Welcome to one of six of interconnected pages devoted to exploring the facets of reading and writing workshops in adolescent classrooms. This page is provides an overview of the materials needed to set up reading and writing workshop, including sample schedules for implementation and advice on libraries and books.
Follow these links to explore other components of reading and writing workshop:
Materials
Home
Resources
Conferring
Grammar
Assessment


Overview


According to Nancie Atwell, author of In the Middle, an essential part of running an effective reading and writing workshop is organization. This anecdote from In the Middle, speaks to the importance of organization, is a conversation that takes place after Atwell is observed by Donald Graves:

At the end of the day Graves came and stood in my doorway with his coat on, smiling. "What are you smiling about?" I asked.
"I'm smiling at you," he said. "You know what makes you such a good writing teacher?"
Oh God, I thought. Here it comes: validation from one of the world's most famous writing teachers. In a split second I flipped through the best possibilities. Was he going to remark on the piercing intelligence of my conferences? My commitment to the kids? My sensitivity to written language?
"What?" I asked.
He answered, "You're so damned organized."
...
By organization I mean discovering what writers and readers need and providing plenty of it in a predictable setting. (89-90)

In order to be effective a workshop classroom must be run efficiently and predictably. Students must be given time each week to do reading and writing. The following sections offer some suggestions for setting up the classroom in an organized and functional way so that the physical and material parts of reading and writing workshop are running smoothly.



Materials



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As a part of setting the tone in a reading and writing workshop, Nancie Atwell recommends posting quotes around the workshop room. These are printed Appendix N in her book In the Middle.


In order to run a successful workshop classroom, organization, preparedness, and clear expectations are key. In her book In the Middle, Atwell outlines how she prepares her folders, status of the class, and classroom order for the first days of school. She has well-ordered, clear, manageable systems that set both the teacher and student up for success.

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In order to enable creativity and growth, readers and writers in a workshop classroom must be able to know what they need and where to find it. Teachers in reading and writing workshops will need to find systems that work for their classrooms.


Sample organizational ideas:
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Student files for keeping track of work for portfolios and other items of interest.
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This box stores student writing portfolios. These are over-sized envelopes in which students store their published works.
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Each table has a box in which to store their reading and writing notebooks and folders. These are kept in a central location in the classroom for ease of access for everyone.




Books & the classroom library


The classroom library is an important element in the reading and writing workshop. As Fountas & Pinnell write, "the collection is carefully structured and its importance must not be minimized, since for most students it represents their primary literacy resource for the year" (Fountas & Pinnell, 2001, 89).

Atwell minimizes the management of her middle school classroom library by eliminating a check out system. Instead, each time she adds a new book to her library, she write her name in red permanent marker on the top and puts a green dot sticker on the spine. She prioritizes other tasks in her classroom over "chasing after missing titles" (Atwell, 160).

In Guiding Readers and Writers, Fountas & Pinnell recommend that a classroom collection of texts include a variety. They offer the following twelve suggestions in their book (Fountas & Pinnell, 2001, 89):
  1. Books for literature study--either read by the teacher or read by the students.
  2. Poetry Anthologies of various types--theme, poet, etc.
  3. Picture books that offer students the opportunity to experience a piece of work with aesthetic unity--text, illustrations, layout.
  4. Books for reference and information, such as dictionaries, atlases, and thesauruses.
  5. Books organized by topic, author, and genre.
  6. Books that are a part of a series.
  7. Books introduced in book talks that are available for independent reading.
  8. Books recommended by the students in the class.
  9. Books that have received awards--Caldecott, Newbery, Coretta Scott King, and others.
  10. Leveled books for guided reading.*
  11. Collections of short stories.
  12. Journals, magazines, newspapers.

*This may not be appropriate or necessary after sixth grade, so take that into consideration.

Scheduling and Structures


As a middle school teacher, Atwell emphasizes that her Writing-Reading Workshop "isn't an add-on; it is the English course" (97). She offers several approaches to scheduling while emphasizing that she makes time each day for these components: "a poem, a writing-reading minilesson, independent writing and conferring, a brief read-aloud...and time for independent reading" (96). In addition, she assigns and extra half hour of reading at home for homework.

Options for scheduling the workshop approach, taken directly from In the Middle (97-98):

Option 1: When a workshop approach is the curriculum
  • writing workshop on four regular, consecutive days (e.g., Monday-Thursday)
  • reading workshop on one regularly scheduled fifth day (e.g., Friday) but with booktalks and minilessons throughout the week
  • A half hour's worth of independent reading as homework every night
  • An hour's worth of writing as homework, done at the student's discretion between Thursday night and Monday morning

Option 2: When a required curriculum must be covered
  • Writing workshop four days a week (e.g., Monday-Thursday) for one semester, with an hour's worth of writing as homework between Thursday night and Monday morning
  • The required curriculum four days a week the alternate semester
  • reading workshop on one regularly scheduled fifth day (e.g., Friday) throughout the entire school year, and frequent booktalks and literary minilessons
  • a half hour's worth of independent reading as homework every night

In either of these options, time for independent reading and writing are absolute necessities. Students become better readers and writers by reading and writing, so this time must be set aside weekly and daily (93, 95). When considering how to adapt these middle school structures for high school, option 2 may be the most helpful.

A typical workshop lesson structure includes a minilesson delivered by the teacher and independent work time followed by some type of sharing or coming together at the end of the workshop (Fountas & Pinnell, 2001, 17).

Component
Description
Minilesson
  • can be short or focused or a bit longer and more interactive
  • a forum (Atwell, 150) for students and teachers to share their knowledge
  • based on teacher's analysis of student needs
  • 4 categories: procedure, literary craft, conventions, strategies of good readers (Atwell, 153)
Independent Reading and Writing
  • students work through various stages of the writing process, usually choosing their own topics
  • students read independently books of their choosing, books for literature circles, poems, etc.
  • teacher confers with students during independent work time
  • teacher may also meet with small groups depending on age level of students and need (Fountas & Pinnell, 19)
Share
  • this is a time for sharing and evaluation
  • this usually ties back to the minilesson (Fountas & Pinnell, 19)

References


Atwell, N. (1998). In the Middle: New Understandings About Writing, Reading, and Learning (2nd ed.). Boynton/Cook.
Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (2001). Guiding Readers and Writers: Teaching Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy (1st ed.). Heinemann.