With today’s instant access to curriculum resources and amazing pictures on Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram, it’s almost easy for me to become overwhelmed and even insecure about my own classroom instruction. In fact, I’ve recently begin to question the difference between reading workshop and guided reading. This blog blog post shares the ins and outs of the terms reading workshop, guided reading, and literature circles.
Reading workshop can be used in conjunction with guided reading or literature circles. I like to think of reading workshop as the overall umbrella of my reading instruction. There are several additional components of my reading instruction, but I include all of them within the reading workshop framework. This is what I’ve used for 15 years now, and I cannot image teaching reading any other way. Reading workshop typically begins with the teacher reading aloud to students. The teacher can discuss and model a variety of comprehension strategies during the mini lesson. Then, students self-select books on their own reading level to read independently. During this time, students should read on their independent reading level and concentrate on comprehension and gaining meaning from the text. At the end of reading workshop some students may share what they’ve read and discuss the reading strategies they applied during their reading time. Guiding Readers and Writers is by far my favorite resource for understanding the framework of reading workshop. It’s not a quick or easy read, but it’s worth it. I was never able to master ever component of the book (especially word study), but the sections on reading workshop are perfect!
In guided reading, teachers choose reading material for students and a purpose for reading, and then guide students to use reading strategies needed for that purpose. In upper elementary comprehension strategies are typically the main focus of development in guided reading. During Guided Reading, the teacher meets with small groups of students of similar reading ability for instruction, while other students work independently in centers or independent reading. A guided reading lesson typically lasts about 20 minutes. In the beginning of the lesson, the teacher introduces the book or text and connects students’ prior knowledge to what they will be reading, as well as set a purpose for reading. During this time, the teacher may introduce new vocabulary and discuss any unfamiliar concepts in the book. Then, students take turns reading the text. Students may read independently, in small groups, partner-read, or choral-read. After reading the text, students discuss the what they read and the comprehension strategies used. The teacher may also review skills and strategies or assign written extension activities. You can see my favorite guided reading resources below. Another resource that I highly recommend is Reading A-Z. Since my school doesn’t have a leveled library, I love being able to print leveled readers. Plus, there are guided reading lesson plans for the books!
Literature circles consist of small groups that are formed around a particular text choice. Students are assigned a chapter or chunk of text to read independently and are asked to bring some type of response to the literature circle meeting. In literature circles, students should ask many thought-provoking questions and learn from one another. I occasionally use literature circles as an alternative to guided reading groups. I do not try to conduct literature circles and guided reading groups at the same time. I’ve read a lot of resource books on literature circles, but Lovin’ Lit’s “How-To” Guide was a huge help for me. She validated some of my concerns and gave a lot of practical, common sense ideas for implementing literature circles.
Where do I start?
How do I get started is a question I frequently see, but the answer is fairly straightforward-assess! Before I can begin any type of reading instruction, I always assess my students to see where they are as readers. I cannot say that I have found an assessment that I absolutely love, but we’re required to use DIBELS and DRA, so that’s what I use. DIBELS is good for assessing reading fluency. I do use caution with this assessment, and I’m very adamant that I don’t want to see/hear speed reading. We discuss how fluent reading is much more than reading quickly, and how we need to think about expression, phrasing, and reading to understand. I also use DRA to look at fluency, as well as comprehension, and I use students’ DRA scores to determine their independent and instructional reading level. I give students flexibility in which levels they choose to read. If one of my fourth graders is already reading on grade level, I don’t require them to read on that level. I more or less give them free reign of my classroom library. I do pay closer attention to the book choices of my readers who are reading below grade level, because I’ve seen too many students choose books that are far from their range of proximate development. When a student who is reading on a 1st grade level tries to read a book on a 5th grade level, there isn’t going to be a lot of benefit for that student. I never discourage or single out a student in that situation. Instead we have a conversion about the book and discuss other options. If through my DIBELS and DRA, I discover that a student is below grade level, I do more assessments on that student to determine the cause of the problem. I may give a sight word screener or phonics assessment to see if that is the underlying cause of the difficulty in reading. I then look at the data from the assessments to form my reading groups.
What do students do while you’re assessing?
I won’t sugar coat the truth. These assessments take forever! I love the information, but I don’t particularly enjoy administering them. During the first week of two of school, my reading lessons are primarily procedural. I teach lessons on how to choose a book, the five finger rule, abandoning books, guidelines for reading workshop, etc. These are all lessons I pull from my Reading Unit 1. During this time, it’s beneficial to work with students to build reading stamina. Many students cannot enter school after a long summer break and independently read for long periods of time. Instead, each day students can gradually increase the amount of time they spend reading.
Once you’re finished with assessments and your students are able to read independently for at least 20 minutes, it’s finally time to really get started! The pacing and order of your lesson will completely depend on your school’s expectations of you. This is the pacing guide I follow with my reading units.
Since I’m following my reading unit, my mini lessons are a snap. I almost always begin my mini lesson with a picture book that I can use to teach a particular skill or strategy. Picture books are absolutely appropriate for upper elementary students, and students love them. I like trying new things, and I have created reading units that are centered around novels. This means that each unit will be based on ONE book, rather than a different book every day.
After I plan my mini lessons, I plan my guided reading groups, which is a lot easier said that done. The first thing I do is make a list of who will be in what group. It’s important to keep reading groups flexible, because some students may quickly grow by leaps and bounds. Since I’m planning digitally this year, I’m going to try keeping my guided reading lists digitally too. We’ll see how that goes:) I change the groups many times during the course of the year. The OCD in my desperately wants to have the same number of students in each reading group, but that just isn’t real life. My group sizes range from 2-6. Occasionally, I have to decide what to do with a student who is the only one in a group. Do I meet with that student individually, or do I place him/her in the next best group?
Once I know who is in what group, I decide when each group will meet. This is the rotation schedule I used when I had 80 minutes for reading. That worked perfectly, because I had time to meet with three groups a day. You can see that I meet with some groups more than others, and that is intentional. I meet with my students who need the most help five days a week.
This year, I only have an hour to teach reading, so I only have time to meet with two groups a day. I don’t love this schedule, but I’m struggling with alternatives…I’m open to suggestions:). I’m set on meeting with Group A five days a week, and I feel good about Group B meeting three days a week. My struggle is only meeting with Group C and Group D once a week. I’d rather meet with them twice a week, but to do that, I’ll have a very large group. That’s the beauty of flexible grouping. I can try something, and if it doesn’t work, changing it is no big deal.
Once I know who is in what group and when each group will meet, I begin planning what I will teach in my guided reading groups. Below is the lesson plan format I use to plan my guided reading groups. One of my biggest challenges is the lack of book sets for reading groups. We don’t have a reading series, so we don’t have any leveled readers, and I was very spoiled at my old school with a leveled library full of book sets of picture books and chapter books. As I mentioned earlier, I started using Reading A-Z for my guided reading groups. I either print leveled readers for my group or decodable books for my group working on phonics. I select books for whichever phonetic pattern we’re studying for the week. When I use those books, I often just use the included lesson plan, because while I do love to create my own resources, sometimes I have to opt for connivence.
I meet with each reading groups for 20 minutes. The vast majority of the time, while my students are not meeting with me, they are independently reading. However, I do have my students write a reading response once a week. Each week I give students three options of reading response questions, and students write a response to one of the questions. I was careful to include at least one prompt a week that would work for an informational text.
Last year I absolutely fell in love with literature circles. I’ve tried them many times before, but I never experienced any success until last year. I do think that one of the main reasons it was better was because I was teaching fourth grade, rather than third. The maturity factor did make a difference. I also felt like my literature circles were more structured, which helped my students have more clear expectations of what they should be doing. I typically choose six book options for my literature circles, and I let students choose their top 3 books and one book they absolutely do not want to read. I select the books based on my instinct on what my students will enjoy, and I try to include a large variety of books. I use this form to assign each student a book. I think use Lovin’ Lit’s bookmarks to create a bookmark for each student that lists what chapters they are to read each day and which group member is responsible for each job during the week.
To keep students on track, I’ve created Literature Circle Booklets for my students. Students use their booklets for the duration of the book. By far, the most challenging part of the entire process is having students keep up with their booklet for four weeks.
During literature circles, each week students have a different role or responsibility. One role is Discussion Director. The discussion director is responsible for asking four opened ended questions about the week’s assigned reading. The first time I do literature circles, I have to teach students how to write open questions, but they typically catch on quickly. The Discussion Director will then ask the questions on that week’s literature circle meeting.
Another role is the Passage Picker. The Passage Picker selects two passages from that week’s assigned reading that were meaningful to them. They record the passage and explain why the passage was significant to them. They will share and discuss that passage with their group in their literature circle meeting.
Another literature circle role is the Character Sketcher. S/he must sketch the character using information from the text. The Character Sketcher also lists three character traits and uses text evidence to support those character traits.
The final job is the Word Wizard. The Word Wizard chooses four word’s from the week’s required reading. They write the word, the page the word the page was found on, how the word was used in the text, the definition of the word, and uses the word in the sentence. S/he will share the words they chose during the week’s literature circle meeting.
Since there are four jobs, I like to finish a book in four weeks, and I limit my group to four members in a group. This way everyone has a turn to do each job one time. I do have students write daily summaries of what they read each day. It gives a little extra accountability for students, which isn’t a bad thing.
This year I plan to have some students participate in literature circles and some students working with me in guided reading groups. I don’t feel like my struggling readers benefit as much from literature circles as they do from their guided reading groups. However, I feel like my highest readers benefit more from literature circles than their guided reading groups. I’d love to do a little more research on mixing the two forms of groups. You can download the literature circle booklets here.
Hopefully this will give you some ideas on reading instruction for upper elementary. Let me know if you have any questions!