Overview: Classroom Culture & Environment

The primary goal of Reading Workshop is to help children fall in love with words, books, and reading!

You can create the conditions for this through both your physical environment and your classroom culture. When you teach explicit lessons around independence, risk-taking, engagement and the joy of reading all of the children become part of a literacy-rich community. Help children see themselves as part of a group of readers who get lost in books and look forward to talking and writing about them and learning from them. Create an inviting and supportive physical environment that will give the readers in your room choices in where to sit, what to read, and how to respond to their books.

Consider the spaces both you and your children need to work individually and in groups. Consider the materials your community needs such as books and visual and language-based anchor charts. These elements will work in tandem to support your children’s independence and growth as readers.

Responsibilities and Procedures

For Reading Workshop to be most successful, help children learn what being part of a literary, reading community means. During Workshop, each child will have individual responsibilities during whole group lessons, small group work and as an independent readers. In order to develop these classroom practices you will want to consider the following questions; What does it look like when a reader comes to the rug? What does it sound like when a reader reads independently? What does it feel like to find a Just Right book? How do I keep myself focused on reading? These questions and more should be explored during explicit Reading Workshop lessons. Procedures that you plan and model, give the children practice with, and then reflect upon will be the ones that are most effective.

The following is a sample of ideas you can teach that will support your children’s growth as they navigate the routines of Reading Workshop. Observe your own class of children to see what specifically they need to be successful during Readers Workshop in order to create a literary classroom community.

To Support Whole Group Mini-Lessons Sample Language
(what you will be teaching and why it’s important)
How to come to the rug “Today we will practice moving from our seats to the rug while singing our carpet song. By understanding exactly what to do, we will have more time for learning.”
How to sit on the rug “Today we will learn how to sit on the rug so we can stay focused. By focusing on our learning, you will be taking care of yourself and others around you.”
Think, Turn and Talk “There will be times during the mini-lesson when we will turn and talk with a partner. Sharing our thoughts and listening to others will help us learn more.”
Using post-it notes (or other materials such as notebooks, etc.) during the lesson “Today we will learn the procedure for using post-it notes. Being able to jot down our thoughts helps us to think deeply about our books and record our thinking. We will practice this together so that everyone knows exactly what to do.”
Sharing ideas, engagement strategies “Today I will teach you how to “whisper in your hand.” This is one way everyone can share their thinking at the same time and be active learners.”
Signal to turn attention back to the group after turn and talk, using white boards, etc. “When you hear my clap (or 1-2-3 eyes on me), that is your signal to turn your attention back to me. It’s important that we practice this procedure so we can get ready to learn as a whole group again.”


To Support Small Group & Independent Work Time Sample Language
How to choose books “One of the things that I love best about reading is choosing books that interest me. Today we will practice one way of choosing a Just Right book by thinking about whether or not the topic interests us. Finding Just Right books will make our reading more enjoyable and interesting for us.”
Understanding the purpose of anchor charts and how to use them “I’ve noticed that sometimes students ask questions that are already answered in the anchor charts in our room. Let’s review the different charts together and discuss ways to use them. When we learn how to do thiswell, it will be like having another teacher in the room to help us.”
Using a quiet voice “In order to take care of each other, we need to think about and practice changing the volume of our voice when we read. Today I want to teach you how to keep your voice low so everyone can concentrate on their own reading.”
How to ask for help during Work Time Today we will practice using our new mailbox where you can leave notes for me if needed. When we learn this system, you will get a chance to tell me the important ideas/ questions that you have during a time when I can give you the attention you deserve, without interrupting other students.”
What to do when you finish a book “I have noticed that sometimes, when some of you finish books, you don’t seem quite sure what to do next. Today I want to teach you one thing that you can do when you finish a book – write a book recommendation. This is something lots of readers do and will help you participate in our community of readers.”
How to read and discuss books with a partner “Today I want to teach you one way partners work together – they can sit side by side and put the book right in the middle so they can both read it. When we learn how to do this, both partners will feel taken care of.”

Creating a Culture of Readers

In the book Self-Directed Writers, Leah Mermelstein describes the qualities of independent, self-directed learners.  While her focus is on writing, the same qualities should be evident in readers who are part of a thriving Reading Workshop.  These are qualities that may come more naturally to some children than others.  However, in order to create a healthy culture in which all readers learn, talk about, practice and reflect on these traits, you should teach explicit lessons around them.  Help children recognize these qualities in themselves and others.  Help children grow their self-directed learning skills so they too can become independent readers. Here are some traits and lessons that would support their growth.

Trait Examples Possible Teaching Point
Independent
  • Readers know how to solve problems on their own and how to meet their needs, even when the answer is not immediately evident
  • Readers know what resources they can use in the room to support their independence
  • Readers make connections to other areas of the curriculum
Readers, sometimes you may complete a book while it’s still reading time, and you may not be sure what to do next. Today, let’s talk about some of the things you can do when you finish reading one book so you can be sure to use your time well.
Risk-taker
  • Readers enjoy reading new genres or new authors or more complex texts
  • Readers try out new strategies
  • Readers work with new partners
  • Readers are willing to discuss their reading and engage in meaningful conversations around literature
Readers, so many of you know the types of books that you enjoy reading. I know Marissa loves reading Big Nate books and Stephanie loves reading mysteries. Today, I want to talk to you about trying out a new type of book. I’d like you to make a plan to select a book that is unlike any other book you have ever read before. Doing this might help you discover a new author or book or series!
Excited
  • Readers are glad to have Reading Workshop and complain when it’s not scheduled
  • Readers are excited when new structures are introduced
Readers, I know how much you love Reading Workshop and I know that sometimes when I say that reading time is coming to an end, you might feel disappointed. So today, I would like to talk to you about a new signal I am going to use that will alert you to when there are five minutes left. This signal will help you find a good stopping place in your book.
Engaged
  • Readers can work for increasingly longer periods of time and without getting distracted
  • Readers are actively thinking while they read, using resources in the text and their own skills and strategies to make sense of their books.
  • Readers feel comfortable to discuss and teach classmates about a strategy they used during Reading Workshop.
Readers, just the other day I was reading when something strange happened. While I was reading, I started to think about the shopping list I needed to make and I became distracted. Thumbs up if your mind has ever wandered while reading. Today, I am going to teach you how to catch yourself when your mind wanders and how to re-focus on your book.

The Physical Environment

Creating an inviting and useful physical environment will provide the readers in your room with the support they need to be independent, resourceful and productive during Reading Workshop. When planning your literacy environment, consider the variety of ways children might use the spaces and materials in the room and the variety of ways you will be meeting with them.

Whole Group Meeting Area

Space

  • where all children can be seen, heard and can actively participate
  • where all children can sit comfortably and fit comfortably (a large rug and carpet squares are useful)
  • with access to important displays such as anchor charts or books (anchor charts that are being referenced can also be taken down and placed here as needed)
  • with access to teaching materials

Materials may include

  • Chart stand and chart paper
  • Anchor charts that support whole group instruction
  • Comfortable teacher chair
  • Shelves for storing teaching materials like dry erase markers, index cards, etc.
  • Transition props such as a bell or chime (or other props like a pointer)
  • Baskets or bins for Big Book storage and read aloud storage

Small Group Meeting Area

Space

  • with tables and chairs for small group learning
  • with organized and easily accessible materials
  • with appropriate storage for student and teacher materials
  • with access to a record keeping system such as a binder, clipboard with note cards, or file boxes for notes
  • with access to relevant anchor charts

Materials may include

  • Small table
  • Pencils, erasers, and paper choices
  • Dry erase boards and markers
  • Dry erase/magnetic easel (free-standing or tabletop)
  • Shelves or plastic drawers for storing materials
  • Plastic tackle box for magnetic letters
  • Other word study materials like letter tiles or cards
  • Record keeping systems
  • Anchor charts

Independent Work Time

Spaces

  • that are quiet and private for individual reading
  • that are cozy and inviting environment
  • that are interspersed throughout the classroom
  • that encourage cooperation and collaboration during partner work
  • that give you a clear view of all the children at all times

Materials may include

  • an organized, labeled class library that includes leveled books
  • book baggies or book boxes for children to keep their reading materials organized
  • anchor charts that are visible and reflect current instruction
  • comfortable, kid-sized chairs/pillows, carpet squares, reading buddies (i.e. stuffed animals children can read to)
  • Small pieces of curved PVC piping (shaped like old-fashioned telephones) that children can read into for volume control

The Classroom Library

The classroom library should be a special place in your classroom to highlight the importance of reading, books, and literacy in school. The library corner is where quality children’s literature is organized, categorized and displayed and where the leveled library is housed. The classroom library can be filled with inviting items such as lamps and plants and can include cozy spaces where students can read alone or together. In a small classroom, the library corner is often combined with the large group space.

  • Choose a quiet space away from the busier traffic flow areas.
  • Make the library inviting. For example, use bean bags, couches, chairs, low tables, pillows, lamps, plants, framed pictures of students reading or favorite book covers and stuffed animals to create a comfortable environment.
  • Sort your books by theme, genre, author, and level. Include books that reflect children’s home languages and cultures.
  • Label shelves and/or book baskets by genre (such as fiction, poetry, etc.). Use picture icons when possible. Display many of your books so the covers are facing out, to capture your children’s attention.

Creating a Leveled Library

Leveled books promote high success reading opportunities for all students by giving them the opportunity to read books at their independent reading level. Books are considered at children’s independent level if they can read the text with 95% accuracy (i.e., no more than one error per 20 words read.) Books at a child’s independent reading level are relatively easy text for them.

In most classrooms, it is recommended that at least 1/3 of the library be leveled. Children often begin their search for their Just Right books by browsing the basket that matches their independent reading level.

To create a leveled library, begin by taking an inventory of the books you already have. Some trade books come with levels already assigned to them. Some publishers create series of books for emerging and early readers like “I Can Read Books” or “Step into Reading.” Other options include “Scholastic Reader” leveled series, “Hello Reader” leveled books, or “Ready to Read.”

If your books are not part of an easily identifiable pre-leveled series, they can be leveled in accordance with one of the many systems that exist. Use the leveling system that is already in place in your school and code your books accordingly. If there isn’t one, then try the Fountas and Pinnell’s Guided Reading alphabetic levels (A-Z) which is arguably and currently the most popular leveling system.

Consider what levels would be appropriate for the readers in your room. Use a correlation chart to guide your decision making. For example, a typical 1st Grade leveled library may include books between Fountas and Pinnell levels A and M.

There are several sites and apps that can assist you in leveling your books. Here are some options:

Apps

Scholastic Book Wizard

The free Book Wizard app from Scholastic allows you to type in the name of a title, author, or keyword associated with a book and find the level, or scan the barcode of the book. Not all books are in their database, but once a book is located you can view a synopsis of the book and basic information including the level. This app also allows users to create an inventory of all titles in classroom library.

Level It

Level It is a paid app., available for iPhone and Android users. It has the same manual search features as Book Wizard, and the levels displayed are easy to see. This app also includes features to inventory your classroom library, create individual student profiles, and check in/out books to specific students

Literacy Leveler

The Literacy Leveler App by FikesFarm, LLC is another paid app similar to the Level It app, but currently only available for iPhone users. It allows users to manually search by title, author or ISBN; as well as scan each book’s bar code. It also allows you see a list of all books in their classroom library books at a given reading level.

Classroom Organizer

Another free app for iPhone and Android users is the Classroom Organizer app from Booksource. The app can also determine reading levels, and organize and track books in the classroom library.

Websites

A to Z Teacher Stuff Leveled Books Database

The Leveled Books Database at A to Z Teacher Stuff allows users to search by title or author to determine the reading level for student books. You have the option of searching to find Guided Reading Level or Reading Recovery Level.

Scholastic Book Wizard

The Scholastic Book Wizard is also available through a free website. Here you can view a book’s Grade Level Equivalent, Guided Reading Level, or Lexile Measure.

Fountas & Pinnell Leveled Book

The Leveled Book Website from Fountas & Pinnell is available as a subscription service. $25 for an annual membership, group discounts are also available.

Renaissance.com

This is Accelerated Readers (A.R.) free source for leveling books. Once you go to the site, go to the “Store” button and you can search for books by title or author.

If you can’t find a level for a book, you can start by comparing it to similarly leveled books, or use leveling criteria available from one of the leveling systems, to level the book yourself (such as Fountas and Pinnell’s Guided Reading Level Criteria). This often best done as a grade level team, so you can discuss and decide on levels together. Leveling criteria takes into account things like:

  • Vocabulary and word choice
  • Sentence length and complexity
  • The length of the book
  • Subject matter
  • Repetition and predictability
  • Picture support
  • Age appropriateness and interest level

When leveling your library, pay special attention to the needs of your ELL children. It can be challenging to find books at the appropriate English reading level that is also age appropriate in terms of content and structure. For example, a third grade ELL student may be at a C reading level; however, the content and structure of a C book may not relate to the child’s interest. Consider adding readable materials for your ELLs that include supportive structures such as current event series, comic books, and/or graphic novels. Another possibility is to add audio books. Audio books are engaging and expose ELL students to fluent readers of English.

Finding Books for Your Leveled Library

It’s important that children spend time reading books that they can decode with a large degree of accuracy. This is especially true for emergent, and early readers, and English Language Learners who need a great deal of practice developing their print skills. It is suggested that emergent and early readers read about 10 books each week (rereading them often to strengthen their decoding skills and fluency). Transitional and fluent readers, who don’t tend to re-read the same book but benefit from reading books in the same series, read anywhere from 2-10 books depending on their level.

To support children in this work, your library will have to contain a large number of books, in a wide range of topics and genres that are both decodable and interesting for your readers. The books in your library should both mirror the children’s lives, interests and home languages and also be a window into other worlds and topics. But what if you need more books?

In order to build a rich classroom library, sometimes you have to be resourceful! Below are some suggestions for ways you can stock your library with books your children need and will enjoy.

  • Libraries: often have sale books
  • Garage sales: sale books
  • Bookstores: many have special discount days for teachers or sale racks
  • Donations: some teachers write letters to families asking if they have any books that they might be able to donate to the classroom
  • Book club points: Scholastic book clubs, etc.

Just Right Books

During Work Time, children spend a great deal of time reading what is commonly called “Just Right” books. Just Right books are books that children can read accurately and fluently. They are books that children comprehend and books that are of interest to them. When they read books that fit these characteristics, children have the opportunity to “integrate complex skills and strategies into an automatic, independent reading process.” (Allington, 2002). Therefore time spent reading Just Right books helps children become independent readers.

Teaching children how to find a Just Right book is crucial. Even if you and your children know their reading level, simply selecting a book by its level alone is not sufficient. After all, you are building lifelong readers and outside of your classroom library, most booksellers and libraries do not have books organized according to their level. Additionally, we don’t want children to identify themselves by a “letter” (“I’m a G reader.”). We do want them to identify themselves by their characteristics (“I’m the kind of reader who likes mysteries”.) Therefore, set a goal for helping children understand how to choose a book. Modeling and teaching the following lessons will help:

  • How to find a book that interests them
  • How to test the book to see if they can read most of the words accurately (about 1 error for every 20 words)
  • How to select a book they can read smoothly
  • How to check to see if they understand what they are reading

Remember, what children consider Just Right books for themselves should evolve as the year and their reading identities evolve. Text should get more complex, general interests may change and new genres should be explored.

Shopping for Books

During Reading Workshop, children need to have “book baggies” or boxes that are filled with the books that are “Just Right” for them. Often, selecting books for their book baggies can be somewhat of a time-consuming process. After all, you want children to take their time. You want them to explore your library’s collection which should change as the year and your curriculum changes. Research has shown that a large, varied and often-refreshed collection of books in the classroom is a vital ingredient in improving reading performance (Susan Neuman, 1999). You want your children to make smart choices that show they are becoming more knowledgeable about selecting books that are a good fit for them and that allow them to explore and expand their interests. Research has also demonstrated that access to self-selected books improves children’s reading performance (Krashen, 2011).

Shopping for Books for Reading Workshop

Strategies on how to organize book shopping for your children to prepare them for Reading Workshop.

Because time spent reading is so precious, find time for children to shop for books that doesn’t overlap with actual time set aside for reading. When reading time occurs, you want the children to already have all their supplies with them and be ready to go!

Also, your classroom library may not be sizable enough for all children to select books at the same time. Try dividing your children into five groups. Assign each group one day (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) each week that they may shop for books. Use a transition time such as first thing in the morning or at the end of the day for children to shop.

If you run centers in your room, consider making “Book Browsing” a center so children can book shop during that time as well.

You’ll need to be flexible with whatever system you choose. If Monday is a holiday allow that group to shop first thing Tuesday morning. If children are absent, let them go on the day they return. If a child struggles with book selection, you might want to spend time with that child during Work Time to review strategies for selecting books.

If children formally fill their book baggies each week, make sure they have enough books to generally last each week. Follow the guidelines below:

  • Emergent & Early Readers: it is important for them to reread their books to develop sight word automatically and fluency; they should have approximately 8-12 books in their bags.
  • Transitional & Fluent Readers: these readers are generally moving into longer chapter books and generally do not reread. They might have approximately 3-7 books in their bags.

The Book Baggy

The book baggy or book box is an incredibly useful tool for helping children organize and maintain their reading materials. Whether you give your children a freezer size plastic bag or a magazine box, the tool will support children’s independence and resourcefulness because they have everything they may need right with them. Here are some items to include:

  • Books
  • Post-it notes
  • Pencil
  • Book marks
  • Useful lists (such as decoding strategies, questions readers ask themselves)
  • Reading logs
  • Reading folders/notebooks
  • Exit slips or self-reflection tools

Teach procedural mini-lessons that help children know where to store their book baggies, how to keep them up-to-date and what to do when materials in the bag need replenishing. Addressing each of these procedural elements of the book baggy tool will ensure that it remains a great resource for your children throughout the year.

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