series. Also my schedule is tight. I have reading for about an hour a day, then another hour for writing, spelling, grammar, etc. Any suggestions? Also, where else did you find useful center ideas for your 5th graders? I love the one about the Frog in My Throat - could you share?

    We used to have Houghton Mifflin, also- for my first four years of teaching. I did not implement centers as they are now until my third year, but it was a slow process. I guess with your schedule, I could cut a few minutes off of writing and combine your centers to address both reading and writing strategies. I spend twenty minutes on our whole-group lesson every day, and that is at the end, so I prefer to focus on everything else first.

    I think a great place to find 5th grade centers is through FCRR (which I linked) as well as here- I have the exact centers I linked, grades 5-6, and they are better than the run-of-the-mill Take it to Your Seat centers I have seen. I am very particular when it comes to my centers.

    The Frog in My Throat center is where students write down a number of sayings that relate to animals (like "ants in my pants"). They then complete activities where they can implement these sayings into their writing. I haven't used that center lately, so I'll have to look at it a little more to tell you what I do specifically with that center.


  • #5 Teresa

    Wednesday, September 09, 2009 at 09:20 PM

    Hi Victoria, thank you so much for posting all of your great ideas. I love all of the different pictures you've provided, i'm very visual and this helps very much. Our school is adopting the reader's workshop model and I'm still feeling fuzzy about certain areas. One of them being mini-lessons. I am following the fountas and pinnell minilessons to establish independent reading but i've found that when i develop the charts along with my students we take double the time alloted. You have pictures of some really great mini lesson charts. Did you prepare these ahead of time, or did you create them during the lesson along with your kids?

    Thank you, Teresa- I created those charts ahead of time. Sadly, I am not able to implement mini-lessons at times because our schedule is so busy, but hopefully as the year progresses this year, we'll have a great routine. - Victoria

  • #6 Aubrey

    Monday, September 07, 2009 at 09:40 AM

    Victoria - Wow, you are an inspiration! I'm developing literacy centers during my off-track time (year round school) and was wondering what resource you used to create your context clues center pictured above (orange folder) where the students sort words based on the 4 types of context clues. Thank you so much for sharing your GREAT brain!

    Hello, Aubrey! Sometimes, I need to get better at using my "great brain", as you call it. I need to become stronger in a few areas this year, particularly helping my students to stay with a book and not abandon it. However, Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak's book told me to observe my students for a few weeks in that area....

    Now, the AMAZING context clues center was found here- - go down to the green area towards the bottom of the page to "Words in Context", I believe. Let me know if I was correct and if there is anything else I can do to help you out!

    Victoria :)

  • #7 Brittany

    Wednesday, September 02, 2009 at 08:10 PM

    After reading your post, I was inspired. I started reading workshop this week. (I haven't figured out how to fit in writing workshop, so I'll start with reading this year and go from there in the future.) My students love it! It's a bit chaotic, but they are getting more settled into it day by day. I expect that by the end of the second week we'll be in good shape.
    After reading your post, I even found the Guided Readers & Writers, still in the wrapper, in my closet. I had remembered seeing the book, but not taking the time to really look at it. It was left behind from the previous teacher. Talk about luck! I like having step-by-step plans for the mini-lessons since I am just getting started with this. I definitely recommend the book to anyone wanting to get started with Reading Workshop.
    I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciate you posting this information and I'm so glad to be started with a fun and exciting reading routine with my students!

  • #8 Charlene

    Saturday, August 22, 2009 at 01:18 PM

    Wow-this post is chockful of great ideas and resources! Thanks, Victoria!

    My district follows the reading and writing workshop philosophy, having been a Columbia Teachers' College project school for many years. By the time my students get to me in grade 2, they have developed the 'reading and writing habit' thanks to the good foundation started in K and 1. Having students read in books at their just right level for flluency and comprehension allows me to individualize instruction and push their thinking about their literacy work deeper.
    I use reading logs for reading homework accountability and I'm planning on incorporating more 'reading response' notebook writing this year to build in more accountability during the workshop and to create a 'portfolio' of sorts to show the development of students' thinking over the course of units.

    Thank you, Charlene. :) I am going to incorporate the Moose binders this year, too, for organization- mine is called the jPod binder. In there will be all the reading logs for the year in one section so students can see their progress. The portfolio idea is also great- I keep folders for students- I hope to become even better in that area this year.

  • #9 Brittany

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 08:16 PM

    WOW! Thank you so much for the valuable information! I have just started my second year of teaching. I have a couple questions about Reading Workshops. During mini-lessons do you write everything on the chart paper before or during the lessons? Also, how do you suggest incorporating stories from our basal into the Reading Workshops format? My other questions will probably be answered in a later post, but how are the students divided for centers? Do you just provide a few centers for the students to do each week or are they able to choose from any of the centers?
    Thanks again for your great post!

    Hello, Brittany! I do both with the mini-lessons- sometimes I write before, but most of the time, I write on the charts during the lessons. I think I incorporate stories from the basal by finding which skill the story focuses on and discussing it in the fifteen minutes of the daily mini-lesson. Last, my students cannot decide which center they are working on entirely, though they have some choices that focus around specific skills. As the year moves on, I do give them more choices, but at the beginning, I cannot do that yet. They are split up for centers by interests/some abilities/being able to work together- and as I said, the groups are comprised of two partnerships (or trios). I hope you have a sensational year!

  • #10 Jennifer

    Thursday, August 20, 2009 at 07:52 PM

    I love your plot mountain chart! We actually make a big chart that shows just plot mountain on it without the explanation. It hangs on our wall the entire year for the students to refer to. I love your amazing ideas!

    Jennifer, thank you for writing. Don't hesitate to share any of your ideas here. Plot mountains are pretty neat because it gets a good visual in the students' heads. - Victoria

  • #11 Jill

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 07:02 PM

    Thank you! I am going into my third year as a teacher and I'm ecstatic about finally getting to teach using Reader's Workshop. Your website is a great resource. Keep it up!

    Hi, Jill! I started it in my third year of teaching as well. I hope you have a sensational year. As soon as I implemented it, my test scores rose a great deal! I know that is not everything, but their reasoning and communication skills improved as well. Always awesome! - Victoria

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