Reading in the Writing Workshop


My little brother has been an avid reader for years. He reads every day, reading titles like The Wizard of Oz, The Count of Monte Cristo, Around the World in Eighty Days, andclassics Oliver Twist, along with countless young-adult novels. When I took Adolescent Literature, we had a lot of fun talking about YA Lit because he read the books alongside me, just for fun. He stays up at night, finishing a book only to begin another one because he must always be in the midst of a book. This kid reads like a wolf eats.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my brother is a smarty pants; he knows so much! I was embarrassed when a man mentioned yurts in conversation and, while I had no idea what he was talking about, Dakota participated in active discourse with him. Later I asked how he knew about yurts and he simply replied that he read about them once. Much to my mortification, these kinds of incidents happens regularly.

Although Dakota comes from an extraordinary gene pool (we are related, after all), he is just a regular fifteen-year-old teenager who happens to be a reader. I’m not saying that he’s smart simply because he reads, but it is obvious that his reading has benefited him in numerous ways. In fact, there are countless benefits to being a reader:

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

The past few weeks I’ve been developing my ideal writing workshop for my future classroom. From workshop procedures to assessment to the first two weeks of school, I feel confident about my initial set of plans and I will use them my first year teaching.

To develop these plans, I read The Art of Teaching Writing, In the Middle, and Write Beside Them, all by authors I admire. However, prior to developing these plans, I struggled. I had no classroom experience and, before the summer, I hadn’t thought deeply about how I wanted my writing workshop to run and what I wanted included.

I particularly struggled with the role of reading in the writing workshop. Only seeing students 90 minutes every-other-day, there is only so much to jam into an agenda. Surely students should spend as much time as possible practicing the craft of writing! Yet, if I want students to become readers, shouldn’t reading be a thriving component in my classroom? These issues pricked my subconscious and kept me up at night.

Finally, I couldn’t deny the endless benefits of reading. Because reading is essential and overtly important in life, reading will be a piece of my writing workshop. I decided to model my classroom after Penny Kittle’s prescribed agenda in Write Beside Them:

  • Agenda, attendance, book talk
    • 5 min
  • Silent sustained reading
    • 10 min
  • Quick writes (2)
    • 15 min
  • Minilesson
    • 15 min
  • Writing workshop
    • 40 min
  • Sharing, homework
    • 5 min
  • *On days where response groups meet, the schedule will change in order to accommodate the meetings.

I can’t take the chance and hope that students will simply pick up a book on their own. My students will have the opportunity to grow as both writers and readers in my classroom. I will incorporate an independent reading program into my writing workshop at the beginning of every class period, opening our workshop routine. From the first week of school, students will know that I expect them to have an independent reading book every day.

To begin the reading portion of the workshop, students will listen to a daily book talk. I will do the book talks or show book trailers but I will always be looking for volunteers to do the book talk of the day. This is also a brilliant opportunity to invite parents into the classroom to book talk their favorite titles (thanks, Penny!). Short book talks are an easy way to get teenagers excited about reading and get books in students’ hands.

photo (22)

After the book talk, students will then participate in silent sustained reading for ten minutes. Ten minutes is an amount of time that I can easily fit into the daily agenda and it is just enough to hook students, making them want to read outside of the classroom. However, I ask that students read at least 20 pages outside of the classroom because reading for ten minutes every-other-day in class is simply not enough time to develop a substantial reading life. To live a literate life and be immersed in literature, this homework is absolutely necessary.

clipboardThe independent reading program will be self-sufficient, based on the honors system. A portion of the final grade will also be based on independent reading. During silent sustained reading, a clipboard will be passed around where students record the title of their current book and the page number they are on. This record will help me to know my readers better without spending our limited time together conducting daily reading conferences. Instead, from a glimpse at the records, I can easily see which readers need encouragement, need a different book, or need to be challenged. Mainstreaming the reading program will allow more class time for writing.

The first week of school, I plan to spend a considerable amount of time teaching the procedures and expectations of the reading program while kindling a fire for reading. I will scaffold the independent reading program, at first giving students plenty of structure and then allowing the program to be self-sufficient and run independently throughout the duration of the semester.

Day 1: Book Speed Dating (taken from Donalyn Miller) – 10 min.

  • One book is placed on each student desk before class by the teacher. Students preview their book for 60 seconds and then trade with another student. Students preview 4-5 books. Maggie has great recommendations for 30 books to have on the desks and Elisabeth also has a great list for can’t-fail books for teens.
  • Students write their top 3 favorite authors on one side of the white board and write their top 3 books on the other half of the board. I expect some (or many) students to be non-readers. Perhaps they will write things like Dr. Seuss and Hatchet. This exercise will be repeated at the end of the semester for students to see their growth as readers. By the end, I hope they will be able to draw from recent experience and have more informed and sophisticated opinions about authors and titles.

Day 2: Goodreads – 25 min.


  • I will preview my Goodreads account, showing students lists for every genre taste and the endless titles they can search and preview with a click of a button. I will show them the statistics feature, Goodreads recommendations, and how to follow authors’ blogs. Then, students create their own accounts, friending each other and me so we have a self-sustained outlet for our reading program. At this time, students will check out books from the library or classroom library.

Day 3: Independent Reading – 15 min.

  • Book Talk: Winger by Andrew Smith


  • Silent sustained reading (at this time a clipboard is passed around where students write their book titles and record their page numbers)

Day 4: Independent Reading – 15 min.

  • Book Trailer: Plague by Michael Grant

  • Silent sustained reading

Day 5: Independent Reading – 15 min.

  • Book talk: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak


  • Silent sustained reading

Through independent reading, I want students to realize the benefits and joys of having a reading life. I feel comfortable slicing ten minutes out of the writing workshop for silent reading because reading will benefit student writing. The best writers are readers, studying the craft of writing, observing how authors make sentences, form ideas, and effect readers. Subconsciously, students will begin to understand how grammar works and the power of language. I will teach students how to read like writers, looking for writing craft while enjoying books they enjoy.

The independent reading program will be successful because it is choice-based; I want students to enjoy reading and become lifetime literate citizens. My brother, Dakota, enjoys reading classic texts because he chooses to read them on his own and in his own time. If a different student had to read Oliver Twist, the benefits of that reading wouldn’t be as evident. Perhaps that student would hate reading because of it. There are so many reluctant readers because schools have done an injustice to personal reading lives. Real readers read for pleasure, enjoyment, self-improvement, and knowledge, not because they have to.

By incorporating independent reading into the writing workshop, my biggest hopes are:

  1. Students will be inspired to write better pieces
  2. Students will develop a lifelong reading career

 “We read to know we’re not alone.”

William Nicholson, Shadowlands