This is my fourth blog post about implementing reading workshop in the primary classroom. In my first post, I introduced what reading workshop is and benefits of using this approach to teach reading in your classroom. In my last post, I wrote about how to use a mentor text to enhance your reading workshop mini-lessons. Need to catch up on your reading? Click on the link to start at the beginning of the blog post series: Introduction to Reading Workshop.
In today’s blog post, I will write my top 6 “musts” for teaching effective mini-lessons for reading workshop. During my time as an instructional coach this year, I worked with a handful of teachers on crafting powerful and effective mini-lessons. In fact, all of the “tips” that I gathered in this blog post are written as a result of what I see teachers struggle with as they implement reading workshop. Having too many learning targets, frequently eliciting student responses, not having previously taught procedural mini-lessons, teaching for 30 minutes…all of these situations are examples of what I see when I observe teachers in their classroom during their ELA reading workshop block. My role is to provide teachers with feedback, provide support, and model mini-lessons as I coach teachers in a coaching cycle. It is my hope that you can learn some valuable tips that will help you implement reading workshop into your primary classroom!
Let’s start with the first “must” for teaching effective mini-lessons…
Throughout the blog post series on reader’s workshop, I have mentioned the importance of teaching procedural mini-lessons as you begin to implement reading workshop. Once your students have demonstrated success with the following the expectations and structure of reading workshop and good reading habits and behaviors have been established, you are ready to start teaching content mini-lessons.
I often have teachers walk into my classroom during reading workshop and ask me how the kids are so focused and authentically engaged with their independent reading. No, I did not get all of the “good kids.” :) Instead, I spend a considerable amount of time in August and September and focus all of my reading workshop mini-lessons on procedural mini-lessons that build stamina and teach the expectations of reading workshop.
If you are looking to read more about the “must-teach” procedural based mini-lessons, click here: Implementing Reading Workshop.
The second must:
This is a pretty self-explanatory, but essential for effective mini-lessons. Keep your mini-lessons are MINI!!! And by mini, I mean less than 15 minutes, ideally 10-12 minutes. Research tells us that kids can only give us their undivided attention for that amount of time.
If this is a challenge for you, try setting a timer on your phone. It is eye opening to see how fast that time really does go but it will definitely help you be mindful of your time. Another idea is to set up your phone and record your mini-lesson. As I learned 10 years ago through my National Board Certification, watching yourself on video is a very effective way to reflect on your instruction.
The third must- use a mentor text during your reading workshop mini-lesson.
Mentor texts are pieces of literature that the teacher and students refer back to and reread for many different purposes. Mentor texts are HIGH QUALITY pieces of literature that not only inspire and engage your readers, but also serve as an excellent example of good writing. Mentor texts provide excellent opportunities to explicitly teach different strategies and skills to your readers, such as identifying the theme or character traits/changes.
The teacher reads the mentor texts aloud during the read aloud time, not during the reading workshop time. Instead, the teacher REFERS back to the text DURING the mini-lesson, as an example of the strategy or skill that he/she is teaching. This essential to understand in order to keep your reading workshop mini-lessons MINI! I used to read a story/novel (that correlated with the mini-lesson) and teach the mini-lesson during the same block of time. As a result, the students had a difficult time staying focused for that long of a time and my mini-lessons were not so “mini!” Now, I do the read aloud the day before the mini-lesson and I simply refer back to the story during the mini-lesson. (Or, you could just schedule your read aloud time earlier in the day and before you start RW). Read more about using a mentor text by clicking here: Using a Mentor Text with Reading Workshop.
The fourth must- keep your mini-lessons simple.
Keeping your mini-lessons simple is not easy. As teachers, we tend to think that since the mini-lesson is only 10 minutes, then we need to jam pack it with as much content as possible and talk really fast. Less is more! Keep your mini-lessons focused on ONE strategy or skill and stay focused on teaching that ONE strategy or skill.
Examples of “simple” mini-lesson:
“Readers, today I am going to teach you about how to identify cause and effect relationships in the text, Because of Winn-Dixie.”
“Readers, today I am going to teach you how to identify how a character grows and changes throughout a story.”
Write your teaching point for the mini-lesson a dry erase board or display it on your interactive white board. To help you stay on-task and remain clear about the purpose of the mini-lesson, refer to the teaching point throughout the lesson. This will benefit both you and your students and promote teacher clarity.
The fifth must- mini-lessons are direct, explicit instruction.
Make your teaching point CRYSTAL CLEAR. Start with the words, “Today I want to teach you” and make it very clear.
Mini-lessons are not a time to give directions for an assignment that students are going to complete during their independent work/reading. As an instructional coach, I observed a teacher give a 15 minute mini-lesson, but did not actually TEACH anything. Instead, the teacher was explaining the expectations and directions for the assignment that the students would complete when the got back to their seats. Furthermore, the assignment was a review from the previous day. Giving assignments and instructions is different that explicit teaching. In working with the teacher, we spent time planning the actual teaching points, to ensure that they were clear, explicit content and standards that were modeled, demonstrated, or taught.
The sixth must- the focus is on the teacher during reading workshop mini-lessons!
It is (almost!) all about the teacher as he/she teaches the mini-lesson. This is NOT the time for students to take an active role and their involvement is very brief…as in just a few minutes! That’s it! The rest of the time, it is all about YOU and what YOU are teaching! Since you are not having a conversation with your students and you are using direct instruction, the amount of questions that you ask are limited. As I was working with a teacher to implement reading workshop, I was observing her mini-lesson. During the 12 minute mini-lesson, the teacher elicited student response 15 times! After providing this data to the teacher, she was able to see how the student involvement really did take away from her limited instructional time during the mini-lesson.
Although you may have your students “turn and talk,” that is only for one to two minutes. After your students “turn and talk,” you can reiterate the most important parts by restating what you heard students talk about, instead of calling on students to share their responses. for example, you might say “I heard Jamie say…”
Your students will have their time to shine during reading workshop during the work time, just not during the mini-lesson! During work time, students are engaged in book clubs, reading partnerships, and reading conferences.
Crafting Effective Mini-Lessons
I created a one page graphic organizer for the teachers that I coach, which helped them really focus on the “nitty gritty” of their mini-lesson. The graphic organizer breaks down the mini-lesson into the following sections: connection, teaching point, active engagement, and link to ongoing learning.
Let’s use the example in the picture. No matter what the grade, we always start with the standard. Standard: RL.3.10
Connection: “Readers, yesterday you learned how to identify the main message of the text for reading workshop.”
Teaching Point: “Today I am so excited to teach you about cause/effect relationships in a fiction book. The cause is WHY something happened. The effect is WHAT happened.” (Teacher refers to anchor charts and directly teaches this skill.)
Active Engagement: “Let’s look at a familiar text together. Let’s see if we can identify an example of a cause and effect relationship. (Teacher reads aloud selected passage) Turn and talk with your partner. Identify a cause/effect relationship in the passage that I just read aloud. Remember to state the cause and state the effect. Use the text for evidence.” (Give one or two minutes for students to turn and talk.)
Link to Ongoing Learning: “As you are reading your fiction book today during independent reading, please challenge yourself to find one example of a cause and effect relationship. Write this example in your reader’s notebook. Don’t forget to write the page number of where you found this example.”
Let’s use another example and break down a reading workshop mini-lesson.
Connection: “Readers, yesterday I taught you how to retell a fiction story.”
Teaching Point: “Today I am going to teach you about character traits. (Teacher refers to anchor chart and reads information from anchor chart to guide instruction.) Character traits are adjectives or qualities that describe a character’s personality and actions. Good readers pay attention to what a character says and does because it gives clues about what type of person they are. (Teacher reads aloud page 7 of the text, displaying text on smartboard.) Hmm…as I was reading this passage, I couldn’t help but think that Opal was so lonely! She misses her mom terribly and her dad seems very distant. (Teacher explicitly refers to spot in text to support trait.)
Active Engagement: “Now it’s your turn. As I read aloud the next page, I want you to pay attention to what you hear the Opal say and what Opal does. (Teacher reads aloud passage.) How would you describe Opal based on what she said and did in this passage? What adjectives would you use. Turn and talk to your partner and share your thoughts. Use the text for evidence.” (Give one or two minutes for students to turn and talk.)
Link to Ongoing Learning: “As you are reading your fiction book today during independent reading, please challenge yourself to identify the character traits that you would use to describe the main character in your book. You will shade in the character traits selected from the list of adjectives.”
One more example…
Connection: “Readers, yesterday you learned how to visualize as you read.”
Teaching Point: “Today I am going to teach about the main message of the text. (Teacher refers to anchor chart and reads information from anchor chart to guide instruction.) What does the author want us to know as a result of reading? What is the author trying to teach us? What is important for the audience to know about this topic? The message can be the moral of the story or the lesson the author wants to teach you. (Teacher read aloud a passage in a familiar text and “thinks aloud.”)
Active Engagement: “Now it’s your turn. As I read aloud the next passage, I want you to pay attention to the message. What is the author trying to teach you? What does the author want you to know? What is important? (Teacher reads aloud passage.) What would you say is the message? What does the author want you to know? Turn and talk to your partner and share your thoughts. Use the text for evidence. (Give one or two minutes for students to turn and talk. As students are talking, teacher listens in and writes ideas on anchor chart.) I heard Shane and Megan talk about…” (Teacher shares an example of what she heard.)
Link to Ongoing Learning: “As you are reading today, I want you to identify the message of the text. (Teacher passes out the recording sheet.) Please record your thoughts on the worksheet I passed out. At closing, you will share the message of your text with your partner.”
In my reading workshop units, I break down each of the reading workshop mini-lesson in the same format. If you are interested in any of my units, please read more about them below! You can download your own copy of the Reading Workshop Mini-Lesson Template by clicking on the button below:
Reading Workshop in the Primary Classroom Blog Post Series
Take a sneak peak at what is next in this 8 post series!
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Check out the units of study included in my Reading Workshop Bundle!
Units included in this bundle:
Unit 3, Implementing Reader’s Notebooks
Unit 5, Character Study Unit
Other resources included in this bundle:
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